Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring Football - Can you feel it?!

Spring practice is 1/3 over for the Hokies and they closed this first portion of practice out with a full scrimmage yesterday. I've watched the footage of the entire scrimmage and I don't do this often, but I am going to echo Coach Beamer here - there's a lot of things to be excited about but my goodness is there a lot of work to do.

First of all the two players that just leap off the film at you from this scrimmage are Ryan Williams at RB and Eddie Whitley at DB. There is no sane way the coaches can keep these two guys off the field at their respective positions. Williams shows burst, keeps his legs moving, he protects the ball well for a young player and he throws himself into his blocks - not sound fundamentally yet, but unlike Branden Ore, Williams is giving blocks full effort.

Meanwhile Whitley was a holy terror yesterday, getting his snaps against the 1st string offense, laying the boom on big hits in run support, making sound tackles in the secondary and just in general doing his best Brandon Flowers impression. Through the first part of the spring, Whitley is showing that he thinks he deserves playing time opposite Stephan Virgil in the fall. However, Cris Hill showed a lot of moxie yesterday too. He got beat badly on a Danny Coale TD early in the scrimmage and instead of getting down on himself, came back and broke up 2 passes later in the scrimmage. The sign of a good cornerback is one with no memory.

Cody Grimm and Barquell Rivers were very stout in the scrimmage at LB as was Bruce Taylor playing with the "2's". Kam Chancellor had some big hits in addition to a pick and he's poised for a huge senior year at safety (and a very likely 1st round pick in the NFL in 2010). Tony Gregory from the 3rd string showed that he will be pushing to move up the crowded depth chart at WR. He has speed to burn. In fact, overall the wide receiver play was pretty solid from Coale to Roberts on the reverse, to Gregory and Terry making plays downfield and most of the receivers were sticking their noses in there and blocking without holding which I always love to see. 

There were some areas where ENORMOUS improvement is needed before playing against Alabama on September 5th. The offensive line play was inconsistent at best. There were missed assignments and getting beat one-on-one especially below the 1st string. But even the 1st string would follow up a perfectly executed pass protect with a totally blown run blocking scheme on the very next play. 

Of greater concern was the pass rush from the defensive ends. John Graves just might not be fast enough to play outside. His best performances were in run support and he had several tackles for losses and a good hit on Marcus Davis on a QB draw but he was unable to generate much pressure even against the 2nd string offensive line. Nekos Brown on the other side was better but minus two good plays was mainly ineffective. Jason Worilds had better make a full recovery.

Jake Johnson has been greatly hyped (including by this blogger) and yet was nearly invisible on the footage from yesterday. He has all the physical tools but this is - as Coach Foster famously refers to it - a case of his head tying up his feet. The play from the rover position was notably poor yesterday too - Davon Morgan and Dorian Porch did nothing special. Lorenzo Williams at backup free safety was beaten on quite a few occasions in pass plays and run support. 

The QB play was one of those not-too-hot but not-too-cold situations. Taylor was solid, including a very pretty ball to Danny Coale for the TD but he also missed a few guys. I got to watch his throwing motion in more detail and I maintain that despite what he or O'Cain will tell you, the hitch is still there, but it is narrower and his motion is more compact and slightly faster. It will be a non-issue this year. 

At 2nd string, Ju-Ju Clayton just looks like he's getting more comfortable back there. He threw one ball up for grabs on his first series that Kam Chancellor picked off and you just can't do that, but I like how he keeps his head downfield, makes his read and delivers a good ball. Clayton won't be an All-American but anyone being nervous about him as back-up there doesn't need to be, unless he totally chokes when the spotlight is on. The coaches think he's got poise and will be up for the challenge if called upon.

