Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring Football - Part 3, Wrap-up

Spring football is over and what a spring it was! Here are the 3 big storylines coming out of spring headed into summer and then we'll do a position-by-position breakdown:

1) Offensive line needs a LOT of help. The Spring Game featured offensive line disasters as 4 main contributors from the two-deep didn't play in the game due to injury. The recovery of OG Vinston Painter and C Michael Via will be critical to the offense heading into summer camp. A huge reason the offensive line had success last year was because Greg Nosal could rotate in at guard and keep the starters rested and Andrew Lanier was ready to fill in for right tackle Blake DeChristopher while Michael Via came in for center Beau Warren when those players had injuries. On the offensive line, your starters just aren't going to take all the snaps in a given season and offensive line depth is a critical factor. Right now VT doesn't have that.

2) Logan Thomas has won the backup QB battle. As we announced on TSF earlier this spring, there's no way Thomas isn't the guy and in the Spring Game he showed what he brings to the position. Despite having the flu, Thomas was extremely effective in the passing and running game, leading the team on a fantastic scoring drive including a beautiful TD pass to Danny Coale. He has surpassed Ju-Ju Clayton who had a bad spring game for the 2nd straight season. The coaches may play the politically correct game and not name the backup to try and manufacture competition for the spot in the fall, but Logan Thomas has the potential to be an enormous threat and a top-level playmaker at QB and he will be #2 this season.

3) Defensive depth is a huge question. The first unit is inexperienced but they look very solid (and just unbelievably fast at every position). But the second string is a pretty big drop-off at most positions. The main areas of concern are rover (James Hopper is simply out of his league), whip (Tweedy is fast but small), defensive tackle (the Hokies are missing a 4th tackle, period) and defensive end (James Gayle is a future star, but JR Collins and Jake Johnson haven't shown me anything so far). Folks, that is a LOT of positions that either need to be injury-free this fall (which is unrealistic) or a ton of players had better get serious this summer about stepping up their game. Coach Foster and gang are meeting with every player on the defense to outline what they need to work on this summer and it's no overstatement to say that how far the team goes this fall depends on how much depth the Hokie defense can build this summer.

OK, now let's do a position-by-position breakdown of the 2010 Hokies following the spring.


QB - Tyrod Taylor. Nothing much to say here other than, we're glad that so many people in the media and Hokie Nation are coming around to what our view on Taylor has always been, which is that he is BIGTIME. If he stays healthy there's no telling what heights he can reach this season. The undisputed team leader in the locker room.

RB - The talent at this position continues to make my jaw drop. Tony Gregory stepped up this spring, keeping the workload light on Ryan Williams and Gregory proceeded to go OFF. He has shown that whenever Williams and Evans go on to the NFL, he can be part of a great duo with David Wilson. The depth at this position goes on for days.

WR - Last spring, Xavier Boyce made a statement with his play and challenged Jarrett Boykin for the starting job, then faded out when the games counted and Boykin re-took his spot. But Boyce didn't give up and again had a phenomenal spring. Unfortunately for him, Marcus Davis had an INSANE spring and Davis is now #2 behind Boykin at split end. Coale and Roberts still share the duties at flanker. WR is stacked with talent and could a huge playmaking position for the offense.

TE - Last spring, tight end was the deepest position on the team, but with the graduation of Greg Boone and Chris Drager moving to defensive end, the only player left is Andre Smith. Now he's talented and has experience, but unfortunately nobody behind him has any meaningful snaps. Eric Martin made his presence felt in the spring game and is pushing hard to win the backup spot, but he's no Andre Smith.

Offensive Line - As outlined above, talent is plentiful but depth is non-existent with the number of injuries currently on the offensive line. The starting five are LT Nick Becton, LG Greg Nosal (battling shoulder injury right now), C Beau Warren, RG Jaymes Brooks and RT Blake DeChristopher. The backups are Larry, Moe, Curly, Huey and Dewey. I kid because I'm scared $@#%less.


