I promised a mailbag earlier in the week, and here it is. Plenty of questions this time around, so I’ll split it into two parts, with Part II coming tomorrow probably. To the questions …
1. Will a solid running back emerge out of our giant talent pool, and if so, who? It may not be fair, but Shane’s position did not perform very well in his first year having to develop the raw talent. Billy Hite had numerous seasons with freshman running backs and O-lines that were sub-par, but he was still able to produce in the run game.
2. Just for fun, *IF* we beat Bama, where (if at all) will VT be ranked the following week and how do you see the rest of the season unfolding? It’s only one game in and we are coming off our worst season in years. VT vs. GT last year was supposed to be the birth of an amazing season if we won. Well we did, and look where that got us. – Cliff Grunstra, Roanoke
I think the best bets from the running back pool are J.C. Coleman, Michael Holmes and Trey Edmunds, not necessarily in that order. Holmes was supposed to be the guy last year, but he never really seized the opportunity. Still, there was a reason he was the No. 1 guy last spring. Coleman was the team’s leading rusher of the backs last year with 492 yards, although his size will always make people question if he can be an every-down back. That’s why I’m intrigued by Edmunds. Frank Beamer threw out a Kevin Jones comparison last fall. He doesn’t do that lightly. Still, the Hokies thought he wasn’t quite ready to contribute immediately as a true freshman. I’d imagine he’d get an extensive look this spring. At 6-foot-1, 212 pounds (and possibly bigger than that, since that was his size last year), he seems like he’d be the size-speed back that Tech would prefer and one who could be the physical runner the Hokies are looking for. Carries are certainly open to whoever can seize the opportunity.
As for Shane Beamer, I’m not sure how much of last year’s woes you can rest at his feet. Of the guys who played last year, none were considered sure-thing backs (certainly not as talented as Jones, Ryan Williams or Darren Evans). And while o-lines in the past haven’t been great, they have at least been adequate in run blocking. That was the Hokies’ biggest problem last year, was inconsistent run blocking, something foreign in Blacksburg and probably a big reason Curt Newsome was shown the door. When there are no holes, even great backs struggle.
If Virginia Tech beats Alabama — and it’s a big if, since I can easily see the Hokies being at least two-touchdown underdogs — it’d be ranked, but it’s not like it would shoot into the top 10. Early-season shakeups in the polls are rare. Most voters are glacially slow to either move teams up or down, usually requiring a team to lose to truly earn a drop in the polls, and even then it doesn’t guarantee a far drop. You’re right about opening day wins, though — they only last so long. Lose the next week and it doesn’t matter. Why do you think coaches worry about letdown games so much?
What is the real story with his admission? Is it grades or did Fork Union or VT drop the ball and is he still committed to VT? – David Darden, Suffolk
It’s not a Virginia Tech thing. And it’s not a Fork Union thing. It’s a high school transcript thing, from what I’ve been told. And it’s really anybody’s guess at this point whether it gets cleared up for him to enroll in Blacksburg in the spring. I’ve spoken with Drew’s dad, and he expressed some frustration, but he didn’t want to get into the specifics, since the NCAA Clearinghouse — or as former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville sarcastically referred to it, the Slaughterhouse — is the ultimate arbiter when it comes to qualifying issues. Harris and Tech are really at the Clearinghouse’s mercy at this point. He’s still committed, but it’s unclear when or if he’ll be able to enroll.
Could you take a look at the defensive line depth chart and tell us which young guys have a change of getting playtime? Gayle, Maddy, Hopkins, Marshall/ Collins will start. Who follows them on 2 deep and who get left off the rotation or special teams only? – Eric Johnson, Charlotte, N.C.
I wouldn’t be so quick to rule out Dadi Nicolas as a potential starter. He had his legal ordeal last summer and missed all of camp. Tech didn’t expect much out of him last year (d-line coach Charley Wiles said it was probably like they were talking in Chinese to him during meetings), but Nicolas was surprisingly productive as his playing time increased down the stretch. He had a sack against Florida State and made an incredibly athletic play in the bowl game, chasing down a Rutgers receiver after he broke free for a long gain on a short reception. That kind of effort earns you big points with Wiles. And it’s not like the end spot opposite Gayle was overly productive last year. Collins and Marshall were expected to be the two big contributors, but by the end of the year, it was Nicolas and Tyrel Wilson who had made the most plays, even though they were technically behind Gayle at the stud end spot to start the season.
