Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring Football - Part 3, The Game

Well, there's a lot to cover now that I've broken down the spring game footage. I have three key observations I wanted to make now that the spring is over and then I will do a breakdown by position of where the team is coming out of the spring. 

1) Ryan Williams isn't just a shake-n-bake, fast guy with the ball in his hands. He can get tough yards when he needs to and has played hurt twice now - earlier in a scrimmage with a thigh bruise and in the spring game with torn ligaments in his right hand. He didn't put the ball on the ground in either situation and he was more than effective both times. This is a complete back and a full complement to Darren Evans. This fall, get your Evans Williams shirts ready because they will be the duo.

2) Ju-Ju Clayton is a guy I talked up all spring and he had a bad game. A very bad game. Despite what I'd heard prior, the crowd appeared to make a difference in his demeanor and level of play. I did still see flashes. Despite throwing a pick and then almost a 2nd, Clayton still stood in the pocket, didn't panic and delivered a strike to Jarrett Boykin. He has a long way to go yet, but I am telling you, the makings of a solid QB are in there. Don't get your knees knocking about backup QB yet. We'll learn more when fall practice gets here and see how hard he worked over the summer on his progressions and recognizing defenses.

3) I am starting to come around to Torrian Gray's view on Eddie Whitley. Maybe this kid is a free safety after all (and has a better shot at that position in the NFL). He is so instinctive to the ball, he's a big hitter, he's a vocal guy on defense and he's still just a shade slower out of his break then you want out of a top flight cornerback (which is still plenty fast for a safety). Whitley thinks he is just finishing recovery from the knee injury he suffered his senior year in high school and that may very well be the case. He could still pick up that half step and be a stellar CB. But he's such a good football player, and played so well all spring. He's exactly the kind of player Coach Foster loves having on the field. If Whitley doesn't win the field corner job this fall, I think he might possibly add 10 lbs or so and become Kam Chancellor's understudy at safety this season since Lorenzo Williams is still struggling with the position.  By the way, does anyone know where Whitley was on Saturday? I have asked around and gotten nothing, which is never a good sign. Hope everything's alright there.

OK, now let's do a position-by-position breakdown of the 2009 Hokies following the spring.


QB - Tyrod Taylor knows this is his team now and he's acting like it on the field, in the huddle and in the film room. I look for Taylor to have a big season and I still think Clayton will be a suitable backup for the inevitable snaps he's going to need when Taylor has to sit for a quarter or a series after getting banged up.

RB - Wow is all I can say here. Josh Oglesby would start at 6 other teams in the ACC. He's third string at VT. Starter Darren Evans really has grown in his understanding of the offense (he was coaching Tony Gregory in the spring game on the field) and Ryan Williams - well there's a risk with Williams. There is such expectation and pressure and hype about the kid, and then add the white hot spotlight of opening weekend against Alabama in primetime on ESPN and frankly I'm worried about him trying to do too much. If he can somehow let the game come to him, read his holes and protect the ball, he's so explosive that the big plays will take care of themselves. But if he comes out trying to live up to the hype and make a big play every time, he risks turnovers and lost yardage. I hope he plays within the context of the offense because he's a bigtime playmaker who will get his if he can keep his head on straight.

WR - This is a mess trying to sort out this position. The only guy who separated himself from the rest of the pack was Dyrell Roberts who elevated his game to another level and basically has to be a starter at this point. Danny Coale, Jarrett Boykin, and Xavier Boyce all look much better than last year, but then you add in the size and athleticism of Marcus Davis, the extremely fast duo of Tony Gregory and Patrick Terry and incoming stud DJ Coles and figuring out the WR rotation becomes incredible challenging. But it's a good problem for Coach Sherman to have. The only down note being that Brandon Dillard is lost in the shuffle here having not been able to fully recover from his Achilles' injury physically nor mentally. It's too bad for a guy who was the star of last year's Spring Game.

TE - I know this sounds crazy when you consider what I've written so far, but TE is one of the strongest positions on the entire football team. Greg Boone is a physical monster who didn't really have a great spring because I think he thought this position was all his as the coaches were talking about moving Chris Drager to defensive end. But then Chris Drager stayed at TE and turned into nothing short of a star. He catches everything thrown at him, he blocks the edge EXTREMELY well and he knows where he's supposed to be on every play. In fact, he has moved into a tie for starting TE with Boone at this point. He reminds me so much of Jeff King it's scary except he's a little smaller. Sam Wheeler appears to have recovered from his knee injury so he'll be in the mix and then consider that the Hokies basically played the entire spring without the 2nd string TE from last season - Andre Smith - due to injury. Just an unbelievably deep position with two legitimate NFL prospects in Boone and Drager. 

Offensive Line - All the buzz is that this group has finally arrived. I'll believe it when I see the first string (with Ed Wang at left tackle, Sergio Render and Jaymes Brooks at guards and Beau Warren at center) go up against a full strength Hokie D-line when fall practice begins.  What I am convinced of is that there's finally depth on this line. I would feel comfortable with Greg Nosal at guard or tackle, Andrew Lanier at tackle and Michael Via at center taking a series during games this season to give the starters a breather (something that didn't happen last year). Vinston Painter and Nick Becton are physically capable but not mentally there yet. And Will Alvarez doesn't look like he's ever going to get there. But what really made the depth stand out this year was watching Richard Graham in the spring game. Remember that Graham had to fill in extensively the past two seasons all over the line with the starters and he's a real warrior for doing so. But with the level of talent and size/strength on the line now, Graham sticks out like a sore thumb. He was torn up by defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins all game on Saturday. The line is deep, we'll see how good they are when the time comes.


