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!!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

1st Scrimmage Eve

Well, the first week of pre-season practice is under the Hokies' collective belts and there have been quite a few developments thus far (and one tragic one in the loss of Darren Evans to a knee injury for the season). Let's do a quick rundown on 10 quick hitters before the first scrimmage tomorrow:

1) David Wilson is so real it's not even funny. The kid is camped out in the film room, and pestering everyone with questions, so his head is on right. And then out on the field - oh my heavens. He has made people look silly, ranging from walk-ons to scout teamers, to starting rover Dorian Porch on a little out route where he sent Porch in the completely wrong direction. Knowing who to block is still a challenge for the young man (as it is for all young RB's) but he has no problem getting physical on whoever he's blocking. We love what Wilson is all about right now and there's no way he isn't returning punts and kicks as early as the season opener.

2) Ryan Williams has recovered from showing up out of shape and looks back to his old buzzworthy ways. Always tough to tackle, he needs to take his blocking more seriously and improve in catching out of the backfield.

3) Logan Thomas elevated himself right into the QB competition tied with Clayton for the #2 spot. I laughed when I first saw this but seeing some footage from practice, umm, this kid really can fling that ball. He throws very hard and very accurately but he still needs a ton of work on his footwork and obviously Clayton is ahead mentally right now. Still, I can't wait to see what these two do in the scrimmage tomorrow.

4) Xavier Boyce has overtaken Jarrett Boykin for one of the starting spots at WR right now and that had better wake you up because it's not like Boykin is having a poor showing out there. In fact, there's a great clip I saw on where Boykin was matched up against Rock Carmichael in one-on-ones and he absolutely toasted Rock on a post route. Still, Xavier Boyce has taken an incredible leap in his game from the spring to now. He's catching balls like he's covered in tree sap, he's blocking impressively and he is as smooth as whipped butter running his routes. I still can't help but believe that this is just a ploy to really push Boykin for the next few weeks considering that Boykin has shown he can get it done in live game situations, but we shall see.

5) No matter who's starting, the riches at WR are beyond belief. DJ Coles is as advertised thus far. What a burst he has! He needs to improve his route running and ball skills, but again, so does every new WR. The kid is going to be a player. And Marcus Davis has left the backup QB position in the dust as he's completely focused on WR and it shows. In fact, the Hokies have 4 guys at WR (Boyce, Boykin, Coles and Davis) who are 6'3" or taller, 225 lbs or more, vertical leaps of 38" or better and are fast. If I see a single red zone series this season that doesn't score a TD and it didn't include one jump ball fade pass attempt to one of these guys my brains are going to melt and start leaking out of my ear.

6) Cam Martin is just destined to wonder "what if". His knee has been acting up and despite having all the physical and mental tools to be a great whip LB, he just can't get healthy. He really needs reps to knock the rust off of sitting the whole spring, but his knee is just too sore right now. We really hope Cam is able to get healthy and contribute to this team in the fall as he is a valuable asset when at 100%.

7) Speaking of whip, Cody Grimm is looking phenomenal and Alonzo Tweedy and Jeron Gouviea-Winslow have made ENORMOUS strides this summer to really give this position some real depth as well as promise for the future.

8) Rock Carmichael (despite getting lit up by Boykin) seems to have almost sewn up the spot at field corner. Cris Hill is struggling in the mental aspects right now and as I've been saying for a while, Eddie Whitley is honestly going to be a better free safety which is where he's getting the reps right now. Whitley is that high football IQ guy who loves to hit and be a leader and that is what the free safety position is all about on the Hokies. With the young talent/speed coming up at CB, the Hokies are better off keeping Whitley at FS so he can get game snaps at that spot this season with Kam leaving it vacant next year when he goes on to the league.

9) There's been a lot of talk about the o-line and they've looked very good. Blake DeChristopher is holding off a hard charge from Andrew Lanier at RT and the rest of the positions are pretty solid with at least 8 guys who are worthy of playing in games when it matters.

10) I still haven't seen the intensity of practice like I would have expected. The team looks good and smooth but there hasn't been a lot of intensity in middle drills or blocking drills. With the competition for some positions at stake, I expect the first scrimmage will be different and we'll see some people flying around out there. The team needs to push (especially only doing one full practice a day) to make sure they can match the intensity level that Alabama is going to bring to the game on September 5th.

And at this point, that's what we're going to do - see what happens at the scrimmage tomorrow. The coaches are going to be deciding on redshirts and determining who's going to get the reps for the remainder of practice.


