To play or not to play? A look at the Hokies’ true freshmen and whether or not they’ll get on the field this year
On the other hand, truly talented players are hard to keep off the field. And in recent years, head coach Frank Beamer has lamented redshirting stars who would skip their final years of eligibility to enter the NFL.
“You’re always sitting there trying to say, ‘OK should we play this guy or not, and can we get him enough plays to make it worth while playing them?’” Beamer said last fall. “I think the real lesson is if they’re talented you better play them early. We sat here and two guys, Ryan Williams and Michael Vick, had two years of eligibility left when they did leave. You hope you can get guys like that who have the ability to do that and you better go ahead and get them playing.”
Still, playing time has been scarce for freshmen at Virginia Tech. Of the 19 members of the 2011 class who enrolled last August, six got on the field — safety Boye Aromire, cornerback Kyshoen Jarrett, defensive tackles Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall, tight end Ryan Malleck. Preferred walk-on punter Michael Branthover also played. (Caleb Farris was a January enrollee after signing in 2010, so I didn’t count him since he had a year to develop).
In the 2010 class, only cornerback Kyle Fuller and defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins played right away.
Also, things don’t always go as planned. If you asked a Hokies fan which freshman defensive tackle would have gotten on the field the most last year, the answer would have been Kris Harley. Well, two-star recruit Luther Maddy made the biggest impact and could challenge for a starting spot this year. So you can’t ever tell how a young guy will react once he steps on campus.
So which of this year’s freshmen might have a chance to get on the field this year? Here’s how I think it might play out (and I’ll likely revisit this list before the opener after seeing some of these guys in August):
They’ll get on the field:
- RB J.C. Coleman: The running back situation is wide open and Coleman got the jump on August by enrolling last January. He’s a spitfire-type back at 5-7, 176, something that’s unique in the Hokies’ offense. Because of that, there will be a role for him somewhere.
- CB Donaldven Manning: Another early enrollee who plays a position that has a critical depth situation. He’ll probably be the No. 3 cornerback to start the season, behind Fuller and Antone Exum. The Hokies will need to get him game ready, because he’ll get meaningful reps this year.
- WR Joel Caleb: He played quarterback in high school, so he might not be that polished at receiver. But he’s a talent (Rivals’ No. 84 player last year), and you just don’t keep players like that off the field. Plus, with the top four receivers this year being seniors, Tech will need to get some receivers ready to for the 2013 season and its opener against Alabama. You don’t want that game to be his first action.
- LB/RB Trey Edmunds: Simply too skilled to keep off the field. Coaches have raved about his versatility, which always helps. He can play offense or defense and, despite being on the younger side for a true freshman, seems like the kind of player who won’t be overwhelmed by an immediate role. Giving the running back situation, that’ll be his best bet.
If things fall the right way, they could play:
- RB Chris Mangus: A speedster, Mangus could have a place in the running back situation if he can catch on quickly. Speed always helps and he might bring a different dynamic to the position.
- S: Desmond Frye: With Theron Norman leaving in the summer, Tech is not particularly deep at safety. An injury wouldn’t necessarily put him in the starting lineup, but it’d mean the Hokies would have to have him ready to play in a pinch.
- S: Dahman McKinnon: Originally listed as a whip linebacker, he’ll start as a safety this August, which might be an indication of how thin the Hokies are at the position.
- CB Donovan Riley: Same situation for Riley at cornerback. A true freshman is already the No. 3 guy. Somebody’s going to have to step up on the depth chart.
- WR Joshua Stanford: Another guy who might be a factor in 2013, the staff would probably like to get him accustomed to playing at the college level this year. He was a sleeper recruit, but unlike Caleb, he at least played wide receiver in high school. That should help his cause.
- CB Davion Tookes: It all comes back to depth. Tookes is a speedy guy who is still pretty raw at cornerback. He’ll need to develop, but he’ll get his share of reps in practice, just because of the lack of scholarship players at corner.
- P A.J. Hughes: A big-legged preferred walk-on from Terre Haute, Ind., he could step in to an unsettled punting situation and play right away.
- P Hunter Windmuller: A preferred walk-on from Oakton, he’s in the same boat as Hughes. Based on the performance of last year’s punters, the opportunity is certainly there.
Depth situation probably means a redshirt:
- LB Deon Clarke: A four-star recruit who was among the best in the class, but he’s going to be an inside linebacker. Not the best place to get immediate playing time, given Tech’s depth there.
- DE Ken Ekanem: A bona fide talent, he plays a position where Tech already has two second-team All-ACC performers. The knee injury doesn’t sound like it’ll be a problem (trainer Mike Goforth said he’s a full go right now), but it’ll be hard to crack that two-deep.
- WR Der’Woun Greene: Another quarterback in high school, he’s a little lower on the wide receiver pecking order as far as freshmen go. But reps could be available for a receiver who catches on quickly.
- TE Dakota Jackson: A big-bodied tight end who is physical, he’s just what Tech is looking for in a tight end. But the Hokies have a ton of guys there. Randall Dunn, Eric Martin and Malleck could all share duties with the first team this year. There’s not much room for a freshman.
- DE Jarontay Jones: The Tech two-deep on the defensive line is a tough place to make any headway for early playing time. I don’t think we’ll see Jones this year either.
- DL Nigel Williams: Could play inside or outside on the line, but he’s in the situation as Ekanem and Jones.
- LB Devin Vandyke: Like Clarke, he plays a bad position for early playing time. Those two figure to be inside linebackers of the future, though.
Looking at a redshirt:
- WR Mark Irick: A big but raw wide receiver prospect, he’s still pretty new to the game. A year on the scout team will help.
- QB Brenden Motley: My guess is he won’t displace Logan Thomas (big leap, huh?). Like any quarterback, he’ll need extra time to learn the offense.
- OT Augie Conte: Was originally going to prep for a year, but he’s enrolled now. Like most offensive linemen, he needs a year to develop and add size.
- NT Alton Smith: Great genes, bad position. If guys like Harley are having a tough time cracking the two deep, Smith doesn’t have much of a chance as a freshman.
- C Jack Willenbrock: Interesting position for Willenbrock to start at. But Andrew Miller is the clear starter and Farris the backup. Heck, even Michael Via can play there.
- OT Adam Taraschke: Like Conte, he’ll need time to get bigger. All freshmen offensive linemen go through that process.