Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stunned - Drager moved to Defensive End!

At first glance I'm stunned to see that Chris Drager has agreed to move to defensive end. This guy just got the Coaches Award for best player on offense this spring and was pushing Greg Boone (a surefire NFL tight end) for the starting role at TE. But with Sam Wheeler playing as well as he did this spring, and Andre Smith  - last year's 2nd string TE - returning from injury, the coaches don't need more studs at TE, they need help at defensive end. 

But the more I think about this move, the more I think it makes sense for everyone involved. First of all, credit Chris Drager for just being a true Hokie and being willing to help the team out by moving from a position with great depth to a position with almost none. But remember that this move was talked about earlier and Drager fought to stay at tight end - and with Andre Smith out and Sam Wheeler still an unknown at the beginning of spring, it was the right thing to do then. 

But for his own future, something else changed between the beginning and end of spring as well. Drager and the coaches watched what happened to Connor Barwin at Cincinnati, whom the Hokies battled in the Orange Bowl this year. Barwin was a tight end in 2007 who moved to defensive end for his senior year and just last weekend got drafted in the 2nd round by the Houston Texans at defensive end. 2nd round is big money. With an opportunity to play on defense this fall, Drager can see a chance to help the team and himself out here. He is an athlete to be sure, although I have no idea how his skills will translate into rushing the passer. I guess we'll find out when summer practice begins. 

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.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring Football - Part 2

Well another week of spring practice with one more to go and the Hokies are really starting to get some things ironed out. 

First of all, Ryan Williams looks like he has locked up the 2nd part of the 1-2 punch at running back this fall. Oglesby is impressive, but Williams and Evans will be the backfield in 2009. And by all accounts (including footage from Saturday's scrimmage), that is a ferocious combination. Despite playing hurt, Williams was effective both running the ball and in blocking. The only thing preventing him from being named officially by Coach Hite is because Hite wants the competitive juices flowing in fall practice leading up to the Alabama game, but it's clear to anyone that Williams will be on the field as the 2nd RB.

Secondly, Ju-Ju Clayton established himself as the backup QB in the scrimmage. Marcus Davis' big plays this spring have all been with his feet, while Clayton mainly buys time with his scrambling ability to find someone downfield. It is the difference between an athlete and a QB and Davis is most definitely an athlete. Now he's an amazing athlete and I would love to see him on the field but he has a ton of work to do at receiver to get on the field this fall just because of the very high level of play from the receivers right now. I'm glad the coaches made the right move today in officially naming Clayton the backup. My honest opinion is that they knew after the first week, but wanted to keep pushing Clayton instead of letting him think he had the role all sewn up and the results from the scrimmage on Saturday speak for themselves. Kudos to Coach Beamer and staff for managing that better than I would have.

Jake Johnson showed me more in this scrimmage than I've seen so far this spring, but meanwhile Bruce Taylor took a step backward. Quillie Odom at backer reminds me of Corey Gordon at whip a few years ago - a physically imposing player with all the measurables who just doesn't seem to be picking up Coach Foster's schemes.

The area I am starting to get concerned about is both safety positions. Kam Chancellor is a definite 1st or early 2nd rounder at starting free safety so he's fine, but his backup Lorenzo Williams is totally lost right now. And at the rover position, Dorrian Porch hasn't taken a step forward from last season and Davon Morgan appears tentative in returning from his injury. The deep middle is an area that is normally where big plays happen against the Hokies with their coverage schemes and tight safeties supporting the run. They've GOT to have stronger performances from safety and rover to keep those opponent big plays to a minimum in 2009.

And finally, I'm more than relieved to say that the offensive line took a major step forward from the first scrimmage. Even after losing Jaymes Brooks at right guard to a high ankle sprain, all that did was give more snaps to Vinston Painter who doesn't always know where to go, but good heavens he clears a hole when he gets there. The line was providing running room and pass protection more consistently. But there's a major caveat here - Jason Worilds is still out at DE recovering from his shoulder surgery. We'll learn a lot more about the offensive line when Worilds comes back and Graves can move back inside. That will be an upgrade at end and tackle and we'll see what the offensive line is truly capable of facing those more formidable forces. 

