I had to file a story first tonight, so it took me a while to get through the quotes from interviews Tuesday. There’s plenty to cover, so I’ll spare you an extended intro and jump straight into the bullet points …
– Defensive end James Gayle weighed in on all the chatter about Alabama being so good. Is he tired of hearing about it?
“I can’t really say the truth, but I’m tired of it,” he said, drawing a few laughs. “We’re a good team also. But they’re coming off a strong season last year and the national championship, so respect should be given. I just feel like we’re not getting much on our end.”
Is it motivation?
“Yeah, definitely motivates us,” Gayle said. “We’re not a slouch ourselves. We had a down season last year but we’re still Virginia Tech.”
– On the injury front, there were five guys in blue jerseys Tuesday: safety Kyshoen Jarrett (hamstring), running back J.C. Coleman (ankle), tight end Ryan Malleck (shoulder), defensive end Ken Ekanem (unknown) and offensive lineman Mark Shuman (knee).
Wide receiver Charley Meyer, who is dealing with a hamstring injury, appeared to be a full go. He wasn’t in blue.
Jarrett just did scout team work Tuesday, although defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said barring any setbacks, he should be good to go Saturday.
Coleman had a heavily-taped left ankle but was still participating in drills, a shock to running backs coach Shane Beamer.
“I’ll be honest with you, about noon today, I didn’t think there was any chance he could play,” he said. “After watching him out there today, I thought he did a good job. I just walked off the field with him. He said he feels good.’”
Coleman remains questionable for the Alabama game. Beamer’s primary concern is the two weeks of practice time the running back missed.
“And this ain’t somebody you want to just throw out there if you haven’t practiced in two weeks,” Beamer said. “There’s a lot that we’ve added offensively. He’s been in meetings. He knows it, but he hasn’t repped a lot of the stuff we’ve been doing. That’s a little bit of concern, just the mental part of it, but physically he said he felt good.”
– If Coleman can’t go, that would make Trey Edmunds the No. 1 back, with Chris Mangus his backup. (Joel Caleb is suspended for the opener for an undisclosed violation of team rules.) Shane said it’s not a matter of Mangus getting reps, but he’ll have to play for entire series at a time just to give Edmunds a break.
“I don’t think it’s realistic against these guys, or any game, to ask Trey Edmunds to take the entire game,” Shane said. “We’re not going to throw him out there 70 plays if we’re fortunate enough to have that many.”
– Coleman’s injury status will likely take him off kick returns, Shane said. Demitri Knowles, Mangus and Der’Woun Greene are expected to be back there vs. Alabama.
– Shane and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes were asked what makes Alabama so good on defense. Summing up their thoughts: size, strength, ability to get off blocks and fundamentals.
“Size jumps out at you,” Shane said. “Jack Tyler is a heck of a football player, but Jack Tyler is not 240 pounds. Their two inside linebackers are, that are 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3. So they’re really well coached, they’re really good fundamentally. I mean, everyone talks about what kind of players they have, but they’re really, really fundamentally sound. They get off blocks. They don’t stay blocked. They tackle well. They’re really good, but they’re really good fundamentally, so that jumps out to you.”
“They got more strength than anybody else you’ll see on defense, and it doesn’t matter what position you’re looking at,” Grimes said. “Whether you’re talking about a safety, a nose guard or a linebacker. Very, very physical, very strong at the point of attack. And win a lot of games because they just defeat blocks. In many cases they’re just stronger than the offenses they play against.”
– That’s not to say Alabama is invincible. Shane and Grimes, in fact, were both part of coaching staffs of teams that have beaten Alabama since the Crimson Tide began their recent run of national championships.
Shane was on South Carolina’s 2010 staff. The Gamecocks, led by quarterback Stephen Garcia, running back Marcus Lattimore and receiver Alshon Jeffery and a roster full of future NFL players, upset No. 1 Alabama 35-21 in Columbia, S.C.
“The thing we did that game, we hit some big plays on offense, which you’ve got to do against these guys,” Shane said. “And then defensively, we turned the ball over. And Greg McElroy was the quarterback, we hit the quarterback that day, and we forced some turnovers. And that’s the biggest thing. …
“Everybody played well too. That was a good game. And then we went up to Kentucky the next week and lost. So much for that.”
Grimes coached for Auburn in 2010. The Cam Newton-led Tigers, No. 1 at the time on the day after Thanksgiving, fell behind 24-0 at Alabama before storming back to pull out a 28-27 victory that preserved the national championship season.
“The first thing I think about is how bad it was early on,” he said. “How far down we were. You couldn’t have been in a worse position than we were in for the first quarter and most of the second quarter. …
“I think the guys just kept playing. In a very, very difficult environment, they just kept playing. They didn’t give in to it. They kept going out there. We just encouraged them on the sideline to play the next series. When you get down in a game like that, you can’t worry about the scoreboard. You’ve just got to play the next series and focus on one series at a time, one play at a time. And then we made a couple plays and we were back in it.”
– Virginia Tech piped in crowd noise during Tuesday’s practice to simulate a little bit of what it might be like in the Georgia Dome. Alabama is expected to have a good chunk of the crowd Saturday.
“You overemphasize communication during the week,” Grimes said. “You’ve got to have a silent count ready anytime you go into a situation like that.
How loud was the noise?
“Loud enough that it makes us scream to communicate,” Grimes said. “If it doesn’t get to the point where we have to scream to communicate, then it’s not loud enough.”
– Gray agreed with Frank Beamer‘s assessment that Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper reminds him a lot of Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.
“I thought a couple years ago Sammy Waktins was as good a freshman receiver as I’ve ever seen,” Gray said. “And this kid is very close, in that category. He’s a dynamic player.”
Cornerback Kendall Fuller is only a freshman, but he’s not backing down from the challenge of potentially squaring off with Cooper come Saturday.
“I’m very eager,” Fuller said. “I don’t know of any big-time player that tries to shy away from good competition. I’m excited for it. I’m not going to shy down from him, whether I’m a freshman or a senior.”
– A lot has been made of Kendall Fuller this preseason, but his older brother, Kyle, a senior, is hoping he can finally showcase his abilities now that he’s healthy. Hip and shoulder problems plagued him most of last season.
“He’s got this purpose. He’s got the intent,” Gray said. “Wasn’t healthy last year. Didn’t have the type of year, all -conference, All-American-type year he’d love to have. I know he’s eager and anxious to show he’s one of the better cornerbacks in the country.”