The Hokies did five straight days of conditioning drills in the wee hours of the morning and a sixth today the team had to cancel because of weather.
“I told the kids the other day, I want this to be the toughest football team we’ve ever had here at Virginia Tech,” Beamer said at a pre-spring teleconference Monday. “I just think when you sit back and evaluate, there’s something about mental toughness, physical toughness that I think is important to winning.”
Left unsaid was what that meant about last year’s team, which struggled to a 7-6 record, the Hokies’ worst in 20 years, and led to an overhaul of the offensive staff.
Now, as Tech prepares to begin spring drills Wednesday, toughness has been the buzzword of the offseason. New coach Jeff Grimes mentioned in his introductory press conference that he wanted to have the toughest offensive line in the ACC. The staff has made known its desire to get back to having a hard-nosed running game. The intensity of the offseason workouts fit in to that line of thinking.
Two players got through the five 6 a.m. workouts earning effort shirts every day — cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Kyshoen Jarrett. The number of players who were recognized for their effort increased exponentially throughout the week, with three earning an effort shirt the first day and a record 64 on the fifth day.
“I thought the kids handled it great,” Beamer said. “I thought each day got a little bit better. Each time I thought we fought through some legs that were tired and bodies that were tired, and they fought through that great.”
Here are a few more notes and quotes from Beamer’s pre-spring teleconference …
– Beamer has been very hands off when it comes to the new assistants. He’s let them do their work and will meet with them tomorrow to discuss how to go forward into the spring. “My management way is to let them do it,” he said. “We’ll talk if we need to, if there’s something to talk about. But basically, if it’s successful, it’s them, and if it’s not working so good, it’s them. So I think it’s much better when … it’s their offense. They’re responsible for it.”
– Other than cornerback Antone Exum, Tech has few injuries worries this spring. Beamer thinks fullback Riley Beiro (shoulder) might still be limited. Center Andrew Miller (leg/ankle) and receiver D.J. Coles (knee) participated in the 6 a.m. workouts. With all of those taking place in Rector Field House on turf, it wore on them. Miller sat out for part of the last workout, but other than, both were OK. Regarding Coles, Beamer said: “We don’t want to rush it. … Next fall is when he really needs to be ready to go full tilt.”
– Offensive tackle will be a position to watch this spring, with Nick Becton, Vinston Painter and Michael Via gone. Junior Mark Shuman will start at the No. 1 spot at left tackle, followed by redshirt freshman Augie Conte. On the right side, junior Laurence Gibson will be No. 1 going into the spring, followed by redshirt freshman Adam Taraschke. “Those are two promising young guys, I think,” Beamer said of Conte and Taraschke. “Let them battle.” Junior Nick Acree, who is coming off ACL surgery, will slide inside from tackle to guard and compete for playing time there.
– There are a few position changes of note: Center Jack Willenbrock will be a tight end. Jerome Wright and Fuller Hoepner will play fullback. And Josh Trimble and Derek DiNardo will work at whip linebacker.
– Part of Wright’s move to fullback is related to that toughness goal. He was a running back at Fork Union, so he has some skills, but at 223 pounds is big enough to block too. “I think that position is going to get some attention and probably get more involved in our offense,” Beamer said. “You know it’s not just blocking. It’s running them and getting the out on passes and so forth, so we want a good athlete, a good, tough, big athlete at that position. I think that’s going to be the change.”
– Speaking of the running game, Beamer said he definitely wants a pecking order at tailback coming out of the spring. Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds “ is kind of right in the middle of it,” Beamer said. He said Edmunds had “a great offseason and I think he’s got a bright future.”
– It sounds like it’s possible not everybody listed as a running back will stay at running back by the time things are hashed out. “These guys that may not figure in there or see if there’s a better position for them,” Beamer said. “Again, they’re athletic, they’re usually very skilled. There’s positions for them on defense, positions for them at wide receiver. Not talking about anyone in particular, but there’s places for them to go and help the football team and help themselves. So we want to give them all a shot there, but at the end of the day, we want to know who we plan on going into next fall with and in what order they should be.”
– Those in the running for reps in Exum’s vacated cornerback spot this spring: Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning, Der’Woun Greene, Davion Tookes, Carl Jackson, Nick Bush. Those last two are walk-ons. “I think when you give them an opportunity, sometimes they’ll work themselves right by a scholarship guy and all of a sudden they’re on scholarship,” Beamer said.
– Although they are listed as redshirt freshmen on the team’s online roster, receiver Josh Stanford and linebacker Deon Clarke have not heard back from the NCAA about their request for a medical redshirt for last season. Both played early and got hurt before the NCAA’s cut-off to apply for a medical hardship. Beamer was optimistic they would be approved for it.
– The receivers behind Coles have plenty to prove this spring. Beamer was excited about Demitri Knowles, who came on near the end of last year. He also mentioned Joel Caleb (“has had a good winter workouts”), Charley Meyer (“a hard-working athletic guy”) and E.L. Smiling (he’s “kind of a new guy right now”).
– Beamer said linebacker Tariq Edwards looks completely healthy after a lost season last year because of a leg/knee injury. “I think he’s back and he needs to be a good leader for this football team,” Beamer said. “I think he will be.”