It gives the Hokies some options. Gayle, Wilson and Nicolas are ends, Hopkins, Maddy and Kris Harley are tackles and Marshall and Collins can play inside and out. It’s a tough group to crack, although Matt Roth and Justin Taylor could compete to get on the two-deep somewhere. I’m also curious t see what Ken Ekanem can do after a redshirt year. He was pretty highly rated coming out of high school. All of this is just speculation, though. There’s plenty of reps to be earned this spring, and no coach on the team runs his group as a meritocracy as much as Wiles.
I am fairly new to paying attention to recruiting. I have read that this is one of the best years for Virginia, talent wise. How is VT doing in your opinion? Can you give some kind of breakdown on some players that are/maybe leaning toward VT? For example, Da’Shawn Hand, Andrew Brown, Steven Moss, Jamil Kamara, CJ Reavis, Derrick Nnadi, Jalyn Holmes, Ricky Walker, David Cornwell, Jacob Park, and Donte Thomas-William? And if I’ve missed some players who are leaning toward VT. Also, as a follow up, would the commitment of a certain player influence, in your opinion, other players? — Chris Paunov, Blacksburg
Certainly, this is one of the better years in terms of pure talent Virginia has ever seen. Of the players you mentioned, Hand, Brown, Nnadi, Holmes and Moss are ranked in the Rivals 100. Even getting two of them would be a huge boost to the 2014 class. It’s always hard to say where any team stands with recruits throughout the process. Hand, for instance, has said Bud Foster is his favorite recruiter, but he still has a trip to Michigan planned in the near future. I hate to venture a guess as to which way these guys are leaning because it would be simply that — a guess. Quite honestly, I don’t really pay much attention to recruiting until a player commits. Even then, nothing is official until signing day and most players don’t contribute to a football program until their second or third year on campus. It’s easy to see why this is a niche thing that sites like Rivals and Scout and 247Sports have latched onto.
As for commitments influencing other players, I think this is one of the more overstated parts of recruiting. There’s only so much a friend of a player or a high school teammate can do to convince someone to go to the same place. Remember when Kendall Fuller’s high school teammate, Dorian O’Daniel, committed to Clemson last year? Plenty of people thought that gave Clemson the clear advantage on Fuller. Plenty of people were wrong. I can see certain situations where a player might influence his friend to go somewhere, but these instances of an early recruit being the Pied Piper that led a bunch of top-flight recruits to go somewhere, I think, is overblown. Recruits pick a place that is best for them and their family, somewhere they individually feel comfortable. It’s a much more personal decision than a lot of people figure.
I know it varies but could you give me an example of a football player’s class schedule during the season? Do they take a full load? I thought it was odd when Logan went to San Diego but I know he should have been ahead on his class schedule given his redshirt. Hey, yeah explain the educational benefit of redshirting. — Chris Cox, Philpott Lake.
The NCAA requires student-athletes to complete at least six credit hours per semester and at least 24 per academic year, only six of which came come during a summer session. Here’s a link with a little more information on that. Now, I’m not sure exactly how that breaks down during the season. I’m sure some guys might take it a little easier because of the time commitment to football, but it varies. As for Logan Thomas, he went to San Diego for only a few days, and it was during Virginia Tech’s spring break, so it’s not like he skipped class to do so. Redshirting is obviously a big boost to the educational outlook of a lot of guys. I think that’s one reason it’s so common for freshmen, since adjusting to the college academic life is sometimes difficult.
After reading your blog about the installation of the new scoreboard at Lane Stadium I was wondering if there are any plans to ever expand the north end of the stadium. It seems that with as many sellouts that we’ve had over the years that our fans could fill the added capacity. – Cameron, Charlotte, N.C.
Right now, I’d say that’s a low priority. I think Tech’s ticket sales are probably about right for the current size of the stadium. I know there’s a “sellout” streak, but plenty of those games had open seats in the corners. I don’t know if there’s that much demand for more general seating past the capacity of 66,000 or so right now. Plus, the real reason to expand would be to add more luxury boxes. Those are the true revenue generators in an athletic program. And I don’t know if there’s a true demand for that right now. Anyway, the next big building project is the indoor practice facility, whenever the university decides a location to build it. With a new site and costs attached to that you’re looking at probably $25 million to build that, which is a priority in keeping in the college football arms race.
