Saturday, August 22, 2009

2 Scrimmages Down - 1 to go

Ok Superfans there's 5 more things we know after two weeks of practice. They're too long to call them tidbits, but we're deeper into practice so you deserve a little more depth here.

1) The RB position, which looked as good going into preseason practice as it EVER has, is in pretty dire straits right now. Ryan Williams has played himself back into shape and he is special. But he tweaked his ankle in the scrimmage today and David Wilson and Josh Oglesby both missed this entire week of practice to injuries. The one thing all these backs need is reps prior to the season and they haven't been getting them. There are only two more weeks of reps to get them before the lights go on at Alabama and I'm not exaggerating when I say that if David Wilson isn't healthy for these next two weeks, I'd play Tony Gregory as the 3rd back over Wilson in Atlanta. There's just too much at stake and yes Wilson is a special playmaker, but you can't "mentally rep" the speed and ball protection needed when a real defense is trying to hit you. A key turnover or missed blitz pickup could absolutely be the difference between a win or a loss in Atlanta and Gregory has been getting the vast majority of reps (and looking pretty decent doing it).

2) Logan Thomas did not have a good day in the scrimmage today, but I don't think that's the reason the coaches are going to try and keep the redshirt on him. There's a LOT that goes unsaid with the way this decision has played out (i.e. put a redshirt on Thomas but keep him as the co #2 with Ju-Ju Clayton and have them keep splitting reps in practice). First of all, it tells me that the coaches have come to terms with something I've been saying for a while - it is not going to be possible to recruit a top-flight QB into this offense until that level of player thinks he can come to a place where it's possible to prepare for an NFL career. I think the coaches received an unexpected surprise when they saw just how much talent Thomas has at the QB position. By redshirting him the Hokies would preserve an extra year of time and carry forward with a QB for the future without having to recruit that type of player this year. In fact, think about what sort of message this sends to incoming recruits Mark Leal and Ricardo Young. Here they thought they'd be coming in to a program where they could sit for a season behind a senior and then compete for the starting job with a weapon like Thomas to THROW to. Suddenly the heir apparent at quarterback IS Thomas. Don't be surprised if either Leal or Young bails on their verbal commitment before Signing Day in February. The other statement this move makes is that it tells Clayton he is going to be a career backup (see: Holt, Cory). By keeping Thomas in the mix for reps, it means that if Taylor goes down with an ankle for a half or something similarly minor, Clayton goes in and takes the snaps. But if Taylor is (God forbid) lost for 5 or 6 games, the coaches can pull the shirt and give the team to Thomas to give him experience in the fire.

3) Speaking of QB, Tyrod Taylor has made a quantum leap at the position. You are free to look back to February 2007 posts and all in-between, but I have unfailingly been on the Tyrod Taylor bandwagon even through some of his struggles. I think he's every bit the talent that Russell Wilson is for NC State and I put Taylor up against any other QB in the ACC and take Taylor without thinking twice. Yes, he is still running a predictable, ridiculous offense, but he is starting to do some of the things you have to do in the NFL. He is making a progression in his reads and while he hasn't eliminated the hitch, he's certainly reduced it enough to have a more compact and quicker release. His accuracy in camp has been eye-opening. He's starting to be able to put throws on certain shoulders of receivers depending on where the coverage is. He's checking down to backs instead of pulling the ball down and running it when receivers are covered. And finally, one player you can count on to not be rattled in Atlanta is Taylor. He's been through it all and seen it all, from the 2nd game of the 2007 season at LSU up through an Orange Bowl win in January. If he brings a focus, intensity and his trademark poise it should have a very positive influence on the team. I'll be looking closely to see how much showboating he does this season (no more "crazy" hands after a big play, or posing as he crosses the goal line) and if that's toned down, look for Taylor to have a breakout season.

4) The WR position is going to be an unbelievably fierce battle for the next two weeks. Xavier Boyce and Jarrett Boykin are staging a "can you top this" battle for the starting split end position. And Dyrell Roberts and Danny Coale have a similar battle at flanker. Coale is basically flawless every practice, catching every ball, blocking hard and being where he's supposed to be on every play. Roberts brings a remarkable athleticism to the spot. Marcus Davis appears to have secured a spot in the rotation and the final spot is a struggle between Patrick Terry and incoming freshman phenom DJ Coles. I have been hard on Kevin Sherman since his arrival in Blacksburg, but he's earning his money coaching these WR's and it may come as a surprise to some of you, but I think the entire key to the season rests on the performance of the receiving unit. With the inexperience at RB, teams are going to force VT to make their way downfield in the passing game. That will only happen if the receivers are patient, read the defense in synch with Tyrod, and make plays (that means no more leaping to catch a pass that would have been a sure TD if you just ran through it, Danny Coale).

5) The two LB positions that everyone is so concerned about are certainly not lacking talent, just experience. Barquell Rivers has been making plays all camp and Jake Johnson, while not spectacular as he still needs work in coverage, has certainly been solid. Rivers is backed up by Bruce Taylor who has all the makings, and Johnson's backup is a position battle right now between Quillie Odom and Lyndell Gibson. From a physical standpoint it looks like it would be easy to name Odom and move on, but Gibson just seems to make plays from sideline to sideline every time he's on the field. The point is that these two LB positions have to make a ton of plays and reads in a Bud Foster coached defense and I remember a couple of redshirt freshmen named Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi who made their debut against the USC Trojans in 2004. They turned out to be alright (in fact if Adibi wouldn't have gotten knocked out of that game with a torn biceps, the Hokies might have won). I'm not saying that Rivers and Johnson are going to have that sort of career, but don't discount that position no matter the experience, when Bud Foster is coaching them because he's going to have playmakers there.

There's an enormous amount of work to be done this week, including getting those young RB's some carries. Most of the two-deep should be pretty settled by now so that all those reps can go to the players who are going to be heading to Atlanta for the opener. The hitting was certainly much better in this scrimmage and I expect the intensity to rise every day as September 5th draws near. Let's hope the injury bug has passed. GO HOKIES!!!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey dude, you gotta read this - this is hilarious

http://bamavsvatech.blogspot.com/2009/08/alabama-football-stars-may-have-trouble.html

Anand "EhhTee" Trivedi said...

While I'd love to see Tech not have to face Jones or Ingram, I'd hate to see it happen like this. The business of college football sometimes gets out of hand and it's usually the young and naive players that get hurt the most. Have you seen the NCAA policies and procedures? They gone forever! It makes my head hurt just thinking about them. Now put them in the hands of a 19-20 year old kid just off for a weekend of fun!

Thankfully, there's nothing here to worry Bama fans, and the game can be properly played and a victor determined without any tarnish from this.

MadJay said...

Absolutely. I want a full strength Bama team and a full strength Hokie team to square off in Atlanta. I think true fans of football on both sides were disappointed to see Darren Evans go down, now let's hope the rest of the players on both teams are good to go for what looks like one of the potential centerpiece games of the season!