The Michael Vick Story

By now most of you know that Michael Vick will be a Philadelphia Eagle. I know this might excite at least one or two SuperFans out there. However, I struggled with whether I wanted to write about this chapter of the Michael Vick story. I struggled with my feeling toward him ever since hearing about his crimes against nature.

Michael Vick defined the start of the modern era in Hokie Football. In 1992, the Hokies went 2-8-1. This was not unusual, nor was Virginia Tech looked to for great football. Come the next season and that year's most improved team went on to go to the Independence Bowl and hasn't missed getting into a bowl since. Still, throughout the rest of the nineties, while the Hokies would continue to improve, including beating Texas in the Sugar Bowl, the words Hokies and powerhouse were never uttered. Along comes, this young kid from Newport News that everybody talked about, but really had no idea at what he could do.

Michael Vick put Virginia Tech football on the map. No longer was Tech just that reputable engineering school confused and often questioned "Do you mean VPI?" It was a legitimate football contender who in any year could compete for a top 25, or top 10 ranking. No, Tech was not a Northwestern or a Kansas that rose quickly and fell just as quickly. They were here to stay.

Much of this we owe, of course, to Coach Beamer and [most] of his staff. And to the loyal fans who continue to aid by donating and buying tickets. But most would agree, we would not be speaking of ACC or national championships if it were not for Vick. In fact, the closest we've ever come to said national championship was with Vick at the helm.

But still, in my mind, I separate that Michael Vick from the Michael Vick we know today. However, here we are. Crime and punishment aside, Michael Vick is now a Philadelphia Eagle. The crux of what that means is that he'll be in uniform and on the sidelines as early as week six of this upcoming season.

The small irony of this is the McNabb/Vick story. For those of you that don't recall, when Michael Vick was being recruited out of high school he was being sought after by many teams of which it seemed that he had narrowed his selection to Virginia Tech and Syracuse. At Syracuse, he was hosted by a very talented and mobile quarterback named Donovan McNabb. In the end, Vick decided on Tech stating he wanted to be the first Michael Vick and not the next Donovan McNabb.

So, I resolve to accept this as an opening of the next chapter in the Michael Vick story and, in the words of McNabb, "everyone deserves a second chance."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Darren Evans Tears ACL - Sidelined for Entire 2009 Season

Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans has torn his ACL in his left knee. The injury happened during practice on Tuesday, August 11.

TSL has the whole story:

First, my heart goes out to Evans and his family, as such an untimely injury will burn a year of his College Football career. He has already red-shirted in 2007. He performed marvelously throughout the 2008 season and stood out as the Hokies most reliable asset in the running game. The TSF staff all wish him a speedy and strong recovery.

This casts a dark cloud of uncertainty over the tailback situation for the Hokies. Josh Oglesby now takes the mantle of the only tailback of the Hokie squad to have every taken a snap. Early last season, Oglesby showed some promise to develop into a strong backup tailback. He ran for 88 yards on 38 carries, not the most stellar numbers. Hokie fans will have to hope for the circumstances making the man rather than the man making the circumstances, referring to an old saying.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The team

The coaches are very impressed with David Wilson and Logan Thomas. After seeing from footage from today's practice I can see why. To think those two are freshmen is just ridiculous. The other thing that popped out at me is how fluid and athletic Xavier Boyce and Marcus Davis look. It's impossible to think they could jump Jarrett Boykin on the depth chart at the "X" receiver position before the season after what Boykin showed in games last year, but those two are going to get on the field and they are going to make plays.

In fact all over the field today there were impressive athletes. But remember - everyone's team looks great in August.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Pre-season practice is upon us

The Hokies began pre-season practice today. Despite my incredible apprehension about the train wreck that might happen on offense, I can't help but begin feeling excited for the 2009 football season!!!!!!!!!

The first depth chart has been posted but it's pretty meaningless and each position coach handled it his own way. Kevin Sherman made all 4 WR's starters (Jarrett Boykin, Xavier Boyce, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts) to keep everyone on their toes. Coach Newsome sent a message to Vinston Painter and moved him to 4th string tackle probably to light a fire. Coach Hite did the same thing at RB making Ryan Williams 3rd string. Let's not get to crazy about any of this and see what the depth chart looks like after the first scrimmage.

We will keep you posted on major positional battles as well as how the incoming freshmen that are trying to get on the field this year are doing (DJ Coles, Logan Thomas and David Wilson). And at the end of practice we will do a full pre-season breakdown position-by-position.

Hokies football 2009 is HERE so GO HOKIES!!!!