Rover - Davon Morgan has grown into this position. After suffering a knee injury two years ago and being beaten out by Dorian Porch at the beginning of last season, Morgan quietly emerged to re-claim the starting role and played bigtime football by season's end. He will be a strong presence roaming the secondary in 2010, but his backup is a guy smaller than I am (5'9" 190 lbs James Hopper). Please don't get hurt Davon.

Free Safety - One of our favorite players, Eddie Whitley, has finally locked down a spot on the starting defense. He is a playmaker at free safety and has taken the leadership role in the defensive secondary. His backup is an immensely physically talented redshirt freshman named Antone Exum, who is stronger and faster than Whitley (Exum is a beast I'm here to tell you), but just doesn't have all the mental aspects of the spot down yet.

Boundary Corner - Rock Carmichael can play either field or boundary corner having excelled at both during his career. Jacob Sykes is backing him up but whoever loses the battle for starter at field corner will likely be the "third" cornerback and backup both field and boundary corner.

Field Corner - Jayron Hosley and Cris Hill have waged a huge battle for the starting spot here. Hosley has been hurt but coming off of that injury he's been spectacular as the position just comes naturally to him. Cris Hill is a bolt of lightning out there, but he's just not as instinctive as Hosley. Either one will be good as a starter, but I'd expect Hosley to win the spot going into the season.

Whip - I hope you read our spring review last season where we predicted that Cody Grimm would play in the NFL this season. Let's all just bask in the goodness that was Cody Grimm. Ok, now for the cold splash of water - no player competing for the whip position in 2010 has taken a meaningful snap (JGW did get some garbage time snaps last season). This is a question mark of epic proportions and both JGW and Alonzo Tweedy had their moments this spring. Knowing Coach Cav, it will probably be JGW's spot to lose come summer camp, but if Tweedy really starts nailing the mental part down, he could overtake JGW, especially if the level of play in the first few games isn't where it needs to be.

Backer - Lyndell Gibson is going to star in his starting role this season and he has played lights out all spring. His backup is currently a true freshman named Chase Williams, who is going to be very good, but right now is just running all over the place with a slightly bum knee. But as I said, he's just a true freshman. By the fall, with the return of Barquell Rivers, Bruce Taylor will basically be the backup for both Rivers and Gibson in case either of them got hurt.

Mike - Bruce Taylor had a MONSTROUS spring, finally showing the rest of Hokie Nation that he is capable of living up to his potential. We feel much better about the Mike spot and now Barquell Rivers is really going to be pushing to get back on the field, which is a good thing for him and the team. Telvion Clark is confused right now, but he is a physical specimen who also will make some noise later in his career.

Defensive line - The starting foursome of Steven Friday and Chris Drager at ends and John Graves/Kwamaine Battle at tackle is very tough. But Coach Wiles always likes rotating his defensive linemen to keep them fresh and right now, he only has two guys he can really trust to rotate in and not have a dropoff in play - James Gayle at end and Antoine Hopkins at tackle. Two other Hokies on that line have to step forward this summer and show that they want that shot. Joe Jones, Dwight Tucker and Isaiah Hamlette are going to try and earn that trust at tackle and JR Collins and Jake Johnson will attempt that feat at end. But make no mistake - Coach Wiles isn't going to play someone just to put a warm body out there, and right now the level of those players is not high enough to get on the field in a game. Perhaps Zack McCray will be ready at end when he joins the team this summer, but it's hard to break into the two-deep as a true freshman - though if anyone looks like they could do it, McCray might.

Speaking of McCray, there is a tremendous class incoming to Blacksburg this summer from the '10 Recruiting Class. The annual pangs of concern about how Coach Stinespring will find a way to mess up the most gifted offensive unit ever to take the field in a VT uniform, are already starting to set in. For the first time in a long time, those concerns are matched by nervousness about the defense and its lack of depth. The good news is the greatest defensive coordinator in the history of college football will be getting them ready for the season. He's going to throw slabs of raw meat into the weight room and keep the doors barred and by the time summer practice arrives, some guys are going to emerge, ready to bash some heads in. Hopefully it's enough of those guys to fill a two-deep and carry the team through the season.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring Football 2010 - Part 2, Second Scrimmage

Well, the defense looked a ton better in the scrimmage on Saturday. A guy we've been a fan of since he was recruited, FS Eddie Whitley, really made his presence felt out there with some big hits and a pick. CB Jayron Hosley who's been battling a groin injury all spring (I can't even walk normally with one of those and he's out there playing bigtime football), rose up to take the lead in the battle for the starting cornerback role opposite CB Rock Carmichael.

