Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Preseason is over - Roster Breakdown for Opening Day

[Editor's note: The original post by MadJay had disappeared while EhhTee's post was uploading. Thankfully, I had a backup]

"Dancing days are here again
As the summer evenings grow
I got my flower - I got my power
I got a woman who knows" - Led Zeppelin

Saturday....Hokie football season is upon us on Saturday and I quite simply am beside myself with anticipation. But what self-respecting blog would let the season begin without an in-depth roster breakdown filled with interviews from the coaching staff, highlights of the scrimmages and clever witticisms about each position group? None would. However, since we're no self-respecting blog, you're left with my stale attempts at humor....... and a barely readable summary of the position groups. But cheer up - kickoff is at 12:30 EST on Saturday!!!

Special Teams:

Kicker - Cody Journell becomes the first non-fifth-year senior in 4 years to serve as the kicker. What does that mean? Two things - a) the Hokies can count on developing a top-shelf kicker who can finally prevent the kicking carousel from lasting only one season and b) this young man might not have the poise and maturity of a fifth-year senior which could possibly lead to a few early-season struggles. That said, the kid has a leg and has kicked accurately much of the spring and summer. Kickoff duties will be handled by Justin Myer who has an NFL-caliber leg and the accuracy of this guy.

Punter - Yeah everyone wanted to see Danny Coale become the first WR/Punter in college football history, except it was never going to happen as he is needed as a super-productive possession receiver and punt returner. In steps Scott Demler who wears one glove and while not having the leg of last year's Brian Saunders, has demonstrated remarkable consistency at knocking out 40 yard punts with great hang time.


CB - Jayron Hosley becomes the next great cornerback in VT's long line and steps into the boundary corner role. Kyle Fuller's back after a very successful true freshman campaign to man the field corner spot. He will be attacked early and often this year as teams try and run at Hosley and throw at Fuller. Good luck with that. Depth is already waiting in the wings with senior Cris Hill, redshirt freshman Detrick Bonner (who really had a great offseason) and superstud freshmen Kyshoen Jarrett and James Farrow.

Rover - BigTime Eddie Whitley slides over from his free safety position to take on rover duties. He keeps his role as defensive adjustment maker but he gets closer to the line of scrimmage. This kid has been a star his entire career and look for him to make play after play from rover. He is essentially the opposite of last year's rover Davon Morgan - Whitley might be a few pounds smaller and half a step slower than Morgan was, but he is 10x more instinctive than Morgan and better at getting the defense lined up. Unfortunately this position is not deep because the guy with the most experience is James Hopper and he is too small, and the big stud freshman rovers (Boye Aromire and Ronny VanDyke) don't have the mental part of the game down yet. Come on Whitley, stay healthy.

Free Safety - Antone Exum gets to expand his range and make more plays on the ball from the free safety position without having to handle all the playcalling duties (since Whitley will cover that from rover). However it sets Exum up for the 2012 season to step into the leadership role at free safety when he'll add playcalling responsibilities. Unfortunately there is also no depth at safety with an injury setback to freshman Michael Cole bringing his super-encouraging early play this preseason to an premature end. If Exum gets hurt, Whitley comes back to free safety and Hopper plays at rover. Come on Exum, stay healthy.

Linebacker - This has to be the deepest position on the team. Bruce Taylor is All-ACC caliber in the middle and he is backed up by two super instinctive players in Barquell Rivers and Jack Tyler who both have proven bigtime game experience. The major upgrade here is at the Backer position where Tariq Edwards and Telvion Clark waged an unbelievable battle this preseason for the starting role. It was so fierce that despite Edwards winning the starting role, Foster has promised Clark some playing time. Both players are a tremendous physical upgrade from the instinctive but slow Lyndell Gibson. Expect a lot more out of the Backer position this season. Even further depth is found in redshirt freshmen Brian Laiti and Chase Williams. Wow.

Meanwhile Whip LB which we all know was an Achilles Heel for this defense last season saw another intense battle between Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (JGW) and Alonzo Tweedy. Winslow by everyone's account seems to have absolutely turned it on and he won the starting job. That is some impressive character from a kid who could have gone into the tank after what happened last season. Tweedy, as always, remains the physical talent who just misses a play here and there and causes the coaches to have ulcer-inducing rampages during practice. The future here is Nick Dew who Coach Brown and others feel has star written all over him as he is as athletic as Tweedy but more instinctive. Give him another season to get the defense down and then look out.

Defensive Line - This is a simple one. The starting defensive line has the ability to be the best in the ACC this season (which is RIDICULOUS when you consider the lines at Florida State and UNC). James Gayle and JR Collins had monster camps and the Hopkins brothers were wrecking balls at the tackle positions. The key here, though is the backups. Wiles loves to substitute tackles to keep his guys fresh and the defensive tackle duties fall to two true freshmen - Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall. Don't expect to see them in the game at the same time very often but they will both get a lot of playing time on Saturday. The ends feature super physical beast Zack McCray who is starting to have the light turn on, but not fully yet and the very undersized, but very spirited Tyrel Wilson. I would expect the starters to get more snaps than Wiles wants early on, but if the Hokies can blow-out a few opponents and get these backups a lot of live snaps that could be HUGE later this season.


Offensive Line - The offensive line is out of excuses. They have depth, they have size, they have talent. This year, with a new starting QB, they had better deliver the goods or all of the weapons on offense are going to go useless and Hokie Nation is going to have a collective heart attack. Superfans like us are going to have quadruple-bypass heart attacks and that is never good.

