Asked about how he thought Michael Holmes performed in Saturday’s scrimmage, Hokies offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler hedged.
“I can’t comment until I watch the tape on that,” he said. “We had some ideas. I hate to do this, but I don’t want to share yet because … I don’t want to tell you something that I don’t know.
“I hate giving you a bad answer, but that’s a bad answer.”
It goes without saying that Virginia Tech’s running back situation, at least right now, remains unsettled, not that the coaches are concerned about not having a featured back picked out with a week to go in spring drills.
“Competition throughout the summer is good,” running backs coach Shane Beamer said. “I can assure you going into the Alabama game that we will have a pecking order. No doubt about it. But if we came out of the spring and said, ‘Hey, I feel like we’ve got three starting running backs,’ I’ve got no problems with that right now.”
While a glut of backs were in a logjam on the pre-spring depth chart, that picture has become a little bit clearer. J.C. Coleman, Holmes and Trey Edmunds have emerged from the pack as the players most likely to start come fall.
Senior Tony Gregory has been held the last few practices out as a precautionary measure after taking a shot to the ribs. And although redshirt freshman Chris Mangus got plenty of work in Saturday’s scrimmage, he remains a bit behind in the mental side of things.
“Probably Trey and Mike and J.C. are a little bit more consistent from that standpoint,” Beamer said.
Coleman was the most effective back last year, with 492 rushing yards, most of the running backs. But his size will always be a limitation, particularly for an offense hoping to get back to its smashmouth roots. (He took a shot on the hip Saturday, limiting his reps.)
Edmunds, a redshirt freshman the fan base has been eager to see, got more work in the first scrimmage, averaging 4.1 yards on seven carries, tops of the backs. Although he had only six carries for six yards Saturday, he’s shown good power and burst this spring.
Then there’s Holmes, whose redshirt freshman season fell short of expectations, making him fall off many peoples’ radar. But he’s had a solid spring and led the running backs with nine carries for 23 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s scrimmage. Those stats aren’t eye-popping — a lot of which can be attributed to an offensive line in flux — but Beamer sees a certain confidence from Holmes , aided by another year of experience.
“Last year he was the starter but he had never played a college game before,” Beamer said. “It was still new to him. It’s really him. It’s not like we had a long heart to heart. He was not happy with the way things finished last year. From the offseason on, he’s playing with a lot of confidence. I think he’s running more physical.
“We kid him, he’s kind of got his swag back, to use that lingo. Love the way he’s playing and the way that he’s competing. He’s playing with great energy. Really like what he’s doing right now.”
Virginia Tech has still been very basic with what it’s installed this spring in the running game. The Hokies used a stretch play frequently in Saturday’s scrimmage, something that gives the running backs a choice to cut inside or outside. It’s another way to evaluate.
“It gives them a lot of freedom to do what they want, see what they see,” Beamer said. “We’re specific about reads and landmarks and things like that but it’s a little more freedom. Doing a lot of zone stuff right now. Really we’ve put in two running plays essentially this entire spring and one of them we’ve used probably 98 percent of the time. We really just want to get good on that stuff.”
It’s far from a finished product, as are the backs, meaning the competition might not be over for a while. Beamer knows what he’s looking for, though.
“It’s the whole package,” he said. “We’re doing a lot formation-wise, so they have a lot on their plate — where they’re lining up, protections. Whoever can do the whole package most consistently is the one who’s going to be able to play.”