Let’s try to run down everything that happened on Day 1 in what I hope will be an exhaustive blog post here. In the future, I’d like to have this done earlier, though.
Without further ado, we’ll start with the three big things to come out Monday, then go to the quick-hitters …
1. Antone Exum is out for the Alabama game and probably won’t be back at the earliest until the start of ACC play.
I covered pretty much all of that in the previous blog post, which also served as the story that appears in Tuesday’s paper.
We had interviews with the coaches before the Exum news came out, but it’s clear they had an inkling of what was happening. Both defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive backs coach Torrian Gray claimed they didn’t know anything about it, but they pretty much talked about the timetable that head athletic trainer Mike Goforth would give us later in the day.
“It’s just one of those things that takes time,” head coach Frank Beamer said after practice. “I think in a couple months they’re going to re-evaluate, and it just needs to be right for him and for us. So it is what it is. … Antone was playing at a high level, but another guy now needs to step up and play at that level. That’s the way it is.”
Interestingly, the candidates most likely to replace Exum in the staring lineup are Donaldven Manning and Brandon Facyson. They’re listed as co-No. 1′s on the depth chart, although Gray didn’t rule Donovan Riley out of the competition. Of the three, Gray said Facyson performed the best in the spring.
“It normally works itself out,” Gray said of a potential starter in the group. “One of those guys hopefully will separate himself. … If one guy’s not ready, you have to play a couple of guys as a combination. One guy might not be ready to play 60 plays, but if you get 45 and 15 or 30/30, they’ll determine that, who will play.”
There’s a notable exception from that competition, and that’s because …
2. Freshman Kendall Fuller will get a big role as the nickelback.
When the depth chart came out, Fuller was curiously listed as co-No. 1 at whip linebacker with Ronny Vandyke. Well, that’s because Virginia Tech will use him as the nickelback, and not just as someone who comes in on third downs.
“When we’ve been good, we’ve been able to execute at that position,” Foster said. “When we haven’t been good, we have been trying to piece work it, so to speak. And we want a guy who can be in there to be a nickel guy, a cover guy, but then also run our defense. And can bring pressures and those type of things, like his brother [Kyle] did a couple years ago. Like our whip linebackers did last year. And that’s when we’ve really played our best football when we’ve had that guy be a play-maker but run our defense.
“I’m hoping he’s going to be that five-star guy that we’re all counting on.”
That’s not necessarily dampening the hype surrounding the five-star prospect, but Foster thinks Kendall is talented enough to make an immediate impact. Even though Monday was his first practice, he’s been to Virginia Tech a lot, so what the Hokies are doing is familiar to him. Plus, he’s being tutored by his older brother, Kyle, who took the same route to the field when he was younger.
That doesn’t mean Fuller won’t be a true cornerback down the line. But for now, this is a role in which Tech sees him contributing now.
“When it’s two backs and two tight ends, Ronny Vandyke’s in there as the whip guy,” Gray said. “When they’ve got three receivers in the game, get Kendall in there and you can still run your whole defense. So he’s blitzing, he’s doing everything where we’re running our package in. It’s not, ‘You’re only playing zones or you’re only playing man.’ I’s going to be a full operational thing.”
3. Receiver Joel Caleb is getting reps as a running back.
This surprising move only happened recently. Tech’s coaches were concerned that, without Michael Holmes on the roster, the team was lacking power backs behind Trey Edmunds.
“God forbid something happens something happens to Trey, then we don’t want to be in Week 6 and we don’t have a bigger back that’s gotten reps,” Shane Beamer said.
So the Hokies thought Caleb, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound redshirt freshman, could fit the bill. He wasn’t very high on the wide receiver depth chart, having come along slowly in his first year at the position, behind at least four receivers. Plus, he had a history as a ballcarrier, having played quarterback at Clover Hill High in Midlothian before moving to receiver after arriving in Blacksburg.
“I think when you study it, it kind of goes back to high school,” Frank Beamer said. “When Joel had the ball in his hands, he was really a good player in high school there as a quarterback. And then I think that’s what needs to happen here. I think he looks more natural. Tonight he made a couple of cuts that I’m kind of convinced we’re on the right path here.”