Well there's one week of spring practice left before the Spring Game. Jake Johnson needs to take another step forward, Ju-Ju Clayton will get all the 2nd team snaps in practice and Eddie Whitley and Cris Hill both get another shot to try and establish themselves as the number one at field corner over Rock Carmichael who has missed most of spring practice focusing on academics. I am excited to see what unfolds and how the team performs on Saturday!


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.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Recrunik D Salivating For Football

Recruitnik D weighs in about his growing excitement.

Can't wait for this season to start! I'm really getting excited to see who wins the position battles this spring/summer. My biggest hopes are that Davis comes on strong to take over back-up QB and that we find a workable solution at DE before the Alabama game. I like the idea of moving Graves out to DE if it gets our 4 best DL out there. A D line of Graves, Taco, Hopkins, and Worilds would be sick! We would then have a 2 deep of Brown, Battle, D Taylor and B Taylor. Yes, that B Taylor, I can't see him staying at LB through the summer if he weighs 250+ pounds. We'll see...

OL seems to be playing out alright. At least we have some dependable guys in the pipeline now and we appear to be more athletic than lines of recent vintage. I like the high praise I've been reading about Nosal, Becton, and Via. I also think that the coaches wouldn't have moved painter to OG if they weren't comfortable with with Nosal and Becton backing-up OT. I hope Alvarez gets his $hit together though, he's got a world of talent and he should be ready to contribute.

I also can't wait to see how things shake out at CB, WR, and RB. We are loaded (and I mean really loaded, can you remember the last time we had so much talent at each of these 3 positions?) with talent at each of these positions so I'd put them low on my totem pole of concerns. Holy Crap!

Question Five: The locker room

From College Game Balls:

From College Game Balls: "What kind of music do you think the team is bumping in the locker room? And is Beamer getting down? I know the '99 team was big into Method Man and Dr. Dre."

EhhTee reponds:

Did you see that Yanni put out an album with vocals? Yanni Voices is a big hit with the boys. “Yeah man, you should see these kids,” said Beamer in a recent interview.

“You ever see a 300 lb kid rock out to Nathan Pacheco and Ender Thomas?”, continued Beamer. “Well we got two, Sergio [Render] and Will [Alvarez.]”

Last year, Victor Harris was having none of it though. He would not allow the locker room to be filled with the sounds of Yanni. Coach Foster commented, “You know why I’m always yelling? It’s cause that Macho was always blasting the Kenny G in the lockers. I damn near lost my hearing.”

Truth be told it's all in each players iPods. Yanni, Kenny G, Barbara Streisand, you name it.

MadJay responds:

There's no music piped into the locker room that the whole team listens to. Each of the Hokies listens to their own music on their iPods. But this fall, just like always, whatever the popular hip-hop song is out at the time will be what the team will rally around in the post-game locker room following wins and supporting Beamer-Dances.

Where's the Ice responds:

There is no doubt in my mind that every player has his iPod loaded with nothing but Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra. As for Beamber, he listens to whatever tunes to which he can do the Fancy Gap Tap Dance, probably Twisted Sister.

Question Four: Spring

What change would you make to college football's spring football system?

Where's The Ice responds:

In this respect (like many others), in Beamer and Foster I trust.

MadJay responds:

College spring football needs to have the ability to scrimmage one opponent. The players get tired of hitting the sleds and each other and the coaches can come up with non-conference opponents that can agree to play one scrimmage against each other. Make it a home-and-home deal so that each school has to travel every other year or pay a Div. I-AA school to come to campus just like during the fall. You can still "yellow-jersey" the QB's if you want, eliminate blitzes, whatever the coaches agree on. Don't let it become a full football game - we don't want to replace the annual Spring Games that take place every year. But playing a quarter or two against another opponent can show the coaches from both sides a lot about their team, especially in determining who on the 2nd string is ready to play. And it will generate even more buzz and interest in spring football which is a good thing.

[Editor's note: Ooooh! Good answer Jay! Me like.]

EhhTee responds:

More cowbell. Seriously. I’ve got a fever or something.

Honestly, I want to see the same intensity that we saw in December when the team was prepping for the Orange Bowl. Both in the spring and the fall.

Question Three: Defense

What position do you think is most important to the Hokies on the defensive side of the ball this spring? Are there any young players who will step up during spring on that side of the ball?

