Injured wide receiver D.J. Coles and linebacker Tariq Edwards were unexpected participants in Virginia Tech’s first practice of the preseason Tuesday, but it was clear from their pronounced limps and pace of play that they’re a long ways from being game ready.
Coles had surgery on the PCL of his right knee in January. Just before spring practice started in March, Edwards had surgery that inserted a rod in his left leg to ease pain from a stress fracture.
Both had slow recoveries that dragged through the summer and now into August. Expected to wear blue jerseys signifying limited participation when camp opened, they instead did all the regular drills Tuesday, albeit at a slow pace and with some ginger stepping.
With the Georgia Tech opener less than four weeks away, it’s an issue.
“I’m concerned,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “It’s two really quality players that can’t do things full tilt right now.”
Coles, a senior, had 36 catches for 480 yards and three touchdowns last year. He, Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts are expected to be the team’s top receiving threats.
Edwards, a junior, had 71 tackles and 11.5 tackles for a loss last year, playing through the increasing pain in his shin in the second half of the season.
He said his leg is “better than expected,” although he still pegged his health at approximately 85 percent. The pain is no longer in his shin but rather his knee. It’s most evident when he makes cuts.
“I’m not really worried,” Edwards said of being ready for the season opener. “I’ve got to just keep fighting and getting this leg stronger and stronger.”
Nevertheless, defensive coordinator Bud Foster is making contingency plans. Coaches can’t work with players in the offseason, so Tuesday was Foster’s first glimpse at how Edwards was progressing.
“I was kind of discouraged today by his inability to run,” he said. “We’ll take it one day at a time.”
In the meantime, Bruce Taylor has switched his linebacker position from mike to Edwards’ spot at backer, with Jack Tyler, an experienced reserve, moving up to the first team at the mike. Taylor has played one game at the backer position, in the 2011 Orange Bowl.
“We’re going to put our best 11 on the field,” Foster said. “I fully expect we’ll get Tariq back. When? I don’t know that.”
Here are a few more quick notes from tonight …
- Edwards said he started feeling the pain in his shin about midway through the season, around the first Clemson matchup. “I started seeing everyone else going down, so I decided to fight through it,” he said. He said he never thought about sitting out.
- Taylor will have an adjustment to make at the mike. How big of a difference is there between the mike and backer spots? Apparently a big one. “There’s subtle differences, especially when you start people spreading the field and doing some of those things,” Foster said, who noted that increased pass coverage will be an adjustment to what Taylor is accustomed to. “But he’s capable of doing it. He’s a good blitzer.”
- Count Beamer among those who liked what he saw from the two freshmen punters, Hunter Windmuller of Oakton and A.J. Hughes of Terre Haute, Ind. “I was impressed,” said Beamer, who called the punting situation the team’s top concern this August. “Windmuller popped it up in the air there real well. I thought both of them showed some good stuff for the first day. They’re going to get a lot of kicks in. I can tell you that.”
- The other biggest concern? The tailback situation. “From what I saw today, I think we’ve got some talented kids at tailback,” Beamer said. “I think we’ve got to figure out who we’re going to work with. Because there are only so many reps here in the preseason practice.”
- For what it’s worth, the order in the running back drills tonight: Michael Holmes, Martin Scales, J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory, Daniel Dyer, Chris Mangus and Trey Edmunds.
- Beamer said the Hokies are probably two weeks out from beginning scout team work for Georgia Tech. That still gives them two weeks of preparation time for the Yellow Jackets.
- Freshman defensive end Ken Ekanem, who is coming off an ACL and meniscus tear from the state title game in his senior year of high school, said he’ll see after this week how his knee reacts. He’s OK with redshirting, especially considering the depth on the defensive line right now. “I look at redshirting as not as a bad thing because of my knee,” he said. “I’d like to play, but it wouldn’t hurt to redshirt.”
- Two freshmen who won’t be participating right away: LB Devin Vandyke, who had knee surgery, and DL Nigel Williams, who had shoulder surgery, per Virginia Tech’s athletic site.
- The first week is important for the freshmen. The Hokies go for the first time in pads on Saturday, with a short scrimmage scheduled for Sunday. They’ll make some decisions about which youngsters might be capable of contributing early after that. “We’re going to see who can make the adjustments, who can learn, who improve, who can grow, and then we’ll find out who can play,” Foster said. “It was Day 1 right now. Those guys were running around like a chickens with their head cut off half the time. … We’re not slowing down. They’ve got to come up to our level.”
- Foster warned not to take too much stock in what you see the first day. “Everybody either looks good or looks OK without pads,” he said. “When the pads come on, that’s when it’s time to start separating themselves and find out who can play football.”