“I wasn’t even playing the coverage,” Exum shot back in the friendly back-and-forth. “I was just pressing because I saw the running backs. I just thought it was easy money.”
Exum’s trash talk appears to be in peak form. He’ll wait until Thursday to see if the same is true of his knee.
Exum wants to run his surgically repaired right knee through this entire week of practices again before deciding whether or not this is the right time for him to make his debut.
The senior, who had surgery to repair a torn ACL, medial and lateral meniscus and a bone fracture in his right knee in February, was medically cleared to be a full participant early last week but decided late in the week not to play against North Carolina.
“Basically, I just needed more time to fine-tune some things,” he said. “I wasn’t at the level I wanted to be at and go out and perform. I could have been solid, but I want to be able to perform at a very high level. I don’t want to go out there again until I can perform at that best-corner-in-the-country level.”
Freshman Brandon Facyson started in Exum’s place.
Exum, who was in a regular practice jersey Tuesday and didn’t appear to be wearing a knee brace, said he felt “really good.” He and the coaches will see how he looks on film later this week and they, along with his family and trainers, will decide what the best course of action is.
Exum didn’t elaborate on what exactly he needs to see from himself to feel comfortable returning to the field.
“That’s for me,” he said. “There are just some things that I need to sharpen up. I can do it, but it’s just doing it consistently. Doing it 85, 90 percent of the time when I’m out there.”
Tech’s schedule could factor into his decision. The Hokies play Pittsburgh on Saturday, then have the first of two byes this year before they host Duke on Oct. 26.
“If I’m not ready this week, then I think that bye week might be ample time for me to get back,” Exum said. “That’ll definitely be time for me to sharpen to perfection those things that I’m lacking or was lacking.”
Here are more notes and quotes from Tuesday night’s interviews …
– Guys in blue Tuesday were center David Wang (shoulder) and fullback Sam Rogers (ankle). Receiver Willie Byrn was in a regular jersey, although he still has a little bit of a hitch in his step from the MCL sprain he suffered at Georgia Tech.
Shane was confident Rogers would be able to play this week. He said he looked out his window Monday morning at 7 a.m. and saw Rogers running sprints on an empty practice field.
– Wang’s injury, which offensive line coach Jeff Grimes doesn’t think will keep him out vs. Pitt, led the Hokies to shuffle around their lineup a little Tuesday.
Caleb Farris took first-team reps at center, while Mark Shuman got in at left guard. Shuman, a junior, made his season debut against North Carolina after missing the first five weeks following knee surgery. Redshirt freshman Alston Smith also got some snaps.
In addition to Wang, right guard Andrew Miller is still nicked up from the ankle injury he suffered weeks ago.
“You’ve got to get those other guys ready in the event that a guy is gone for a game,” said Grimes, who reiterated that competition for reps is still open. “But that’s part of the game, too. I don’t think as a coach you really worry about it. You just prepare for it and when it happens, you do what you have to and move forward.”
Grimes mixed and matched with the o-line so much in the spring and even early in training camp that he doesn’t think the movement affects players much.
“I think when guys have experience doing a lot of different things, then it doesn’t rattle them as much when you move them,” he said. “OK, you played tackle yesterday and I want you to play guard today. And certainly if you have experience doing things, it helps with that.”
– There was lots of talk about what ails the running game, something I’ll be writing for the paper later this week. There are plenty of things the Hokies’ coaches think are preventing them from getting going, and everyone agreed it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that, taking equal parts of the blame.
“If you look at the results, it’s a results-driven business,” Grimes said. “And we have not run the ball well enough. And again, there are a number of different factors, but I’m always going to be focused on the things that my guys do or don’t do, so I think it always begins and ends with us up front.”
– One theory that Shane mentioned Tuesday is that Virginia Tech shifts a lot on offense pre-snap. Sometimes it’s hard to identify what the defense is doing to counter that at the snap. Grimes agreed, although he said that’s part of the challenge of running this kind of multiple offense.
