Plenty of mailbag questions this week. I’ll break them up into two parts. Look for the second installment tomorrow:
I’m a 2006 alum currently deployed in Afghanistan; most of friends and family are telling me I picked a good year to miss college football season. But I fear if things don’t change on the recruiting trail and the practice field, the slow decline will continue. How long do you think it will take to lure in elite linemen, start playing more physical on offense and run the ball like we did when I was in school? Why can’t we get four and five star linemen? How do we keep letting UVA, UNC and Clemson out-recruit us up front?
– Paul Dunn, Temple, Texas
As I wrote in July, offensive linemen recruiting rankings are often unreliable. There’s so much growth potential and physical maturing that these guys need to do from the time they’re 17 years old (when they’re being recruited) to when they’re 21, 22 years old (when they’re actually going to play), that it makes it very hard to project how they’re going to develop. Now. that doesn’t mean a two-star guy has a better chance to succeed than a four- or five-star guy. I’m not saying that at all. Just that there are greater instances of two- and three-star recruits developing into very solid players on the offensive line than at any other position (with d-line not far behind).
I think over time, Jeff Grimes will be able to pull his share of highly-ranked guys at Virginia Tech. Remember, he came in late to the recruiting process for this cycle. The 2014 class was already in full swing when he arrived in January and he landed five guys in seven months, no small achievement. I don’t know if I agree with this “Fab Five” moniker that people are throwing around. That’s usually for a group of elite guys, not five two- and three-star guys. But it’s still a group of players that Grimes has identified as being the kind of linemen he likes (athletic, with growth potential) and are ones he’s going to develop over the years. The fact that Tech got five of them is what fans should be pleased about. The o-line needed to replenish its ranks.
Should VT beat Alabama and run the table for the rest of the year, do they start high enough in the polls to make it to one of the top two spots?
– Chris Nicholas, Southport, N.C.
If Tech beats Alabama — and enormous “if” — then yes. It would probably jump immediately into the top 10 (or if not, close). That’s how high of regard people have for Alabama these days. Beyond that, though, polls are often just based on who doesn’t lose. Look at last year. Notre Dame was the only team that didn’t lose and made the BCS title game, even though from a talent standpoint, it seemed like there were about five or six better teams. The Fighting Irish’s 42-14 loss to Alabama seemed to confirm that. As the year progresses, keep an eye on the loss column. Whichever team has a zero there will move up the rankings, regardless of how tough its schedule is.
I have noticed in recruiting that two positions in particular have changed. It seems with the offensive line and wide receivers each prospect has two recruiting coaches. The assigned geographic coach and position coach. Is the biggest two concerns in recruiting and the staff is trying to fix quickly?
– Eric, Charlotte, N.C.
Part of that might be with the new coaches getting acclimated to their new recruiting zones. As I mentioned, they came in after some work had already been done on the recruiting trail, so somebody else might have done the initial work with a lot of these recruits. The other thing is, Tech has altered its recruiting approach a little bit. Bryan Stinespring, upon being reassigned to recruiting coordinator, said the Hokies would do more direct recruiting with its assistants, meaning the person who is recruiting the area might make first contact, but then the guy who will work with that particular prospect does quite a bit of work in the recruitment too. Grimes, for instance, has a recruiting zone around Harrisonburg and up I-81, but he’ll go anywhere to find to linemen. It seems like that makes sense. You want these recruits to feel comfortable with who they’ll be working with. As for your assessment of linemen and wide receivers, yes, I’d say those are two positions of emphasis this class. Just based on previous years’ classes and the current depth at those spots, Tech needs to replenish the ranks.
Any word on how Grimes feels about his OL as camp starts? Any word on how Moorehead feels about his WRs as camp starts? What do the WRs need to work on as the season approaches?
Any idea on the uniforms and helmets this season? Please tell me that they’ll stop with all of the ridiculous combinations and ugly helmets? I know they’re doing the orange camo helmets (no problem with that), but the Hokie bird and Hokie bird track helmets were beyond ugly.
– Ed M., Atlanta
I think both coaches feel cautiously optimistic about their groups. Obviously, they’ve never seen their players in an actual game, just practice, and games are what count. So there’s always going to be a level of uncertainty about what they’ve got until they can get the players battle-tested. And that’s the biggest issue. Most of these guys aren’t. Outside of D.J. Coles, nobody has a ton of experience at receiver. And outside of Andrew Miller and David Wang, the offensive line is very inexperienced. Just look at the tackle spots. You’ve got projected starters in Laurence Gibson and Jonathan McLaughlin who have never started a game. That’s always going to be a cause for concern. From the spring, I think it’s pretty clear that the receivers have to work on catching the ball and the o-line on getting more physical in the running game.
As for helmets, I make no guarantees that Tech won’t try something crazy. Other than the hunters appreciation military appreciation helmets, I haven’t seen or heard about plans for anything crazy. Then again, all it requires is ordering some decals that can be applied to the existing helmets. It doesn’t take a ton of effort to do something that looks as lame as those Hokie tracks or the Foghorn Leghorn flexing gobbler. I’m sure there will be at least one game this year where Tech does something that it hasn’t done before. That seems to be the norm around Blacksburg now.
Is there any news on Drew Harris? Last I heard FSU gave him an offer and he still had not gotten through his academic troubles. VT was doing so well in recruiting; now UVA has taken most of the top talent from Virginia. I like that we are getting some guys to grow on the new offensive line, but for a year when the state of Virginia has a lot of top talent, how/why is UVA doing better than us? Not to mention that most of these top guys are on the defensive side of the ball.