Suffice to say LT Andrew Lanier, LG Greg Nosal, C Andrew Miller (who by all accounts is an upgrade over last year's dependable Beau Warren), RG Jaymes Brooks, and RT Blake DeChristopher will be closely scrutinized by yours truly on Saturday. Their backups are LT Nick Becton, LG Courtney Prince, C Caleb Farris (true freshman), RG David Wang and RT Vinston Painter figure in a lot this season in an attempt to keep the starters very fresh and allow for a punishing run game in the 4th quarter of ball games. That is a hallmark of good Virginia Tech teams of the past and it was dependent on good depth on the offensive line. 2011 is a chance to relive some of that glory on the O-line. It is also a chance to fall flat on their face and put me in the hospital.

Tight End - Hmmmm. This position is an enigma. Chris Drager is back and showing flashes of his previous greatness at the spot. His 40 times show why he had to come back from defensive end (no shot in the NFL at end) but he is a great blocker and dependable in the passing game. Eric Martin really came on early in preseason and then hurt his shoulders. Thankfully superstud freshman Ryan Malleck showed enough to justify getting into the mix. That is one fluid kid with the ball in his hands (as we noted in his recruiting breakdown). But in all honesty, there has definitely been some question about the TE's in camp lacking solid depth with Malleck being so young, that the fullbacks have begun to figure in to the offense for the first time in 4 years.

Fullback - Josh Phillips and Martin Scales. Huh? That's exactly what you probably thought when you ready those two names. The fact is that these kids are absolutely dynamite. Remember the days of Jarrett Ferguson and Cullen Hawkins? Those guys were killer blockers and actually could get more than 1 yard with the ball in their hands. Plus they were great weapons out of the backfield. Last year Kenny Younger gave us a glimpse of what could be in store, but he was playing on two bad knees. Phillips and Scales both got put on scholarship this year and both block like a load of bricks, catch the ball well out of the backfield and can actually do a little something with the ball in their hands. Look for the fullback in the lineup FAR more often than a two TE-set this season.

Running Back - David Wilson. The End.

Wide Receiver - What better situation to break a new QB in than to have this lineup of WR's? SE Jarrett Boykin and DJ Coles are big strong WR's and Boykin is about to break the alltime receiving record at Tech. Flankers Marcus Davis and Danny Coale bring different things to the table but they are both bigtime playmakers. This group is filled with big, tough kids with tons of big game experience and to top it off they are all excellent blockers. Oh yeah and Dyrell Roberts is back from his leg injury just to help ice the cake and handle the kickoff return duties. Meanwhile, freshmen like Demetri Knowles, Kevin Asante and transfer Corey Fuller set the table for the future. And that's before superfreak Robert Lockhart joins the team (he is taking a prep year this season). Receiver is a strength of this team this season to be sure as Coach Sherman spent most of his preseason worrying about the battle for the 6th receiver position.

Quarterback - The Logan Thomas era begins. The only question marks that remain to be seen is what does he do when they yellow jersey comes off? He hasn't been hit all preseason. Sure, when he tucks the ball and runs he is going to be delivering the damage, but what happens when he takes that first big hit from a defensive end? Will his decision making in the pocket remain sound? If so, if he's indeed made of the right stuff, and he stays healthy, he could have a fantastic season. If he doesn't stay healthy, the reins fall to Mark Leal who, while obviously not having the physical abilities of Logan Thomas, played all spring from 4th on the depth chart to 2nd. And he did it against the starters on defense. And he did it without a yellow jersey meaning he's been hit and had to make good live decisions with the ball. His delivery is a bit unorthodox but he's accurate and has great pocket presence. JuJu Clayton, who I thought had some Bryan Randall in him, did in fact have Bryan Randall in him. Unforunately for Clayton it was that first-year-Bryan-Randall who looked good taking practice reps but couldn't play worth a damn in scrimmage or live action situations. This is the Thomas-Leal show now. And it looks exciting from here.

With a new, revitalized coaching staff the team has a very green feel to it. These kids are HUNGRY. As I said before, the media picking FSU to win the ACC this season was the best thing they could have done for Virginia Tech. Losing to James Madison last year is a pain that will never fully go away for me, but the flipside of that coin is that I know that hurt sticks with the players just as bad and they will use that to fuel them for the opening game. We're left with the following 3 Key Questions coming out of pre-season camp:

1) Is Mike O'Cain an improvement as the offensive coordinator (whatever you want to call him, that's what he is in practice)?
2) Will the lack of depth at rover, free safety or defensive line rise up and bite VT or will these young players come up to speed quickly?
3) Is Logan Thomas ready to demonstrate what he's shown all offseason - that he is a top-flight QB - or will all this pressure and inexperience get to him?

Well, another offseason is gladly left in the abyss called the past. And my heart soars like an eagle. Hokies football season openers are the rejuvenation of my soul. What a man walking through the desert feels when he comes upon the oasis........ok for god's sake that's enough already, LET'S GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO HOKIES!!!!!!!!


Brent Hobbs said...

Hate to leave this as a comment, but didn't see a contact link.

For those who like to follow former Hokies playing in the NFL, I've updated a list I keep for this season, using the VT Media Guide and NFL team websites to get the information as accurate as possible.

It's an excel spreadsheet, sorted by team (I find that's the most useful way of sorting for TV viewing). It includes player's number, name, position, team, and what string they are listed on the depth chart. Players who start are in bold.

Feel free to share. I will update it as the season goes along. I make it for myself but figured I'd share if anyone wanted it.

MadJay said...

That is TREMENDOUSLY awesome.

Brent Hobbs said...

A lot of the guys on the original list got cut, so it's updated for the beginning of the season. Use the same link above, it'll always point to the most up-to-date file that I have.