Equally impressive was the play of QB Tyrod Taylor who continues to elevate his game - a process that began the moment he set foot on Tech's campus. He could be in for a monumental season. His backup has not been settled, but we'll come back to that in a minute.

The offensive line was miserable, just as they've been since the first scrimmage. The O-line got out of the blocks great at the beginning of spring but due to losing 4 players to injury, the remaining M.A.S.H. unit has been awful. Saturday was no better, with more false starts and bad snaps causing all sorts of problems. The run blocking was no better and I'm not ready to say it's because of the strength of the defensive line yet, although DT Kwamaine Battle has certainly earned his place in the starting tackle spot next to DT John Graves. He is getting after some people and chasing the ball until the whistle, which impresses me.

Without anywhere to run, the running backs were just mincemeat out there. LB's Bruce Taylor and Lyndell Gibson continue to play fast and hit hard. I am still uneasy about the play of JGW (Jeron Gouveia-Winslow will be referred to as JGW from this point on at TSF) at whip, as he is instinctive, but not as sound fundamentally as Cody Grimm was in tackling. At whip, a tackle in the open field is often times going to be the difference between a first down or not and Grimm got the Hokie defense off the field a lot last season by making tackles or forcing fumbles against an offensive player in the open field. He had an enormous impact and I don't expect JGW (or Tweedy if he wins the spot) to play at that level this season, but I just hope the dropoff isn't too much.

And finally, to return to the backup QB battle, it is obvious from the footage that Logan Thomas should be the backup QB. The coaches are trying to be fair to Ju-Ju Clayton who is competing hard and playing pretty well. Thomas hasn't been consistent enough to just win the backup job outright, but he just has all the mental attributes you want in a QB and his physical skills are freakish and that's actually an understatement.

Consider this - Logan Thomas is no less advanced in the passing game than Tyrod Taylor was as a true freshman playing against LSU in his very first season. But the coaching staff burned a redshirt off Taylor to put him out there because his poise, leadership and scrambling ability, even as a freshman, were too good to keep on the sideline. Now I think Ju-Ju Clayton has more ability than Sean Glennon did, so it's not an apples-to-apples comparison, but the fact is that you just cannot keep Thomas out of the backup QB role. He needs to take snaps in a real game (albeit late in blowouts hopefully) this year to continue his development, but when you seem him square up his shoulders and deliver a strike, or pull the ball down and swat away a Lyndell Gibson and then run away from a James Gayle, you understand how special his ability is.

Clayton looks like a very solid QB to me and he reminds me of a less polished Bryan Randall, to let you know just how much I do think of him. Logan Thomas, however, looks like an absolute star with elite physical talent and according to the coaching staff, the right mentality and poise to be a QB. Thomas needs to be the backup QB and I think he will be when the season starts.

I'm looking forward to the spring game, after which we will do a Spring Football wrap-up.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring Football 2010 - Part 1, First Scrimmage

Yeeesh, that was ugly. There were a few bright spots, sure - RB Darren Evans running with a full head of steam, RB David Wilson looking fast, and a big hit from LB Lorenzo Williams. But overall that scrimmage fell from a pretty high branch on the ugly tree. Here's what we know after 7 practices and this first scrimmage:

1) The two deep is set at pretty much every position except the following: QB, one defensive end position, and starting kicker. The two-deep at offensive guard and center is set, but backup guard Vinston Painter is out for a bit with an injured knee (could be a week or 3 months depending on closer examination by the doctors), and backup center Michael Via is getting knee surgery and is out until fall but he will be the backup center when he returns from injury, end of story.

2) Basically this two-deep roster is going to get 90% of the remaining practice and scrimmage snaps the rest of the spring and from early indications, they need all those snaps and more.