– Justin P., Bristol, Tenn.
I wouldn’t count on Drew Harris ever coming to Tech. He had to go the junior college route, and Tech rarely if ever takes junior college transfers. I’m not sure what his latest status is.
As far as recruiting, Tech certainly has to make inroads in the 757 again. Say what you will about Curt Newsome (and fans seem to have done just that since his firing), but he was a respected person and strong recruiter who still carried a lot of weight down in Hampton Roads. Simply by removing him from being able to recruit that area was bound to have an impact, especially given Mike London and UVa’s focus on that area for the last three years. And, to be honest, if you’re looking for a quicker path to playing time, the Cavaliers are probably the better bet of the two schools right now.
I think Cornell Brown and Bryan Stinespring will get things going down there, but again, that takes time. (And there were a couple of big-name recruits this year that, for one reason or another, were always probably going to head to UVa regardless.) It used to be that Al Groh virtually ignored the 757 area. Maybe not that far, but he certainly didn’t put the emphasis on it that the Hokies have over the years. Well, now the Cavaliers are putting a major emphasis down there, so Tech has to up its game. For once, Tech can’t just point at its record and sway recruits that easily. A 7-6 mark is nothing to brag about.
How do you see the running backs splitting carries this season between J.C. Coleman and Trey Edmunds?
– Chris M., Knoxville, Tenn.
Will the running game be better this season and if so why?
– Mark, Waterford
I’ll say yes for this simple fact: it’d be hard for it to get much worse. There were so many things that went wrong in the running game last year — no backs, no holes, no receivers blocking — that it’s hard to pinpoint one area where Tech needs to improve to be successful. It needs to be everything. There is automatically a little more focus on who can get carries — J.C. Coleman and Trey Edmunds will be the guys now that Michael Holmes has been kicked off the team — so the odds you see a four-man rotation are probably gone. But most of all, I think there will be more of a focus from the offense to be a team that can run the ball with its backs behind a physical offensive line. You need that mentality. You can’t say, we’ll do a little Pistol and a little read option and a little misdirection, and expect it to work. That’s how you end up having your quarterback ram into the line 20 times a game. I think now, Tech knows exactly how it wants to approach running the ball. It just has to rep it enough so that the players have it down. That distinction is important.
When Scot Loeffler spoke at the Roanoke Valley Sports Club the other night, he said something interesting about the role of the backs in the offense. “They’re different,” he said. “Edmunds is the thumper. [Chris] Mangus and Coleman are the scat backs. So we’ve got to play to their strengths.” I think it’s interesting that he has only Edmunds as the only “thumper” of the group. I mean, it’s true. And anyone who looks at the size of the backs would say that. But Tech often tried to shoehorn Coleman is as a between-the-tackles guy last year. It seems like Loeffler has a good sense of the capabilities of these guys, knowing that Edmunds is probably the better option for the inside stuff and Mangus and Coleman, two quick backs, are probably better in space. I think you saw Coleman being used some in space last year on screens and such, but I’d expect much more of it this year.
My question/challenge to you will be to watch how the August practices run with three new offensive coaches vs. last season. What’s new and what stays the same. Mostly your observations on the conduct of how the offensive prepares and practices. Offensive line, QB’s, and WR’s. The entire concept. The amount of time spent learning how to run the ball consistently and score in the red zone without reservation of schemes and play calling. Is there a new swagger? And will Scot Loeffler be a side line or press box offensive coordinator?
– MIKE3, Roanoke
After living in Blacksburg for 14 years my job took me to Dallas, TX. Before I left, I used to go to the bulk of public scrimmages to see the annual installment of new offensive “wrinkles.” Given that we are revamping the offense, and I did not watch any of Coach Loeffler’s games from Auburn or Temple I am not sure what our offense will look like. I realize we will be using a more traditional pro-set, but will we have a FB, use two TE sets, etc.? Are there any packages that we can expect to see with regularity? Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
– Aaron Baxter, Dallas
These kind of go together. I’ve kind of answered the first part of the first question in previous responses here, but I’ll expound. Loeffler has made frequent mention to how Tech needs to improve in the red zone (or as he calls it, the “red area”). And he’s stressed the need to run the ball before doing anything else. Not exclusively. He thinks there needs to be a balance. But the passing game is aided by an effective running game.
The other large concept he’s emphasized is having an understanding of situations and wanting to create mismatches through trading and shifting. Tech fans have heard this song and dance before, but I think the spring was a glimpse at how the Hokies will operate, having guys lined up in places you wouldn’t otherwise expect them to be (Coles in the backfield, Coleman out wide). Loeffler looks up to Bill Belichick quite a bit from what I gather. I think he’d like an offense that can be that versatile. And if you look at the Patriots, yes, it’s a pro set, but they use all sorts of formations, whether it’s multiple backs at times or none at others. I think what Loeffler wants is to have a traditional set of personnel but use it in ways that at times can be untraditional, if that makes any sense.
As far as where he’ll be calling the games, it’ll be the press box. He really dislikes being on the field. Here’s what he said at the sports club: “I’ve done it on the field. I don’t like it. You can’t see. It’s slow. It’s methodical. You can have a cup of coffee. You don’t hear the band. You can take the emotion away. And the reason that I’m doing that is that I’ve got a senior quarterback. If you have a puppy running out there, which I had before, I had a true freshman that started, when you’re 18 years old walking into those type of environments, you get big eyes quick. And you don’t have to worry about that with the quarterback we have. So I can go have a cup of coffee and go call plays.”