I’ll have a link up in the morning, but with all the stuff going on at Tech — spring practice concluding, a bunch of commitments, the upcoming NFL Draft and the Seth Greenberg firing — it’s a good time for another live chat. We’ll do it at 12:30 Wednesday. Hope you can make it.
As for today, it’s a good time to revisit the five questions Virginia Tech had entering spring practice four weeks ago. Here are the questions I posed back at the end of March.
Let’s take a look at each individually:
1. Who will replace David Wilson?
The smart money is on Michael Holmes right now. Frank Beamer praised him after every scrimmage, it seemed. And while the redshirt freshman doesn’t overwhelm you physically or with his speed, he seems to get the job done. Nobody caught him on a 60-yard sprint to the end zone during one scrimmage. And he showed some toughness on goal line run in a later one, according to running backs coach Shane Beamer.
Shane didn’t have a formal depth chart exiting the spring, but it was clear Holmes at least created some separation from himself and early enrollee J.C. Coleman, who wasn’t very productive in a few scrimmages, and converted fullback Martin Scales, who is a bruiser but will have limited potential as a tailback.
Now, all this can change once the new signees arrive for fall. After speaking with Drew Harris in person and seeing his size, I was struck by what a big guy he was. If his knee is healthy, I could definitely see him coming in and competing for playing time, just because he seems like he’d be able to hold up physically. But for right now, Holmes seems like he’s the guy who will get first crack at filling Wilson’s sizable — and undoubtedly fashionable — shoes.
2. Who will the four new offensive linemen be?
The Hokies have an idea up front, with right tackle Vinston Painter, right guard Brent Benedict, left guard David Wang and left tackle Nick Becton joining returning center Andrew Miller. That’s not set in stone, however. Michael Via, who missed the spring following knee surgery, will fit in somewhere. He can play any position on the line, although it seems like he might be most needed at tackle, either if Painter or Becton can’t quite hack it or if Tech simply needs depth.
The line, as you’d expect, was a work in progress this spring. Things were ugly in the first couple scrimmages, with sack totals that made Tech fans cringe. Granted, many of those were given up by the second and third units, but the first group didn’t always assert itself.
As a group, that front line looked better in the later scrimmages. I remember eyeing the Painter vs. James Gayle matchup in the few 1 vs. 1 sessions, and Painter held his own most of the time. The one-on-one matchups don’t seem like they’ll be the biggest issue with this group. It’s communicating and covering stunts and twists and everything else a defense will throw at them.
That appeared to be what gave the group the most difficulty, although you’d expect with time for that communication to build. The strongest part of last year’s line was its ability to play together. Can this group reach that same kind of cohesiveness? It will be very tough to duplicate the communication that four fifth-year seniors had last season, but time will tell.
3. Who’s left at linebacker?
The linebackers were kind of overlooked this spring, just because Bruce Taylor (Lisfranc), Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (Lisfranc) and Tariq Edwards (stress fracture) were limited or missed workouts altogether. On top of that, Jack Tyler, despite having a strong spring, was a somewhat played-out story after filing in at the end of last season. And Chase Williams opted not to speak to the media because of his father Gregg‘s involvement in the NFL bounty scandal.
Trainer Mike Goforth says all three starters should be back. Gouveia-Winslow could have gone by the end of spring but was held out just as a precaution. He’s the furthest along. Taylor was in a walking boot after a planned surgery to remove a screw from his foot late in spring. His Lisfranc injury was a little more serious, making you wonder if he’ll be completely healthy next season or if he’ll have to play through pain. Edwards had his surgery just before the start of spring and is expected back in time for fall camp, although you can never tell with recoveries.
The good news is that their backups played well in the spring. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster was fond of saying Tyler didn’t have a good spring, “he had a great spring.” And Williams, in limited viewings during scrimmages, was all around the ball. Alonzo Tweedy, now that he’s healthy, is a very fast option at the whip position. And looking down the line, Foster couldn’t say enough nice things about Ronny Vandyke, who switched from rover and looks like he might be the whip of the future.
Tech probably would feel better about depth here had Telvion Clark not gotten kicked off the team just before spring drills, but it looks like the Hokies are creating some quality depth, enough to bridge the gap to the next generation of linebackers signed in the 2012 class.
4. How will the secondary shuffle work?
Well enough that it appears the switch will stay. For those who forgot, Antone Exum moved from safety to cornerback in the offseason, joining Kyle Fuller, while one-time cornerbacks Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett filled the rover and free safety positions.
This led to a couple of concerns. First, is Exum quick enough to play corner? He looked like it, embracing the new role, crowding the line, using his 6-foot, 220-pound frame to get up in receivers’ faces and making plays on the ball. A lot of that was in man coverage, which is fairly simple for somebody new to the position to learn. Foster said he wants to get Exum some more experience in the zone schemes now to add to his knowledge.
Second, are Bonner and Jarrett physical enough to play safety? You might want to ask Kevin Asante about that. Bonner hammered him on a slant across the middle during one scrimmage, popping the ball out to Jarrett for an interception. Foster thinks Bonner and Jarrett have the physicality to play the position, adding some range and cover skills that Tech likes to have. Bonner, who got more playing time in 2011, is further ahead at this point, but Foster liked the experiment enough that players are talking about it as though it will stay.
5. Who is going to kick the football?
It was anybody’s guess heading into the spring and anybody’s guess coming out.
The only person who really established himself was Ethan Keyserling as the kickoff specialist. He has the strongest leg, and, with the kickoff now coming at the 35-yard line, Beamer likes his chances at getting touchbacks.
Beyond that, who knows? Conor Goulding looked like he was the most accurate of the field goal kickers, although he had his off days as well. Keyserling had a strong leg but not always the most accurate one. And Michael Branthover struggled with his accuracy some too but did better at punter, getting off a few during open scrimmages that the crowd took note of.
Cody Journell remains a possibility. His court appearance is set for May 10 on a breaking and entering charge from last December. It’s currently a felony charge because of the alleged use of a dangerous weapon (although it was an air gun and it wasn’t Journell’s, so we’ll see if that charge sticks). As long as it’s a felony, he’s suspended from the team, per university policy. If that charge is dropped or otherwise resolved, it opens the door for him to return to the team … if the Hokies will have him. Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.
Beamer, who took a particular interest in all the kicking and punting this spring, sounds open to a newcomer, like preferred walk-on kicker Brooks Abbott or punter A.J. Hughes competing for the job. “I think a lot of our kicking game is still in high school,” Beamer said.