What are the odds Kendall Fuller will end up in the starting lineup now that Cole is gone and Exum is hurt as of now? If not will he redshirt or be a backup and special teams contributor? – Benjamin Kotchish, Lexington, Ky.
I think there’s a good shot the younger Fuller will have a substantial role as a true freshman, but I wouldn’t concede to him the starting spot quite yet. For starters, nobody will really know when Exum will be ready until the season gets closer. For all we know, he could be back for the opener (I’d say that’s probably unlikely, but it’s still within the rehab timetable). Second, Fuller won’t arrive on campus until the beginning of August, with less than a month to get acclimated to college football before the opener against Alabama. Fuller is undoubtedly a premier talent, but even the most talented guys sometimes have trouble transitioning smoothly to college. That’s an unknown at this point. Tech has two guys — Donaldven Manning and Donovan Riley — who have been in the program for a year (over a year for Manning) who will be getting most of the reps in Exum’s place in the spring. That’s quite a head start on an incoming freshman. So while I acknowledge Kendall probably will have a role early (in the nickel at the very least), I don’t know if that means he’ll have a starting spot immediately.
All things considered (last year’s record, returning players, new coaches, recruiting classes, schedule, etc.), what are reasonable expectations for our team? 8-9 wins? More? Less? — Ben Rosenthal
With the coaching changes and a schedule that most are not happy with (GT on 5 days rest and @ BC + MIA in back-to-back weeks), in your opinion, what is a realistic W-L goal for this season? – Stephen Smith
I think eight to nine wins is certainly within reach, and given the conference opponents that Tech misses (Florida State, Clemson), there’s a chance to get back to the 10-win mark, provided the offensive transition is smooth. Obviously, there’s an incredibly small margin of error for that second part, since even the most ardent Hokies fan would concede that Tech’s chances against two-time defending national champion Alabama are slim. But like I said, the Hokies avoid what are expected to be the league’s top two teams. Games against Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Miami are certainly not gimmes (and I’d imagine the Hokies would be underdogs heading to Georgia Tech and Miami), but they’re certainly all winnable too.
The defense, if it can continue on the path it had at the end of last season, could be very good. (I’ll refrain from any “best ever” statements after last year, especially knowing that the secondary will have a major question mark with Exum’s injury.) The big key is how these new coaches operate. If Scot Loeffler can tap into Thomas’ potential, that’d be a huge step in the right direction. If Jeff Grimes can instill that physical mentality into the offensive line — and that group can stay healthy, unlike last year — that’d be a huge step too. And if Tech is true about wanting to get back to its physical roots, and has a running back capable of carrying the load, that would go a long way in helping out. As you can see, that’s a lot of variables. If I had to guess, I’d say 8-4 would be a reasonable regular season prediction. That’s a two-game improvement, which is significant. But I think the potential is there for more.
Now that the offense is finally headed back to equilibrium, (run to set-up the pass) will Va Tech, from a recruiting aspect, focus more on pocket-types, mobile, or hybrid types of q-backs in the future? – Matthew D. Green, Princeton, W.Va.
I think any team would prefer some type of hybrid quarterback. Obviously, having a QB that can run and throw is preferable to one that can only do one or the other. I think Loeffler’s history might factor into it more. He’s had mostly pocket passer quarterbacks, although that’s largely a function of the type of offense that Michigan ran (remember, he inherited Tim Tebow at Florida, and he was a pretty darn mobile quarterback). The best indicator might be the guys Loeffler and Tech are targeting in the future. A pair of 2014 recruits, Jacob Park from Goose Creek, S.C., and David Cornwell of Norman, Okla., are both labeled pro-style quarterbacks. I don’t know if that’s a conscious choice by Loeffler or not.
Here’s what Loeffler said at his introductory presser about what kind of QB he’s looking for: “We’re looking for obviously a smart, tough football player. And time you find smart and tough, it doesn’t matter if a he’s a great runner, a great passer, you’ve got a chance. We’re going to tailor the offense to a guy who’s smart and tough. Obviously if you can find the 6-foot-5, 245-pound guy that runs 4.4 that can throw it all over the yard, we’re going to try to find that guy. Is that hard to find? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, every quarterback that’s out there has some deficiency. They all do. But any time you’re smart and tough, you’re able to overcome some of your physical deficiencies. And all of them are different. But the common theme is if we find a guy that’s smart, tough and loves the game, a great leader with talent, you’ve got a chance.”
Judging from that, mental makeup appears to be a lot more important to Loeffler than physical.