1. Cody Journell spoke to the media, apologized vaguely and wanted to move on to the next game.
Somewhat surprisingly, considering Virginia Tech’s habit of holding out suspended players from interviews, kicker Cody Journell met with the media after Monday’s practice to make a few statements about his recent one-game suspension.
“All I’m saying is that I made a mistake last week and I’m sorry for it,” he said, like head coach Frank Beamer earlier, not getting more specific about the reason for his suspension. “And I want to apologize to the coaches and players and my family and everybody that supports me. But I’m back this week and everything’s going to be fine.”
Journell was asked a couple times if he was given any last-straw dictum or ultimatum about staying on the right path. He said he hadn’t gotten that.
“We already dealt with it before the game and after that it’s over,” he said of his Saturday chat with Beamer. “Now it’s back to football.”
He said he’s optimistic that he’s fixed the mechanical issues he had that led to his rough day at East Carolina in Week 3, using the golf analogy that Beamer is so fond of.
“You mess up and try to fix one little thing, it just compounds after that and gets worse,” he said.
Journell said he put all of his kicks through the uprights Monday. How confident is he that that’ll be the case come Thursday?
“As confident as I can be without being 100 percent,” he said.
2. Injured cornerback Antone Exum will have his checkup this Saturday, with hopes of being back in time for next Monday’s practice before the North Carolina game.
This differs from what head athletic trainer Mike Goforth told me at practice, that Exum would meet with Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., on Oct. 1. Perhaps something changed in the few hours when I spoke with Goforth and we media met with Exum at night.
Nevertheless, Exum says he’ll be in Florida Saturday, wanting to be cleared for next Monday’s practice, with an eye on returning for the North Carolina game Oct. 5. He’ll be a little less than eight months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL and bone fracture in his right knee.
He’s been in a blue, limited jersey in recent weeks, slowly building back into game shape. He doesn’t feel rusty.
“I feel good out there,” he said. “I’ve been working extremely hard to get the knee where it needs to be to make those certain cuts and movements. And I’ve just been trying to fine-tune everything. It’s coming together. I feel like I can be better than I was before I hurt the knee.”
Asked if he expects to start when he returns, Exum didn’t hesitate: “Yes.”
He’s unsure exactly what that means for freshmen Kendall Fuller or Brandon Facyson, who have played well in his absence. A nickel role obviously still exists, where Fuller has excelled.
Looking for a good sign? Exum hasn’t felt pain in his knee after a workout in a while.
“I think I’ve pretty much passed those days,” Exum said.
3. A few Hokies are dinged up after the Marshall game, although the outlook for Thursday looks good.
In addition to Exum, offensive lineman Mark Shuman (knee), running back Trey Edmunds (hip), whip linebacker Josh Trimble (hip) and center David Wang (shoulder) were in blue, limited jerseys Monday.
Edmunds took a shot on his right hip near the end of the Marshall game. He came out for a play or two but went back in.
“I think he’ll be OK,” running backs coach Shane Beamer said. “I think it was just a little tight and sore. But he said he’d be ready to go Thursday. … If we had a game today, we would have played.”
More encouraging for the Hokies is who wasn’t in a blue jersey. Namely, running back J.C. Coleman and safety Kyshoen Jarrett.
For Coleman, who has missed three of the first four weeks with an ankle sprain, it’s the best he’s felt since first rolling both his ankles during a middle drill in August.
“He said he felt great,” Shane said. “Knock on wood. We were working last night and I looked out my window and he was out there on the field running around and looked good. Said he felt great last night and said he felt great today. He’s done more today than he’s done in a long time. So hopefully tomorrow when he wakes up he’ll feel good and that will carry over to Thursday, because we need to get that speed on the field.”
Jarrett was limping a little in the overtime after making that game-saving interception near the end of regulation. But he was moving around fine Monday and didn’t appear to be limited, wearing a regular practice jersey.
Plenty more notes and quotes from Monday’s interviews. Here are a few more nuggets:
– We asked linebacker Jack Tyler what he thinks of the “Hokie Stone” helmets Virginia Tech will roll out against Georgia Tech on Thursday.
“I like them a lot,” he said. “I like the message behind it more than really the look of it. It’s just the community and the pillars that we’re trying to represent, I think that’s the part that I like.”
– I’ll have more about the defense and its approach in defending Georgia Tech for my game advance later this week, but Tyler knows this is a huge game for him as the Mike linebacker. Last year, in a game that put him on the map, Tyler had 17 tackles against the Yellow Jackets in a 20-17 season-opening overtime win on Labor Day.
