So there’s still one day of the waiting game, which will probably involve a overreaction about updated heights and weights as soon as the official roster is released. (I make fun of this, but I’ll be one of those making a big deal about a player adding 10 pounds in the offseason.)
Anyway, before the Hokies get going, here’s a look at some of the position battles to watch this August:
Defensive tackle – Antoine Hopkins vs. Luther Maddy: Hopkins is the incumbent … sort of. He started last year alongside his younger brother before tearing an ACL against Clemson and missing the final eight games. Hopkins is back healthy, but he has a challenger in Maddy, a sophomore who got plenty of experience last year in Hopkins’ place and had a strong spring, when he was the defensive MVP. Hopkins is the bigger of the two, but Bud Foster wants some play-makers at tackle this year. Maddy, who put on a show for parts of the spring, certainly looks the part.
Whip linebacker – Alonzo Tweedy vs. Jeron Gouveia-Winslow vs. Ronny Vandyke: Virginia Tech hasn’t had a standout whip linebacker since Cody Grimm had an All-ACC season in 2008. Gouveia-Winslow started last year before a Lisfranc injury cut his season short. Tweedy battled a high-ankle sprain late in the year, returning to have a good showing in the Sugar Bowl. Vandyke, while only a redshirt freshman, is the future at the position, an athletic, rangy player who Foster has had high praise for. Colleague Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post reported that Tweedy and Vandyke might be the two players vying for the job, with Gouveia-Winslow third in the pecking order. It’ll certainly be something to watch.
Offensive line – Michael Via vs. the weakest link: Via sat out the spring because of knee surgeries, but offensive line coach Curt Newsome said he’d have a spot when healthy. That time is now. The fifth-year senior can play any position along the line, a versatile athlete who might be Tech’s ace in the hole, someone who can step in if one of the players who exited the spring as a projected starter doesn’t advance his game as much as the coaches hope. The biggest question marks might be on the right side. Coaches think right tackle Vinston Painter has turned a corner, although they’ve thought that before. Right guard Brent Benedict is still trying to stake his claim to a spot after sitting out last year following his transfer from Georgia. Via could play either spot or, failing that, provide depth elsewhere.
Running back – Michael Holmes vs. the rest: Despite never having taken a carry in a college game, Holmes was the clear frontrunner to be David Wilson‘s replacement at tailback coming out of the spring. A well-balanced runner who learned a lot in his redshirt year, he remains the best bet to get the most carries to start the season. But there’s no lack of competition. Early enrollee J.C. Coleman got a jump on this year by going through spring drills. Converted fullback Martin Scales is a power option. Tony Gregory returns from offseason knee surgery. And freshmen Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus will be able to show what they can do. Tech hopes two or three emerge that it can rely on.
Tight end – Randall Dunn vs. Eric Martin vs. Ryan Malleck: The Hokies haven’t had a truly standout tight end since Jeff King, so it’s not really a featured position. But they have some weapons there. Dunn, who transitioned from wide receiver early in his career, brings a pass-catching element to the position. Martin, at 6-2, 264 pounds, is a power option who could excel at blocking in the running game. And Malleck is a sophomore who Frank Beamer called the most well-rounded of the group.
Punter — Anyone who feels like stepping up: When you punt as poorly as Virginia Tech did last year, nobody’s job is safe. So don’t expect Scott Demler or Michael Branthover to have an advantage just because they were around last year, or for Ethan Keyserling to have a leg up because he participated in the spring. It’s wide open, which means two freshmen walk-ons, A.J. Hughes and Hunter Windmuller, have as good a chance as anyone at winning the job. Is Beamer opposed to a true freshman winning the job? “Not if he’s the best one we’ve got,” he said at the ACC Kickoff. That sounds like an open competition if ever there was one.