First, here’s a column by Aaron McFarling saying it’s time for a change at Virginia Tech with regards to offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. This one’s sure to generate some discussion.
Second, here’s my article today about the Hokies using some of their practice time in the early portion of bowl preparation to evaluate some of their younger and inexperienced players with an eye on next season.
In my story I briefly take a look at a few redshirts and younger players who might be counted on to have bigger roles next year. Here a closer look at a few positions of note in that regard (I’ll do these under the assumption that the underclassmen who have NFL decisions to make, choose to come back):
** Offensive tackles: Seniors Vinston Painter and Nick Becton played nearly every snap this season, putting together solid seasons but also leaving the Hokies with almost no experience at the position behind them. Redshirt sophomores Laurence Gibson and Mark Shuman are nominally the backups, although they’ve only played 22 and 25 snaps on offense this year, respectively, so it’s not as if there are any sure bets at the spots. Another redshirt sophomore, Nick Acree tore his ACL in the preseason and missed the entire year. He’s getting back into a running routine now and should be in the mix next season. Jake Goins is also listed as a right tackle. As mentioned in the story, there’s also freshmen Augie Conte and Adam Taraschke, both of whom redshirted this season. Conte is listed as a left tackle on the depth chart on Frank Beamer‘s website and Taraschke at right. Both have spent the season on the scout team, so it’s unclear how much they’ve progressed, although Stinespring seemed pleased with the maturity.
** Wide receivers: Tech will lose Marcus Davis, Dyrell Roberts and Corey Fuller after this year. That trio has combined for 120 catches, 2,026 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Redshirt freshman Demitri Knowles started getting more reps near the end of the season, as did redshirt freshman Kevin Asante, before a turf toe injury set him back. But as everyone saw in the first half of the Boston College game, removing a threat like Davis from the equation seriously impacts how those younger receivers operate. The Hokies will get a boost from the return of D.J. Coles, who should be approved for a waiver to get another year of eligibility after suffering a knee injury in the season opener. He’s a big receiving threat and is the team’s best blocker on the perimeter. Beyond that, it’s a lot of inexperience. Joel Caleb and Joshua Stanford were the two most-touted players from the freshman class. Caleb, a physical specimen at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds, needed a year to transition from quarterback to receiver. Stanford suffered a knee injury this year that kept him out of action. Beamer also mentioned redshirt freshman Christian Reeves and walk-on Charley Meyer as options. All seem like they’ll get an opportunity in a depleted receiver corps.
** Running backs: The only person who graduates from the group is Martin Scales, but given the lagging ground game this year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a shakeup of the depth chart coming. Tony Gregory, Michael Holmes and J.C. Coleman return, although it’s freshman Trey Edmunds who might be the one to keep an eye on. Beamer sounded conflicted about the decision the staff made in September to redshirt Edmunds. They had to come to that conclusion fairly early in the season, before the Hokies’ running game woes became completely apparent. Beamer has compared Edmunds’ running style to Kevin Jones several times and said he stood out in the team’s physical middle drill. The Hokies didn’t often feature a running back who could run through tackles this year. Edmunds seems like a dynamic player who could do that. Stinespring said the defensive staff has told him they’ve been impressed with Chris Mangus on the scout team. The speedster suffered a shoulder injury early in the season that kept him out. Fork Union’s Drew Harris, a highly-touted prospect who failed to qualify last year, could enter the mix if he gets into school.
** Linebackers: This is really the only defensive position that will feature any significant turnover, and even then it’s limited. Bruce Taylor, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Alonzo Tweedy are seniors. Taylor is a starter. Gouveia-Winslow began the year as a starter but was supplanted and eventually moved to backup safety. Tweedy didn’t do much on defense all season until the very end, when he stepped up into a blitzing role and has thrived. Still, the Hokies have replacements who aren’t completely green. Junior Tariq Edwards missed all of this year essentially with a knee/shin injury. He’s close to 100 percent now and, with Taylor moving on, presumably will slide back into that backer position he previously occupied (more on Edwards a little later in the week). At whip linebacker, defensive coordinator Bud Foster continues to be high on redshirt freshman Ronny Vandyke, who he pegged as the future at the position even before this year began. Another year should give him time to grow into the role. Chase Williams and Deon Clarke will probably be the next in line at inside linebacker. On the outside, it’s less clear, although Dahman McKinnon was working there in practice the other day.
** Defensive backs: If Antone Exum decides to come back for his senior season, this whole group will be back. Foster expects the position switches the team made last offseason to pay off after a year that had some growing pains. What will be more critical for the Hokies, though, is creating some depth in the secondary, something that was severely lacking this year. Donaldven Manning was the presumed No. 3 cornerback because he enrolled early, but his season did not go to plan and he nearly left the team. In the meantime, Donovan Riley began to take those No. 3 cornerback reps. Michael Cole emerged as the third safety, but a scary neck injury against Florida State has his football status in limbo. Desmond Frye began to step up near the end of the year as a promising safety. But Tech will have other bodies in the competition, including Carl Jackson, Der’Woun Greene, Davion Tookes and Greg Jones among others. There’s also highly-touted verbal commitments Kendall Fuller and Holland Fisher who could figure in somewhere if they catch on quick enough.