“You can take one of two approaches on offense,” he said. “You can play a more static formation and get everybody lined up and identify exactly who you’re working to. If you do that, you better be pretty good. You’d better be talented enough to just block people properly and make plays.
“The other approach is to move people around and give the defense a little more to work on. And yes, it does put you in a position where you have to work a little bit more to handle all those looks, but that’s who we are as an offense. We’ve just got to get better.”
– The Hokies’ success in the passing game is at least somewhat attributable to teams loading up against the run. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that Tech’s ability to throw the ball would loosen up things for the run game?
“You hope so,” Grimes said. “We still haven’t seen that necessarily. But it just depends on the defense. In my experience, there are some defensive coordinators that are just bound and determined to say you’re not going to run the football on us. Obviously that opens up opportunities in the passing game.
“And I’ve been a part of some teams where we did throw the ball well enough that they started playing a little more coverage and gave us more opportunities, more favorable looks, to run the football. But again, that’s a week-to-week thing and we haven’t necessarily seen that yet. But hopefully, yeah.”
– After UNC muffed the punt late, Virginia Tech was bound and determined to run the ball. The Hokies put in a sixth lineman, inserting Shuman at left tackle and shifting Jonathan McLaughlin to the other side essentially as a tight end. They ran the ball straight ahead six straight times before Trey Edmunds got into the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown run.
“Same formation, same play, and just kept running it over and over again,” Shane said.
“I think there are certain times where you feel like you just need to do that,” Grimes said. “Yeah, we felt like that was a time when we certainly needed to and end the game, running the football and scoring a touchdown. And fortunately we were able to do it.”
– The highlight of the day during the open portion of practice was running back Joel Caleb snaring a pass that was thrown too high with one hand like he was outfitted with Velcro. It drew an “ooh” from everyone watching.
– Receivers coach Aaron Moorehead said Josh Stanford is continuing to gain confidence by the week, something that’s showing up on Saturdays. The redshirt freshman made a couple of nice grabs against UNC, including one where he laid out on a third-down across the middle.
He does still have a tendency to try to catch the ball with his body, however. Moorehead said that goes away with experience.
“I think that as he gets more confident, he’ll kind of avoid doing that as much,” Moorehead said. “I went through the same thing as a player my first couple years at Illinois. My fourth and fifth year, my junior and senior year, I wasn’t doing that anymore. It was a confidence thing. In practice, I’d catch a ball in my hands all the time. I’d get in the games and felt like I had to catch it, so I’d get it in my body. That’s just something that you grow out of. And he’s a young player. He’s started six games. He’s still going and I’m excited to see him.”
– Kyshoen Jarrett said he needs to be smarter on some of his punt returns, noting that he’s taken some hits on plays where he should have called for a fair catch.
“Personally, I don’t think they were smart decisions,” he said. “Obviously I should have fair caught them. But I guess it’s just me wanting to make a play for the team. I don’t want to be something costly, me catching a ball and then get hit and I fumble. But I’ve just got to be smarter and be comfortable. I feel like I like my position back there, but I’ve just got to make better decisions personally. It’s nobody else. It’s just something I have to do as a player.”
The Hokies rank 92nd nationally in punt returns, averaging 5.32 yards per try. Jarrett did have his best return last year against Pitt, taking one back 94 yards for a touchdown.
– Linebacker Jack Tyler was going on about how defensive coordinator Bud Foster said Pittsburgh’s offensive line was better than Alabama’s when Washington Post beat writer Mark Giannotto, having seen the Panthers surrender seven sacks to UVa a couple weeks ago, called shenanigans.
“Well, that’s a little motivation on his part to make us go a little harder,” Tyler said, changing his tune slightly. “But I mean, they have 330-pound guards. That’s unheard of even at the pro level. And they can move. So it might be the biggest defensive front and we’re really going to have to bring our big-boy pads and go to work.”