Finally, Marcus Davis. Oh my, what do you do about Marcus Davis? This kid is a bundle of physical talent but he's just not destined to be a QB. When he pulls the ball down, you have a 6'5", 230 lb man-child bearing down on you and oh yeah he's fast. And Davis even threw a few decent passes yesterday, as well. But the position just doesn't appear to be a fit for him. He doesn't look natural dropping back and throwing the ball. I can see the Hokies using Davis like Florida State used Greg Carr - jump ball fade routes in the end zone. Davis would also be a major threat in the Wild Turkey after Boone graduates (although that role appears destined for Logan Thomas). Unfortunately I don't believe our coordinator has the creativity to get Davis on the field this season and therefore he will be relegated to learning signals and holding a clipboard.

There will be a lot of tackling work in practice this week and I promise you I also would not want to be an offensive lineman this week after Coach Newsome's reactions yesterday. Jake Johnson will be getting a lot of work from Coach Foster this week as well to see if he can get his mind right. I look forward to seeing the differences in the team by next Saturday's scrimmage. It is exciting to see some of the team's potential, that's for sure.



Illinois Hokie said...

MJ, I find it interesting that you mention the o-line pulled off a good hold against the pass rush only to tank on a run block the next play. Traditionally it's been the pass rush that's given Newsome's line fits. If they're defending the pass rush in practice then that might be a good thing, since the one thing I do have confidence in Newsome to do is develop a good run block by the start of the season.

Then again, as you pointed out, the reason why our D-line might be defending the pass rush well is that our D-line sucks at the pass rush.

And on Marcus Davis, it seems to me like they're trying to force him into a sort of H-back role. I think any thoughts of Davis under center will disappear once Logan Thomas arrives in Blacksburg this summer.

By the way, pretty much EVERYTHING I've read by the scouting agencies and sports reporters says Cris Hill will replace Stephan Virgil at field corner, but from what I'm hearing from you, Eddie Whitley's having the better spring. Any chance of Whitley earning the starting field position, in your opinion?

Illinois Hokie said...

PS - Where did you get the footage of the scrimmage? Is this something that's available online?

MadJay said...

I like Cris Hill a lot, but Eddie Whitley is having a monster spring. Whitley actually seems perfectly suited for boundary corner with his physical style of play, so it is possible that Hill ends up starting at field and Whitley backs up Virgil at boundary in order to learn the position.

But the fact of the matter is that Whitley just LOOKS like one of those kids that you can't keep on the sideline. He's a playmaker who is always around the ball and the game comes naturally to him, and we've seen how successful guys like that can be in the VT secondary (Vinnie Fuller, Eric Green, Brandon Flowers).

I'd put Whitley's chances at starting at field about 50/50 right now. BTW I have been completely unimpressed with Rock Carmichael in his first few years at Tech, but with the 40 time he laid down in March and from what Coach Gray seems to think, Carmichael is still a contender for field corner as well.

As far as the footage goes, I know a guy who know a guy. :). There are also several fans who recorded the scrimmage from the stands who have posted it online. And there are also some nice close-up highlights on for subscribers.

MadJay said...

Apparently from his comments yesterday, Coach Beamer has a big problem with those folks who recorded the scrimmage and posted the videos on the internet.

This makes little sense to me. Are the coaches under the impression that Alabama doesn't know what they are going to be doing on offense? Here's a different way of looking at it - can one assume that Alabama did not have someone at the scrimmage in the stands on Friday?

Of course not. In fact, I'd bet 5-1 odds that Alabama DID have someone in the stands. And if the Hokies don't have someone at the Alabama spring game, then that is foolish.

I watched the footage of the scrimmage and I can tell you that Alabama could intentionally IGNORE that footage and still be totally prepared for the Hokie offense based on last season's game films alone.

The point here is that nothing revolutionary is being rolled out in the Hokie offense this year. So far they appear to be executing a little better is all and some of that probably has to do with the absence of Jason Worilds and 4 completely new linebackers in the 2-deep.

We at TSF aren't going to stir the pot and post to any links of the scrimmage, but at the same time I don't see what the big deal is either.

Illinois Hokie said...

MadJay, I might be buying into freshman hype, but I think the fact that we aren't rolling out anything because Logan Thomas isn't on campus yet.