MadJay responds:

Most folks are saying the linebacker position but that is not correct. Yes the two new linebackers are important, but we all know Coach Foster is going to have Jake Johnson and Barquell Rivers ready to get after it by the time fall rolls around and frankly, while there is a drop in experience, those two are an upgrade in talent from last year. The real answer for most important position this spring is field corner. Stephan Virgil moves over to boundary corner to fill the spot vacated by Macho Harris and we all know Virgil is a star. But field corner is being battled out between Rock Carmichael, Cris Hill and Eddie Whitley. Carmichael is the least talented of the 3, but has the most experience. Hill has all the physical tools but hasn't been able to put it together mentally and Whitley is one of those kids who "gets it" but is probably half a step slower than the other two. My guess is that Whitley ends up backing up Virgil at boundary, but someone is going to have to step-up between Hill and Carmichael and own that field corner position. The reason this is the most important is because the Hokies excel at making teams one-dimensional and then shutting them down. If you don't have the wide side of the field covered with a great field corner, you can't cheat your safety/rover up into run support and it's difficult to make an opponent one-dimensional. Also, teams will shy away from Virgil who tied for 8th in the nation last year with 6 picks. The key question for the defense this spring is if they can uncover another star at field corner.

EhhTee responds:

Well the loss of Orion Martin is gonna be big. TSL is reporting a list of position changes and John Graves will be moving over from tackle to end. Purnell Sturdivant at backer is another key loss. However, I'm going to say that the Hokies will struggle where they've historically struggled: the secondary. The absolute biggest loss the Hokies will have to replace at any position, offense or defense, will be that of Mr Victor Harris. Not only, was he an amazing corner, but his leadership on defense is irreplaceable. Stephan Virgil can and will be an amazing corner and he will move from field corner to boundary corner leaving what could be a big hole at FC. The FC role will be competed for by a number of players. This is the position to watch as practice continues.

Where's The Ice responds:

Cornerback, cornerback, cornerback! Filling Victor "Macho" Harris' shoes are a big pair of shoes to fill. Somebody has to step up and play his role in two respects, although the same player may not fill both roles. Obviously, Harris was a fantastic corner, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster knows how to identify talent, and he knows how to shape it. By three games into the season or less, there will be no question in the eyes of Hokie fans who's evolving into the mold of Macho Harris' position. The other role that somebody needs to fill is that of on-the-field leader. Harris' personality and gusto for the game made him naturally suited to that role, and his fellow teammates viewed him that way. Every squad needs an on the field leader, and out of training camp somebody needs to assertively take that role in such a manner that the other 10 players on the squad respect him and recognize him in that mold. How this will develop is a hard thing to predict and upon which to speculate, but let me just say that I have confidence that somebody will naturally grow into this role 1/4 the way through the season. If we lose one of our big games early, it'll be very apparent who this player is in the games shortly thereafter.

Question Two: The Quarterbacks

From Beer Control Offense,

"Are you concerned about the lack of depth of quarterback? How many significant snaps do you think VT's back up quarterback will get?"

EhhTee responds:

Beer Control Offense,

Kreese: Sweep the leg.
Johnny: ...
Kreese: Do you have a problem with that?
Johnny: No, Sensei.
Kreese: No mercy.

To totally teen out for a bit, OMG YES! Let's put it this way: Taylor's injury prone. His ankle has been a real problem and if the strength coaches don't work on getting it stronger, we have Ju-Ju Clayton, Jeff Beyer, and Marcus Davis all of whom have never seen a snap in line to relieve him. Put another way, the entire season very well may rest upon on one ankle. If the ankle survives, we'll do well, if not extremely well. If it doesn't, well no JC Penny “black” belt for you, SuperFan.

Where's The Ice responds:

It centers around a rushing quarterback who has improved his throwing game, but has not demonstrated consistency in execution. A quarterback rushing offense may get you some headway in a majority of your ACC contests, but you can't build an offense around that strategy. Sean Glennon is gone, so we don't have an experienced, consistent thrower to add into the mix. And to more pointedly address the question, we don't have a backup with any experience, Tyrod Taylor has been injured for at least one game in each of the seasons he's played, and albeit a superb athlete Taylor hasn't demonstrated to me as a fan that he has a firm grasp of his position. As a rising Junior, he knows he has a lot to prove in the eyes of a potential NFL career, and this may well be the season that his maturity comes into form. He has a good core of up and coming receivers and tight ends. He has at least two solid running backs returning. The offensive line will be a question, and that's the biggest problem because he won't have an abundance of opportunity to develop the pocket passing aspect of this game. Is all of this adversity something he and the Hokies can overcome? Absolutely, and if they do overcome it, I'll have to revise my answer to question 1!

