Virginia Tech’s spring practice is fast approaching, with drills beginning March 27. To prepare you for what should be a highly-anticipated spring session, I’ll be breaking down the Hokies by position groups over the next week and a half.
Read the previous installments by clicking on the links: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs. Today, we’ll finish things off with the specialists.
The 2012 numbers
– Cody Journell: 20-25 FG, 34-36 PAT, 6 kickoffs, 54.8 avg., 1 TB, 37-yard line start for opponents
– A.J. Hughes: 79 punts, 40.6 avg., 3 TB, 22 I20, 15 50+
– Brooks Abbott: 39 kickoffs, 61.5 avg., 9 TB, 33-yard line start for opponents
– Michael Branthover: 20 kickoffs, 59.7 avg., 8 TB, 21-yard line start for opponents
– Kyshoen Jarrett: 18 punt returns, 13.9 avg., 1 TD
– Michael Holmes: 14 punt returns, 7.4 avg.”
– Demitri Knowles: 21 kick returns, 28.3 avg., 1 TD
– J.C. Coleman: 19 kick returns, 21.6 avg.
– Alonzo Tweedy: 20 special teams tackles
– Josh Trimble: 13 special teams tackles
– Jeron Gouveia-Winslow: 7 special teams tackles
– Cody Journell, r-Sr.
– Brooks Abbott, So.
– Ethan Keyserling, r-Jr. (walk-on)
– Michael Branthover, Jr.
– A.J. Hughes, So.
– Hunter Windmuller, r-Fr. (walk-on)
– Joe St. Germain, r-Jr.
– Eddie D’Antuono, r-Fr. (walk-on)
– Colton Taylor, Fr. (walk-on)
– Trey Gresh, r-Jr.
– Tony Gregory, r-Sr.
– Kyshoen Jarrett, Jr.
– Michael Holmes, r-So.
– Demitri Knowles, r-So.
– J.C. Coleman, So.
– Tough to tell at this point
The Hokies had solid individual numbers on special teams, but can they avoid the gaffes that proved costly in so many games last year?
The star attraction
There’s a couple to choose from here. Jarrett and Knowles were near the top of the national rankings in punt and kick returns, respectively, but I’ll go with Journell. The redshirt senior has been through a lot just to make it to his senior season. After going 20-for-25 last year and kicking three game-winners (Georgia Tech, Virginia and Rutgers), he’s got the clutch ability that you look for in a kicker. He’ll need to improve on his distance — he’s never made a kick longer than 42 yards in a game — but if he can continue to make the ones he’s supposed to make (and he was 19-for-20 on field goals of 41 yards or closer last season), Tech should be satisfied.
The field goal situation is no competition. The punting job appears to be Hughes’. There’s no debate who will be the long snapper. And Gresh has held down the holding spot for a while. The biggest battle might be for who does kickoffs. Branthover did it early last year, but gave way to Abbott, who eventually lost the job back to Branthover. Neither was truly impressive in the role, so Journell took over in the bowl game. All three should get a crack this year. Simply looking at numbers, Branthover appears to have the strongest leg of the three, with eight touchbacks in 20 tries (Abbott had nine in 39 tries). Opponents had a much worse starting field position with Branthover versus Abbott. But Tech tries to get directional with its kickoffs, so it’s not just all about power. Given how last season finished, this competition is bound to go right up to the start of the season.
The new guys
It’s always so tough to tell who could be on special teams before the players even arrive. Most will have some kind of duty on coverage teams at some point, although right now, we’re probably guessing at who could be a factor in the return game. Kendall Fuller has been mentioned, and given his considerable skill set, the Hokies would probably like to get him on the field as early as they can. Charles Clark, Anthony Shegog, Deon Newsome and I’m sure a few others I’m overlooking returned kicks or punts in high school. Tech will have no shortage of candidates from this class.
The wild card
Trimble is a guy who could be the most likely candidate to step into Tweedy’s sizable shoes. Tweedy made 20 special teams tackles last year, as many as the next two closest players on the roster combined. One of those was Trimble, a walk-on who made 13 special teams tackles (9 on kickoffs, 4 on punts). Back from a brief suspension for an offseason arrest for setting off a works bomb in a prank, Trimble should get his shot. He might not have the same speed as Tweedy — honestly, not many players did last year — but he appears to have the instincts that serve special teams gunners so well.
Once its calling card, Virginia Tech blocked only kick last year, a punt that Tony Gregory got to against Austin Peay. The Hokies haven’t blocked a punt against a team from the Football Bowl Subdivision since the 2010 opener against Boise State, nearly three full seasons ago.