Virginia Tech wrapped up spring practice on April 20, although questions remain heading into the summer that won’t have more definitive answers until fall camp. Nevertheless, the spring cleared up some things. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be taking a look back at what the Hokies figured out and what remains a work in progress.
Today, we’ll cover the running backs. If you missed a previous installment, you can get to it here: quarterbacks.
– RB: J.C. Coleman, So., or Trey Edmunds, r-Fr., or Michael Holmes, So.
– FB: Riley Beiro, Jr. (starter), Greg Gadell, Jr.
The stated goal at the start of spring was to start whittling the field so that the Hokies didn’t employ a four-tailback approach like last year. For the most part, Tech got some clarity. Coleman, Edmunds and Holmes emerged as the three guys most likely to get the first carry in the Georgia Dome against Alabama come August, even if an exact pecking order hasn’t yet been decided. All three showed some things. Coleman, who began spring atop the depth chart (more of a nod to last year’s finish than anything), seemed to pick up where he left off. Holmes, who looked bigger, ran with more confidence. And Edmunds, who seems to be the fan favorite for the gig, showed flashes of why coaches talk about him so highly, displaying a size-speed combo that would seem to fit the mold of what Scot Loeffler and Co. want at tailback in what is presumed will be a run-heavy offense.
Holmes’ status is in limbo after his arrest on charges of malicious wounding and simple assault last month. His indefinite suspension means he’s away from the team during summer workouts, although with a legal battle ahead of him, that might be the least of his worries. On the field, the group still left something to be desired. The trio combined for only 34 yards on 17 carries in the spring game, hardly the breakout performance many fans hoped to see (although, like last year, much of the backs’ success will depend on the holes created by the offensive line). Most disappointing was the group’s short-yardage shortcomings, a problem all of last year. There still wasn’t enough separation among the three for running backs coach Shane Beamer to declare a starter. Although he claims Tech will have a featured back this year, the circumstances sound similar to last year. The backs had some injuries that hindered things in the spring too. Tony Gregory sat out with a rib injury. Beiro, the presumed starter at fullback, was still coming back slowly from a shoulder injury.
HELP ON THE WAY
At this point, Tech probably has to proceed as though Drew Harris won’t be able to help them in the fall. He’s at a junior college in New York, still trying to get his academic requirements in order for the NCAA Clearinghouse. How that group will rule is anyone’s guess. So too is if Harris will stick with his VT commitment (he’s currently a recruitable athlete and has garnered interest from Florida State and Arkansas). D.J. Reid is another signee, although given the glut of running backs near the top of the depth chart, a redshirt season seems in order, provided he qualifies.
Of the three potential starters, Edmunds seems like he has the highest ceiling. He can stand up linebackers in Tech’s “T-Time” Drill, has the explosiveness to break a big play and has the kind of game — put a foot in the ground and cut upfield — that’s conducive to what the Hokies are trying to do in the running game. Edmunds and Holmes seem like the two backs big and strong enough to be workhorses. Holmes’ situation might have made the coaches’ decision about who gets more reps easier come fall.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Obviously it’s the top spot. The spring started with a group of five backs at the top. Chris Mangus fell back a little. Gregory too, with his injury, leaving Coleman, Edmunds and Holmes at the top. Your starter will come from those three, although it could take some time to figure out who it will be.
THEY SAID IT
“Competition throughout the summer is good. 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.” — Shane Beamer
The Hokies are looking for a total package at running back. Whether any one player on the roster can fit that bill at this point in his career remains to be seen. All three of the potential starters have question marks — Coleman’s size, Edmunds’ experience, Holmes’ legal situation and struggles last year as the top guy. But all three bring something to the table. It sounds a lot like last year, although Beamer has sworn not to go down the road of “equal reps for all,” an approach that some feel stunted the growth of the backs last season. A new coordinator and fresh approach might do the running game good. Loeffler has said repeatedly that you have to run the football to be successful. This group will need to step up its game to make that happen.