MadJay responds:

Unlike many, I am not concerned about back-up quarterback. JuJu Clayton by all accounts is more than serviceable at QB. He will surprise some of you and he will likely be needed in a game or two this year given Taylor's propensity for taking some hard hits. Clayton's not going to win a game by himself back there as a redshirt freshman, and you can never tell until they are in the fire, but he looks to have the skills and poise necessary to keep from losing a game all by himself as well.

Question One: Hokies #3????

From Gobbler Country reader Riggs,

"Are we really going to be that good next year? I just don't see us being a top 10 team given last season's offensive output. Tell me that we're overhauling the offense, or we're adding new packages. Give me some hope."

Brian "Where's The Ice" responds:

We still have Bud Foster after all the speculation of him taking ahead coaching position someplace else, at least for now. He's the most important figure in the Hokie defense, and so long as he's still running the show, our D will be just fine. Offense, is another matter all together. Unfortunately, I don't have any reason to suspect that we're overhauling offense, and if we are, I don't think we'll see the changes come into form this season, next season at the very soonest in that case. We're definitely a top 25 team, but I don't see us sustaining a top 10 ranking for any substantial part of the season. The ACC is slowly making it's improvements with respect to the rest of the NCAA. I expect this season to present tougher matches in intra-conference play, so overall I expect a tougher strength of schedule than we've had in awhile. Despite the ACC's shoddy post season performance, it had the highest win percentage of the regular season in '08. And given that many of our fellow ACC programs have been in a perpetual state of rebuilding for a few seasons now, I expect some of that rebuilding to cone to fruition in '09.

MadJay responds:

This team has the dreaded word "potential" associated with it. Well, the Hokies basketball team had a ton of "potential" this year, so that should tell you how far potential will get you. That said, while there have been individual players in the past on offense better than some of these guys, but never has there been this much talent across the board on a football team that Virginia Tech has put on the field. Unfortunately the guy designing, coaching and calling the plays is the same - Coach Bryan Stinespring. There are some more plays being worked on for the Wild Turkey package, but it really doesn't come down to packages this year. The talent is there to be competitive. If solid, basic plays are executed properly, PARTICULARLY on 3rd down, with an even balance of run and pass (even 55-45 in favor of the run is balanced enough) you don't have to have a lot of gimmicks. Personally, I would sell my soul to the devil if I could convince Stiney to call a well-designed play action pass on 3rd and short, and maybe we'll see that this year. The short answer to your question is - the Hokies are not overhauling the offense, they are tweaking the Wild Turkey package and any hope you have hinges on if Coach Stinespring can just do a decent enough job to get this team to 50th best in total and scoring offense in the country.

EhhTee responds:

Excellent question Riggs.

So far the media is smoking some good crack. First, many of these are the same pundits that earn a paycheck from Dr. Mickey Mouse, the head of the network which will be carrying a little game in the Georgia Dome in which two very good teams will meet. It's a storied tale of two major powerhouses meeting on opening day. I can see Michael Bay directing the movie. It starts with a wide angle view of Peachtree Street... at night. In slow motion it pans across Atlanta with a jammin’ Hans Zimmer soundtrack... You get the picture: Number 5 meets number 6 on opening day of the season.

Visions of a top five or even top three team are a proverbial Mecca for these guys, and in a way, if they based it solely on returning numbers and talent of those returning numbers, they'd be right. The Hokies bring back a solid core and should do really well. Emphasis on the word, should. Our friends at FBS can tell you one of the major factors that will hold us back... I'll let them weigh in on "him."

The other thing in our favor is a very formidable schedule. Tech will play three potential top 25 teams in the first four weeks. Alabama, a top ten team, Nebraska, and Miami. Midseason, they'll face three more potential top 25 teams in BC, GT, and UNC. However, outside of the Alabama “neutral” site game, Tech faces all but ONE of their toughest matchups AT HOME. Georgia Tech will be the only real road challenge. You may be saying ECU beat us last year... but I can guarantee the Hokies won't let that happen again... not eat my hat guarantee but nonetheless a near guarantee.

