Posted by Chip Patterson
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Virginia Tech , who started spring practice on Wednesday.
With turnover at several key positions, will the Hokies be able to fill the holes and successfully defend their position atop the ACC?
After Virginia Tech started last season with losses to Boise State and James Madison in a five day span, the college football world was ready to file the 2010 Hokies into the "bust" category. But when the Hokies fell from the spotlight, they dug down and pulled off an 11-game win streak that finished with their fourth ACC Championship in seven years. As the Hokies lifted the trophy in Charlotte under a monsoon of oranges, head coach Frank Beamer spoke about the character and fight of a Hokie squad that refused to quit. At season's end, eleven players were named to either the first or second all-conference teams, and senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor was crowned the ACC Player of the Year.
But as the Hokies are preparing for 2011, things look a little different in Blacksburg. The Hokies bring back 12 starters from 2010, including five of those all-conference selections. But many of the names and faces that helped bring in three ACC Championships in the last four years are now gone, leaving those positions open for the next crop of headline-grabbing Hokies in 2011.
The most noticeable and arguably most important transition is at the quarterback position. With Taylor gone, the signal-calling responsibilities will fall on the shoulders of redshirt sophomore Logan Thomas. Don't try to hit Thomas with questions about "filling Tyrod Taylor's shoes," because the 6-foot-6 245 pound quarterback wears size-18. Thomas has spent the last two years in meetings with Taylor, watching what he watches becoming familiar with quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain. Recruited by some as a tight end that could see the field right away, Thomas opted to bide his time waiting behind Taylor. His arm strength has been praised by anyone who has watched him throw, and his reported 4.6 40-yard dash makes him just as much of a threat running the ball as Taylor was before him. If Thomas can get in a rhythm with his receivers and improve his accuracy, he could prove to eventually be just as much of an offensive threat at Taylor was in 2010. He knows the history of quarterbacks under Frank Beamer, and Thomas appears to understand the importance of that leadership quality. On the first day of spring ball, he was asked if he had a mental checklist of things to improve.
“I was writing down some goals today for the spring," Thomas explained. "Just get command of the offense, get used to my players, more familiar with the playbook, get great accuracy and just get the team to feel more comfortable with me and how I play, just get the respect from the coaches and everyone around. It’s written down in the first page of my playbook.”
Virginia Tech will also suffer from the loss of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans. Both running backs had stellar freshman seasons, with Evans being named the Orange Bowl MVP at the end of the 2008 season and Williams earning ACC Rookie of the Year honors in 2009. Last season was the first time that both backs saw the field at the same time, which combined with David Wilson's emergence made for one of the most dangerous backfields in the conference. But in that system with three all-conference caliber running backs, the responsibility was evenly spread week in and week out. With Evans and Williams taking their talents to the next level, Wilson must carry a significantly larger load in the Hokies backfield.
The junior from Danville, VA was one of the Hokies' all-conference selections for his work as a return specialist. Wilson led the ACC last season averaging 26.55 yards per kickoff return, and ran back two for touchdowns. Even sharing snaps at running back, Wilson displayed his "home-run" potential. Wilson broke at least one run of 15 yards or more in eight different appearances last season, averaged 15.6 yards per reception as a dangerous threat in the passing game.
If Wilson can maintain that level of production consistently, he will easily become one of the most important pieces to the Hokies' success. The big question for the spring will be how the rest of the depth chart shapes out behind him. Unfortunately for the Hokies, Josh Oglesby (converted from fullback) and Tony Gregory are the only other scholarship players at the position. Wilson not only will have the opportunity to shine in the running attack, it will be expected.
Virginia Tech also is dealing with depth issues on the defensive line. Starters Steven Friday and John Graves have graduated, and Chris Drager has been moved to tight end. Bud Foster's best defenses have been anchored by a solid defensive line that seems to cue turnovers by winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Kwamaine Battle will return to the field after tearing his ACL in the second game of the season, as will his replacement Antoine Hopkins. But the Hokies will be putting a lot of faith in redshirt freshmen James Gayle and J.R. Collins to contribute immediately.
But even amidst the depth and development questions, you can't help but feel like the Hokies are still going to contend for the ACC Coastal Division title. Frank Beamer has led the Hokies to double-digit wins in 10 of the last 12 seasons. This is far from the first time he has entered spring practice with question marks on the depth chart, and it will certainly not be his last. Beamer knows what it will take to make a return visit to the ACC Championship Game, and being in contention is absolutely a realistic expectation for Virginia Tech fans.
A quick glance at the schedule for 2011 will show a slate that should work perfectly for a team breaking in a new starting quarterback. Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State, and Marshall will be the first opponents for the Hokies before hosting Clemson and Miami in back-to-back weeks. Their toughest road opponents will be Georgia Tech and Virginia, but those matchups don't come until the last month of the season. There may not be a lot of national hype around this year's bunch from Blacksburg, but it is not unreasonable to think that they could be back in Charlotte for a rematch with Florida State in the ACC Championship game in December.
If that happens, you can bet Logan Thomas' size-18's will be ready to do the best Tyrod Taylor impression you've ever seen.
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