Shane first approached Caleb about the idea last week. He was receptive. But Tech isn’t saying that means he’s no longer going to be a receiver in the future.
“He can come out of the backfield and do a lot of things receiver-wise, which he’s been doing things for a while now,” receivers coach Aaron Moorehead said. “He can come over with me and do some stuff with our drills, be able to spread him out in 7-on-7, he’s outside, he’s inside, he’s coming through the backfield. He’s just a dynamic player that we need to find the best way to put the ball in his hands.”
“I thought it was almost night and day from spring practice to tonight with him,” Frank said. “I think it’s a good decision for our team and him, too. I think he needs the ball in his hands, and when he does, I think he’s a threat.”
Caleb will start the spring by being full-time with Shane and the running backs.
“If it’s a fit for him, great, we’ll keep going down that path,” Shane said. “If it’s not, then he can always go back to receiver and then we’ll figure out Plan B.”
Whether or not Caleb is available for the opener remains unknown. Virginia Tech has yet to confirm a report that Caleb will suspended for the opener against Alabama, although Frank all but confirmed it when asked about Caleb specifically Monday night.
“We’ll make announcements about those things later on,” he said.
Because of the way Tech is doing practices this year, we get assistant coaches on Mondays, offensive players Tuesday and defensive players Wednesday for interviews. So everything today is from coaches, and I’ll probably have to expand on some of these items (or the aforementioned ones) later in the week after talking to the players.
Regardless, here are some more quick notes from Monday …
– Here’s another shot of the scoreboard that’s going up. Another trapezoidal panel will be added to the right side. It’s pretty big. And remember, most of the front will be the actual video board, whereas the old board had a very small screen and fixed advertising plates around it.
– I don’t know how often he says this (probably quite a bit), but Beamer was extremely pleased with the first practice. “I don’t know that I’ve ever been around a better first practice,” he said.
I’m guessing he’s said this before.
– Beamer seems to get really energized when the kickers are doing well. He thought they did Monday, making sure to note how well Mitchell Ludwig, a freshman walk-on kicker from Abingdon, did on kickoffs, a problem area for Tech last year. “If Ludwig can continue the way he did tonight … I mean he was knocking them to the back of the end zone and out of the end zone,” Frank said. “So that takes care of the kickoff return.”
– With Kendall Fuller and Facyson possibly being with the first team, that could mean two true freshman on the field in the secondary to start the season, although Beamer didn’t seem to have many qualms with that.
“I think when you’ve got good players, you probably need to go ahead and play them,” he said. “We had a couple guys redshirted and then the third year they were gone. Still had two years of eligibility left. So I think the guys who have got ability and are probably going to play at the next level too, then I think more times than not, if you play them enough plays, you go ahead and play them. And I think those two kids fit in that category.”
– Corey Marshall will move inside to defensive tackle this year to help give the Hokies some much-needed depth at the position behind Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy. It’s a one-year thing. He’ll be back at end next year.
“Unselfish deal by Corey,” Frank said. “I think you try to get your best players on the field and I think we’re in a position to do that right now. And he adds something. When he’s inside, he’s quick, he’s strong. He gives you something in there.”
– When the Caleb move was announced, I tweeted this, essentially saying that it doesn’t say a lot about what the Hokies coaches thought about him as a receiver right now if they’re moving him when receiver depth is so dire.
When I approached Shane, he was answering a question to another reporter about how this move was odd, considering the wide receiver depth.
Shane worked this into his answer: ”No. I saw where, one reporter, not naming any names, said that if we thought he had a chance at receiver, we never would have moved him. That’s not necessarily the case. Hey, Andy. You’re right. We’re thin at receiver. …”
I’ll stand by my statement, though. If Caleb was ready to be a receiver now and have a big role in the passing game, Tech wouldn’t have moved him.
– Moorehead threw some cold water on the Charley Meyer hype that everyone seemed to perpetuate late last month at the ACC Kickoff. He’s pleased with how Meyer has progressed, and thinks he’s made a big move. But he wants to see more improvement.