With a lot of talent returning and a seemingly new found method of preparing introduced by the coaches for the Orange Bowl, the team should be ready to play well on day one. And by the above assessment, they better be.

Here are a few BIG question marks going in:

1) Tyrod Taylor. Will he be the phenom that he was supposed to be?
2) If not, how’s Ju-Ju? See below for more on this?
3) Will whoever is at QB get the protection he needs?
4) Darren Evans was phenomenal last year, but who will take second shift?
5) Stephan Virgil showed some real promise last year. He has some big shoes to fill with the loss of Victor Harris. See Question 3.

So to answer your question: Are the Hokies going to be as good as everyone says? Yes with several strong asterisks. Will they prove to be? Let's hope "he" doesn't mess it up for us.

Hokie Blog Round Table Intro

Five questions. Fifteen answers. "Where's the Ice?", MadJay and I have compiled answers to the various questions submitted to Gobbler Country. Each question will be in a separate post, as follows.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Your 2009-2010 HOKIES!!!!

Here to begin washing away all the pain and grime I suffered through this basketball season with VT, are the "new-car smell" 2009-2010 football Hokies as they take to the field and begin spring practice. It was such a joy to watch footage of today's practice. From the return of Brandon Dillard to seeing big Greg Boone run play action, to the electricity of Ryan Williams, it was just felt so great to be watching football starting up again.

First things first, no - Tyrod Taylor's hitch isn't gone. His elbow doesn't seem to flare out as wide as before, but the little "hitch" is still there. Note that I am not one of the people who thinks this "hitch" is a problem on its own. It's more of a mental thing with Taylor. He just needs to deliver the ball comfortably and quickly without telegraphing his throw. Frankly, if it doesn't change from its current motion, I think it will still prove successful, though he could certainly stand to have a slightly higher point of release.

Taylor's footwork has definitely tightened up and he's altered his stance under center just a bit. Overall, he looks to be in complete control and now that the team is finally all his, Taylor appears to relish that role and sets an example for the young guys.

My opinion is that Greg Boone is going to run a few plays out of the Wild Turkey this year and that's it - although when I say "that's it" what I mean is "that's awesome" because it is a neat formation with him back there and he was just working on handoffs and play action. The real backup QB battle is between Marcus Davis and JuJu Clayton so I paid a lot of attention to those two. 

First of all, Clayton appears calm and confident. I really like his throwing motion, it's compact and powerful, and in all clips I saw where two QB's got the snap at the same time, Clayton completed his drop, set and ball delivery quicker than both Davis and even Taylor. It's just a first practice so things were pretty relaxed but there's something to build on with Clayton, you can believe that.

Davis is simply a physical raw specimen. The guy is huge, he takes big steps in his dropback and his delivery is very powerful but he's just trying to get all of the mechanics down and it's going to take a lot of repetition to put all of that together. Never say never, but I'd be shocked if he overtook Clayton for the backup role looking at where Davis is right now. However, with his gobs of athletic ability and size, it's really a better thing for Davis to be a 3rd QB right now. He can hold the clipboard, learn the signals and the offense and frankly he still has a chance to get in games this fall from a WR standpoint to get playing time. If he were the backup QB, there's no way the staff would risk putting him on the field in any other position.

Speaking of WR, there is - and there's just no other way to put this  - a RETARDED logjam at that position. Look at this list of players - Jarrett Boykin, Dyrell Roberts, Danny Coale, Brandon Dillard, Xavier Boyce, Austin Fuller, Tony Gregory and Prince Parker. Marcus Davis will almost certainly slotted into the mix in the fall and then there's DJ Coles and Nubian Peak coming in this summer. There will be 11 guys competing for 4-5 slots and that means a lot of unhappy guys and a lot of scout team defensive backs getting toasted this season. 

I didn't see much footage of other positions during this practice but again from what I did see, it was a typical first practice. Lots of slop, lots of people not knowing exactly where to go, dropped balls, missteps, etc. and a TON of coaches chewing ass. But then again, it was spring football and there are 3 more weeks of it so I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to get all wound up and pissed off about things, so I'm just going relax and enjoy this first day of football for the 2009-2010 team.