“I mean, this is my game,” he said. “This is the game that my skills come out to play the most. I feel like this is like my time. That’s how I come into this game. If I play bad, our defense isn’t going to be very good, because a lot of the onus is on me, a lot of the plays really involve me. I’m supposed to be everywhere in this defense. So really, it is kind of on my shoulders. I take pride in that. I like this week. This is my favorite week to play. Just because I do know that it’s on my shoulders and win or lose, it’s probably because of me.”
– I’m writing about J.R. Collins for Wednesday’s paper. He said he scored in the 70′s using Virginia Tech’s point system for defenders against Marshall. The Hokies have said that’s higher than the previous record holders, a couple of all-time Tech greats in Corey Moore and Cornell Brown.
“He’s ballin’ right now,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. “That [Marshall] kid couldn’t block him.”
– Spoke with new offensive lineman Alston Smith, who is about as happy-go-lucky of a player as I’ve seen on this team. Very interesting person to talk to. He didn’t shy away from talking about his dad, Hall of Famer Bruce, telling us that he had seven or eight different pass rush moves.
“And they were all perfect,” Alston said.
I’m going to write a little more on Smith tomorrow morning on the blog. Just quickly though, he did mention that Tech has already moved him over to left guard. He started on the right side.
– Shane Beamer was a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech in 2000, back when Ted Roof was the Yellow Jackets’ defensive coordinator. Roof is back at his alma mater for a second stint as d-coordinator and already has the group off to a great start.
Georgia Tech ranks 11th nationally in total defense, giving up 275.3 yards per game.
“They’re playing hard,” Shane said. “I mean, it’s the same group. … He’s done a great job. They’re simpler in what they’re doing, it looks like, compared to last year. They’ve got some pressures that we’ve got to be aware of. They’re not going to trick you but they’re going to be where they’re supposed to be, and they’re going to play hard fundamentally.”
– Shane said even if Coleman returns to the fold this week, there’s still a role for both he and Chris Mangus, who can be used out wide as a receiver in a lot of sets.
“It’s essentially at times three different positions that they need to learn, depending on the personnel package we’re in,” Shane said. “I’ve just got to be smart about overloading them.
“Chris had some mental errors, too many in the game Saturday. Just too much trouble lining up. And he had been good in practice and then for whatever reason in the game he had some struggles. I’ve got to remember that he’s a freshman and then J.C.’s still young. J.C.’s getting game action here for the first time this year. So you’ve got to be smart about what you ask them to do. The possibilities of them are very intriguing. It’s how much can they handle.”
– Shane reiterated his statements last week that he’d like to get redshirt freshman tailback Joel Caleb more playing time.
“East Carolina, he’s standing next to me, he’s as good looking a guy as we have on this team,” Shane said. “It’s important to him. He was ticked off at me Saturday for not playing him more and he kept telling me, ‘I’m ready. Put me in the game.’”
Shane hesitated to do so because the conditions were so bad. Since Caleb hadn’t played in the game up to that point, he didn’t feel comfortable inserting him at a crucial juncture, even with Edmunds out briefly.
“Need to find ways to get him on the field because he’s a big target at the receiver position, and then he brings some size to the tailback position,” Shane said.
– The kickoff return team has been bad so far this year, but Shane, who coaches the group, thinks the last two returns the Hokies had against Marshall — which went for 25 and 30 yards — might be the start of the Hokies turning a corner.
The problem so far for a group that ranks 112th nationally, averaging 17.7 yards per return? Blocking and tentativeness.
That’s strange, because it’s essentially the same personnel the Hokies had last year, when they ranked 18th nationally on kick returns (24.04 avg.), with Knowles 12th individually (28.3 avg.).
(“I did it last year too when we were top 20 in the country,” Shane said with a laugh. “Make sure you print that.”)
Tech has some new blockers in the front of the unit, where only Derek DiNardo is back. But the back group — Chase Williams, Duan Perez-Means and Josh Trimble – remains the same. Shane said he was disappointed from an execution standpoint, particularly against East Carolina, when Tech’s blockers “just whiffed on guys.”
But Shane thinks Knowles has to be more assertive too.
“I’m not sure he totally trusts what’s going on in front of him now,” Shane said. “Kick return’s a deal where you can’t catch it and look around and figure out where you want to go. You’ve got to catch it and you’ve got to go right now.”
Knowles had big returns last year against North Carolina, Miami and Boston College. The common thread? North-south running, not east-west.
“Against Marshall Saturday, the first one [that went to the 11-yard line], he kind of caught it, looked around to figure out where he wanted to go. By then, you’re getting hit,” Shane said. “The last two that we returned, our two best of the year, were when we caught it and he went. Trust the blocking. Trust these guys that they’re where they are supposed to be. And let’s go execute. I think if we do that, we’ll be fine.”