Rover - This is a strange battle to the bottom. Davon Morgan hasn't fully recovered from his knee injury suffered against UNC last season so he doesn't look super and Dorian Porch who started most of the season at rover last year, hasn't been able to secure the position because of the mental errors. One of these guys needs to step up this summer and take over the position. My prediction is Morgan will mentally put the injury behind him and win the spot.

Free Safety - Barring injury, starter Kam Chancellor is a surefire 1st round pick in the 2010 draft. He has grown into his role after a shaky start last year. Physically and mentally he now owns this position and has made plays in every scrimmage this year including the spring game where he caused the fumble that Antoine Hopkins returned for what proved to be the game winning TD for the Maroon squad. Unfortunately Lorenzo Williams hasn't made additional strides in picking up the position which is too bad, because he also looks the part. Hopefully this summer Williams can have a breakthrough, but if not, as I mentioned before, Eddie Whitley could become a contender for backup safety this year.

Boundary Corner  - Obviously Stephan Virgil will be the starter here and despite missing most of the spring in order to focus on academics, Virgil has already shown he knows what it takes to play at a high level. Backup here will either be Whitley (if he doesn't win the field corner battle or move to safety), or Jacob Sykes who is actually a pretty talented corner,  but is just wildly inconsistent. And there are two more stellar corner prospects joining the team this summer in Jayron Hosley and Jerrodd Williams but they will probably take redshirts.

Field Corner - Rock Carmichael is likely going to be the starter this fall, but the competition is going to be opened back up at the beginning of summer practice. Cris Hill got better all spring and is extremely quick to the ball, though he needs to work on his hands (I guess that's why he's a corner right?) as he dropped two sure picks in the scrimmage and Spring Game. As for Whitley, again, I'm not 100% sure he's a corner if he can't pick-up another half-step of speed, but he's a star in the making who will make All-ACC wherever he ends up playing. What a football player.

Whip - Cody Grimm likely won't be drafted, but he will be playing in the NFL in 2010. You can go ahead and write that down right now. He has added some speed and strength this off-season and combine that with his innate understanding of defense and the game in general and you have an NFL caliber player. Cam Martin is even more physically capable than Cody but he's fought injuries his entire career. Together they will hold the whip position down very solidly this year. Alonzo Tweedy continues to demonstrate great physical skills while not picking up the mental aspect of the game. And Jeron Gouveia-Winslow has been hurt, but prior to that was showing solid promise at whip. I expect a wide-open competition for whip in 2010 with the graduation of Grimm and Martin after this season (and still can't believe Hunter Ovens transferred to Liberty).

Backer - Talk about improving from the first snap of spring practice to the Spring Game. Jake Johnson wasn't even solidly beating out Quille Odom for the starting backer spot earlier this spring and that was with Odom in Coach Foster's doghouse! Now he has locked the spot down after a stellar spring game. Johnson has shown speed and strength all spring, but he really played soundly in the spring game, particularly against the pass which pleased Coach Foster mightily.

Mike - This has been Barquell Rivers' spot to lose ever since he stoned Cincinnati QB Tony Pike on 4th and goal in the Orange Bowl (I watch that play every once in a while if I'm feeling a little down). And Rivers hasn't let up all spring. He fits the Hokie middle linebacker mold perfectly and he is instinctive and especially good at shedding blocks. He's not quite as athletic but at Mike you don't play in space as much, so he should excel here. The surprise has been Bruce Taylor. Taylor didn't end the spring on a very high note, but he certainly showed the potential to play the position if called upon. If Taylor stays at Mike, he could certainly develop into a playmaker down the road, although I still think he's a more natural defensive end.

Defensive line - John Graves valiantly played at end, but he's going to be a real force at defensive tackle in the fall where he belongs. In fact the foursome of Graves, Thompson, Demetrius Taylor and either Antoine Hopkins/Kwamaine Battle is going to provide that great push up the middle that Coach Foster's best defenses have always had. They disrupt the offensive line blocking and slow down the play just long enough to let the linebackers and safeties clean up. I'm excited about defensive tackle. Defensive end is strong on one side once Jason Worilds returns (when he comes back from shoulder surgery) and then uh-oh. Nekos Brown is serviceable but not the force off the edge that I would be looking for. And none of the backups (Joe Jones, Isaiah Hamlette, Steven Friday) took the step forward that Coach Wiles was hoping they would. There are two prospects coming in this fall who could compete for the two-deep at defensive end (J.R. Collins and Duan Perez-Means) but that's a tall order for a kid right out of high school. There is a phenomenal talent coming in at end in James Gayle but he's going to need a year or two to get Gentrified before he becomes the next big sackmaster for VT. We'll know more at the end of summer practice about the defensive end position.

In closing, it's so much easier to be calm in the spring. I can enjoy seeing the team get better and the positions that still need improvement have candidates and depth to do so. And there's an incredible amount of talent incoming to Blacksburg this summer as well from the '09 Recruiting Class. I can already start feeling the nervous pangs about how Coach Stinespring will find a way to mess up this offense, but so far I've been able to keep those at bay with a nice Stella Artois or a glass of Glenfiddich. So let's enjoy the break between now and the start of summer practice. As I've learned over 16 years of being a Superfan, there will plenty of stress and excitement to go around by then.



Illinois Hokie said...

We need to put out a missing person's report on Eddie Whitley.

MadJay said...

OK, everything is fine with Eddie Whitley. He didn't get much action in the 2nd half of the Spring Game for reasons unknown (could have gotten nicked up or maybe coaches wanted to give more snaps to Jacob Sykes after his pick in the first half to see what they really had there). Bottom line - Whitley is fine and in nobody's doghouse, nor is he hurt.

Illinois Hokie said...

And the Lord did grin...