3) The offensive line that looked so strong on Wednesday was completely out of sync today. False starts and holding penalties are drive killers and Coach Newsome knows it. His voice was turned up to 11 today. He also understands how important it is to have good protection for QB Tyrod Taylor to keep him healthy.

4) Speaking of Taylor, he was in command as usual. If he does stay healthy, and his offensive coordinator doesn't try and outthink himself (odds of that happening are about 1:100,000) Taylor could be in for a monster year. If I was Coach O'Cain, Taylor would get about 50% of the snaps in practices with the rest being split between Clayton and Thomas and then in the scrimmages, Taylor would get about 20% of the snaps with the rest from Clayton and Thomas, to see who can get it done at backup QB. The backup QB position is actually a great battle, but it's damn hard to know who's doing well when the receivers can't hold on to the ball, which they definitely did not do today.

5) James Hopper at rover is simply outmatched when he's on the field. WR Danny Coale schooled him on several occasions, catching a TD over him and Hopper also tried to come up and lay a big hit on TE Andre Smith but just bounced off him. He seems to be playing hard but a guy his size doesn't belong at rover. Incoming freshmen Nick Dew and Dominique Patterson seem much better suited to backup Davon Morgan at rover and neither of them will take a snap in a Hokie uniform until fall so this position has me worried.

6) James Gayle is all that and a bag of chips (as you've heard here on TSF on several previous occasions). He toasted Blake DeChristopher a couple of times today and has secured the backup DE position in my opinion. It's up to JR Collins, Isaiah Hamlette and Jake Johnson to determine who gets the other spot.

7) LB Telvion Clark is a guy who is going to be unreal when the game slows down for him. He is big and fast and loves contact. Backer Chase Williams doesn't seem to be as physically impressive to me, but all the players are raving about his development as an incoming freshman. Hey, his dad is the defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champs and his tape showed he had that special football IQ. Keep your eye out for Chase Williams and Telvion Clark. I doubt Quillie Odom sees the field in 2010 and will probably leave Tech's football program.

8) Germond Oatneal not only has a great breakfast name but he is taking advantage of Jerrodd Williams being out with an injury at corner. Oatneal is trying to win the backup field corner spot over Williams and Jacob Sykes. Oatneal had several bigtime plays today from the secondary and should have had a pick on an underthrown deep ball by Tyrod Taylor.

9) The RB's look excellent, they really do live up to the hype. Ryan Williams doesn't have anything to prove and only carried the ball a few times, looking lively when he did. Darren Evans didn't have the old burst back yet but he still has his top gear. And Tony Gregory was shocking to me in how hard he ran today - very fast and very tough. Of course, David Wilson showed that he is the star of the 2011 backfield as he will redshirt this fall but he's a beast as well.

10) WR Nubian Peak. Watch out for this kid playing somewhere on the field this year (kickoff returns perhaps). He is elusive and has a very nice burst along with nice vision developed as a running back throughout high school. Much like Dyrell Roberts, in fact.

11) One bonus thought - there is so much work to do on defense. Other than being great at defensive end, the defense is just not making plays like a typical Fosterball defense because the players aren't secure in what they're doing as a unit. It reminds me of how the defense looked at the opening of the 2007 campaign. Cam Martin and Kam Chancellor who went on to be great players, were lost on the field the first two games against ECU and LSU and the defense as a whole suffered for it until those guys upped their game. When they did, that team went on to win the ACC. But this 2010 defense has more unproven players than the '07 squad so I expect Coach Foster to be a pretty intense guy the remainder of spring.

12) Final bonus thought (2 for the price of 1) - the level of athlete playing football in the two-deep at VT is the best I've ever seen in 17 years of being a Superfan. Looking up and down the board, even with all the departures on defense and not even counting freakish athlete freshmen like Mark Shuman, Nick Dew, and Zack McCray that arrive this summer, the physical ability of these players is top-shelf all across the roster. The recruiting, in combination with Coach Gentry's strength and conditioning regimen, is really hitting on all cylinders.