I’m hoping to see a roster update with new heights and weights, freshman uniform numbers and maybe a recent depth chart before that, but I’m not sure if or when that’s going to happen. So I thought I’d throw together a blog post about camp battles.
Here’s a look at a few positions to watch this month:
The last time everyone saw the Hokies, it was a three-man race. Now, with Michael Holmes dismissed from school, the starting job will likely come down to J.C. Coleman and Trey Edmunds. It wouldn’t be surprising if both got carries. That’s just how teams like to do things these days, and since both bring unique skill sets to the table (Coleman’s a shifty back, Edmunds is a thumper), there’s probably a big role for both in this offense, especially given how few reliable weapons it seems like the Hokies will have. Tony Gregory and Chris Mangus figure to get looks in some situations as well. It’s not the most diverse position Tech has, but there are some options for new coordinator Scot Loeffler.
Kevin Asante‘s dismissal and the possibility that Joel Caleb might not suit up for at least the opener (a suspension reported by HokieHaven.com but yet to be confirmed by the school) makes a thin group that much thinner. D.J. Coles should be solid (provided he slimmed down a little bit). He’s a veteran. But beyond that, there’s a lot of youth. Demitri Knowles is only a sophomore with one touchdown catch to his name. Josh Stanford and Charley Meyer are only redshirt freshmen, so there’s a learning curve associated with that. E.L. Smiling and Willie Byrn might work their way into the conversation. It’s a pretty inexperienced crew. Anyone that stands out this month has a good shot at shooting up the depth chart.
The tackle spots seem pretty set with Jonathan McLaughlin and Laurence Gibson. So too does the center spot if it’s true that Andrew Miller is moving to guard to make way for Caleb Farris. But there’s a ton of players left to vie for guard spots. You’ve got Miller (the most experienced lineman), David Wang (a starter returning from injury), Brent Benedict (one the most physically gifted linemen), Mark Shuman (a veteran who moved inside from tackle and started the spring game) and Jake Goins. That’s a lot of guys fighting for a coupe spots it they all stay at guard. And who knows how the redshirt freshmen and newcomers will fit in now that they’ve gone through the offseason conditioning program? It’s a lot of puzzle pieces for Jeff Grimes to fit together.
This is the type of competition you’d love to have. James Gayle will be a starter on one side. That’s pretty well known. But who will be on the opposite end? The Hokies have some strong options. J.R. Collins is the incumbent (sort of) after returning to spring ball as a new man following a disappointing 2012 season in which he admitted he got a little lazy and was out of shape. But Dadi Nicolas is charging hard. The sophomore made plays whenever he was on the field last year and shot up the depth chart after a fantastic spring. It might be hard to keep him off the field. And don’t forget Corey Marshall and Tyrel Wilson, both of whom have started there in the past, or redshirt freshman Ken Ekanem, who’ll be looking to make his mark. This is what teams like to call a good problem.
Backup defensive tackles
This one is not one of the good problems. The Hokies need a few defensive tackles to step up behind starters Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy and so far don’t have any answers. Junior Kris Harley seems like he’d be the best option, but for whatever reason he’s never elevated his game to the level Charley Wiles wants. That opened up opportunities in the spring for youngsters like Alston Smith, Woody Baron and Nigel Williams. Wiles said after spring ball that Baron was probably the No. 3 tackle, followed by Smith, then Harley and Williams, but that can easily change. Tech will need someone of this group to step forward to feel comfortable about depth on the interior line.
Will injured corner Antone Exum be back in time for the opener? That’s the million dollar question this August (and one that should have a better answer tomorrow after he visits with Dr. James Andrews). But the Hokies have to prepare as if he won’t be back in time for Alabama. They have some other options. Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes are the “veterans” of that pack, all entering their second year with the program and, presumably, much more comfortable in the system. But five-star prospect Kendall Fuller will be in camp now and from all accounts is the real deal. He should push for early playing time in some capacity (possibly nickel). And it’s not a stretch to say that of the youngsters, nobody had a better spring than Brandon Facyson, an early enrollee who could get on the field immediately.
The field got dwindled by one when Brooks Abbott, who handled the duties for seven games last year, decided to transfer. Michael Branthover did a pretty good job in the role last year but wasn’t kept in that spot for whatever reason. By the end of the year, Cody Journell was handling kickoffs. Statistically, Branthover was far better, having opponents start on average at their own 21-yard line (Abbott was 37, Journell was 33 in a limited number of kicks). Those numbers obviously aren’t all on the kicker. There’s a coverage team too. But this job was an issue all of last year. Time will tell if it remains so this year.