Beamer addressed a few of those issues at the ACC Kickoff last weekend. Specifically, why the team hasn’t blocked so many punts and kicks recently.
Once a calling card for the Hokies — you may have heard a reference or twenty about “Beamerball” during every TV telecast — blocks have been in decline lately. Virginia Tech had one block last year (a punt against Appalachian State that was recovered for a touchdown), matching its lowest total in the Beamer era.
In fact, the Hokies haven’t recently approached their peak in 1998, when they blocked 12 punts, field goals and extra points. Beamer thinks part of the reason is the rising popularity of the three-man personal protector formation has made it more difficult to get to punts, although he added that should open up more opportunities in returns.
“Going to a three-man shield back there, those three guys are not usually great cover guys,” Beamer said. “So in effect, if you block the seven guys up front and get the thing started, then you’ll get some return yardage in there.”
True enough, Virginia Tech had strong numbers in the punt return game, even if it didn’t take one back for a touchdown. When healthy, Jayron Hosley was tops in the ACC’s best, averaging 12.7 yards per return. The Hokies ranked 30th nationally in punt returns, with a 10.8-yard average.
That number is consistent with what Tech has had in returns in recent years (12.4 in 2010, 10.8 in 2010), but still lower than the team’s hey-day from 1997 to 2003, when the Hokies never averaged fewer than 11.7 yards per return. The team peaked with an 18.2-yard average in 2000, boosted by All-American Andre Davis, who had a 22-yard average and returned three returns for touchdowns.
Beamer was encouraged by the return abilities of Kyshoen Jarrett and Dyrell Roberts in the spring. The former returned a punt for a touchdown in a scrimmage and the latter is the school’s all-time kick return leader, so Tech has some weapons.
The punting game, a thorn in the Hokies’ side last year and something that was bailed out by now-departed receiver Danny Coale by the end of last season, is another issue to watch this August. Tech ranked 108th nationally in net punting last year and last in the ACC.
Michael Branthover, Scott Demler and Ethan Keyserling rotated reps in the spring, although none was impressive enough to seize hold of the job. Beamer sounded optimistic about an incoming freshman like preferred walk-ons A.J. Hughes of Terre Haute, Ind., and Hunter Windmuller of Oakton getting into the mix.
“I think we’ve got a couple of freshmen coming in that are going to get a great opportunity to punt for us. I’m just looking for consistency,” Beamer said. “If you’re a good punter and a consistent punter and you’ve got good fundamentals, there’s no reason why you can’t carry that over from a practice to a game.”
Would Beamer have any hesitation using a true freshman punter to start the year?
“Not if he’s the best one we’ve got,” he said.