“Now, kind of the pressure is on, leading up to the season,” Moorehead said. “Is he going to take that next step and be the guy you think he should be? Or is he going to just kind of continue to stay steady Eddie? And that’s not what I want. I want a guy who is ascending. And when you look at Charley, he’s a tough kid, he catches the ball well, he’s a guy that we’re counting on. He’s a guy that I’m counting on. But at the end of the day, he needs to prove that day-in and day-out.”
Meyer, for what it’s worth, made a couple of nice snags on passes during drills in the open part of practice. He made a diving catch on a low pass one time and a leaping catch on another near the sideline.
– I asked Moorehead how many receivers he’d like to play. He said six.
“Six is a great number,” he said. “Because now guys are getting 30 snaps here, 20 snaps here and maybe one guy is getting 50 or a couple guys are getting five to 10 a game. And they’re keeping guys involved and they’re keeping different guys in different roles.”
I followed up by asking him: how many does he think he’s got right now?
“Yet to be determined,” Moorehead said.
– Shane said there will probably be some kind of split of carries between a couple of backs. Maybe it will be like when David Wilson got two series to every one Josh Oglesby did two years ago or perhaps it will be a more even split. Either way, he says that will sort itself out.
But Tech figures to be more specific with its personnel this year.
“Last year if we called whatever the personnel was, and it was one back, one tight end and three receivers, it was whatever tailback was in the game,” Shane said. “Well, this year we’re a little bit more flexible in that. We can designate: we want this tailback in on this play to run that play. So we’ll be specific from that standpoint.”
– Shane felt bummed out for Riley Beiro, who had to call it a career because of a shoulder issue. Beiro went home last weekend to talk it over with his family, coming back to tell the coaches about it not longer before the news was made public.
“We’re fortunate that we have more depth at the fullback position than what we have last year,” Shane said. “We’ve got four guys that we are rotating this year. And we’ll be OK there.”
Those four are Fuller Hoepner, Greg Gadell, Jerome Wright and Sam Rogers.
– Want to read anything into the offensive line depth chart that was released Monday? Don’t, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said.
“I’m still not in a position where I’m ready to say that this guy is best at this spot,” he said. “I’m certainly not ready to say who our best five are yet. That was the first thing I told them at our meeting: Nobody’s earned a spot yet. That’s what training camp is for.”
Grimes did say that he thought right guard was the right spot for Andrew Miller.
“Obviously he can play center,” Grimes said. “That gives us a lot of versatility, because he’s a guy that’s had success playing that position. But we also feel like he can be a very dominant guard in this league. And that’s a very valuable position for us.”
– The first six periods of practice were open Monday. I thought the funniest bit was offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler repeatedly telling players in the stretching line that this was a “basketball day,” since the Hokies practiced without pads.
“There’s a lot of tough guys today!” he kept yelling.
– 2014 quarterback commitment Andrew Ford was in attendance.
– Tech got word that receiver Josh Stanford‘s medical redshirt has been processed, although it is still waiting to hear about linebacker Deon Clarke‘s. The Hokies hoped to get both players a year back. Both played a few snaps early last season before suffering injuries before the cutoff for a medical redshirt.
Offensive lineman David Wang, who has lost two years because of injury, has already had a sixth year of eligibility approved by the NCAA. That makes Wang a redshirt junior this season.
– Receiver Mark Irick has a stress fracture that has left him in a walking boot. The redshirt freshman isn’t on Tech’s 105-man roster this preseason. Goforth said it’ll probably be a month before they take more X-rays of Irick’s foot. They’re hoping it heals on its own and doesn’t require surgery.
– Here are uniform numbers for the freshman class (excluding the early enrollees): QB Kendall BeCraft (1), FS Chuck Clark (5), QB Bucky Hodges (7), K Mitchell Ludwig (8), DB Kendall Fuller (11), WR David Prince (19), WR Deon Newsome (20), K R.J. Warfel (23), FB Sam Rogers (26), ROV Anthony Shegog (32), LB Jamieon Moss (50), LB Andrew Motuapuaka (54), LB Sean Huelskamp (56), DT Wyatt Teller (57), OG Kyle Chung (61), TE Kalvin Cline (87).