Sunday, April 24, 2011

VT Spring Wrap-up

OK, so the plan was to provide you, my Calm and Beloved Reader, with an update each week of spring practice. However, I didn't factor in a huge 10 day vacation to the beach that took up the past two weekends. And while I won't apologize for that (at least not to you; my liver, however, definitely deserves an apology), it has prevented the spring practice updates.

But never fear, I have been keeping up-to-date on all the goings-on of spring through the intertubes, our source in Blacksburg and then this past weekend I was able to listen to the spring game thanks to a link from Recruitnik Dom and have watched the full game via bootleg footage from the stands.

SO with all of that said, please see below the full position-by-position breakdown as we head into the summer.


QB - Logan Thomas has assumed the reins as the team leader and despite being sold on his ridiculous physical skills since he's arrived on campus, what's impressed me the most this spring is how quickly he adapted to the role of team leader. To a man, the other players on offense talk about what a pleasure it is to be in the huddle with this guy and the confidence they have in him. I think a lot of that comes from one play last season - the 3rd and 16 conversion against Miami when Thomas came in cold and delivered an absolute dart to Danny Coale for the first down. So the issue with the QB position isn't Thomas but rather depth. Ju-Ju Clayton has totally lost his confidence once he lost the starting job battle to Thomas and it has opened the door for Mark Leal who has actually looked very good the past few scrimmages. Ricardo Young got hurt and couldn't battle for the #2 spot in the spring, so right now the back-up spot is wide open heading into the fall but as poor as Clayton played, I'd be surprised if it wasn't Leal or Young who gets the nod.

RB - Very few programs could lose two RB's to the NFL and the next season still be set at the position. Virginia Tech is one of them. David Wilson looks every bit the superstar that Ryan Williams/Darren Evans were and Josh Oglesby will provide experience and power in relief. Tony Gregory, once he recovers from his ACL injury (and by his own account he has nearly fully recovered already and wanted to play badly this spring), will provide another home-run threat with game experience off the bench. James Hopper is much better suited to RB than he was at rover, but he is still 4th string material. I'll never understand his recruitment.

WR - This is the deepest position on the team and reminds me of the 2007 squad that had Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, Justin Harper and Josh Hyman. Jarrett Boykin, DJ Coles, Marcus Davis and Danny Coale provide a huge array of weapons in the passing game, and all are physical blockers on the edge. Marcus Davis in particular earned a lot more playing time in the fall as he has been an absolute force this spring. Dyrell Roberts missed the entire spring with his thigh injury but we already know what he can bring to the table. In fact, if he's not at 100% this fall, he should probably redshirt and be the featured guy in the 2012 season. The 2011 squad would still have EL Smiling and Corey Fuller in reserve and while neither played that well in the spring game, they definitely have potential. Plus Roberts could then serve as mentor to the incredible incoming 2011 class of WR talent.

TE - I highly doubt TE will feature much in the offense early this season. The RB's and WR's are so good, and Chris Drager has a lot of rust to knock off after moving back from defensive end. He is a better blocker and Randall Dunn is a legitimate receiving threat but the fact is that the best TE on the team is taking snaps under center. Jerome Lewis needs to step up this season and prepare to fight for the role in 2012 because there's a lot of TE talent in the 2011 incoming class. Lewis has all the tools but hasn't gotten there mentally yet. The hope here would be that by the end of the season the TE position can figure into the offense but this will definitely be a dropoff from Andre Smith who was NFL caliber last season.

Offensive Line - Finally, FINALLY, the offensive line looks talented, deep and ready to go. They were a mess in the spring game because Coach Beamer always splits them up into two units that don't normally practice together. People wonder why he does that and the answer is that Beamer and his staff don't watch group play in the spring game. They are looking at individual match-ups and battles and they don't want chemistry to cover up physical or fundamental weaknesses that a player might have. It's the same for the linebacker group and defensive secondary. But on offensive line it usually produces some potentially ugly results. That said, in earlier scrimmages, the line really gave Thomas time to throw and cleared some running lanes. Here's the starters (LT Andrew Lanier, LG Greg Nosal - who missed spring due to surgery, C Andrew Miller, RG Jaymes Brooks, RT Blake DeChristopher). And the backups are (LT Nic Becton, LG David Wang, C Michael Via, RG Matt Arkema, RT Vinston Painter). The fact is that Becton, Wang and Via are all essentially #1a instead of 2nd string. Vinston Painter took enormous strides this spring, putting his insane physical frame to good use (except against James Gayle who gets almost his own paragraph in this spring breakdown). And Matt Arkema, who was one of our favorite players from the 2009 class, overtook the more physically imposing Laurence Gibson, because Arkema has been the guy that no one wanted to line up against in Middle Drill. The line is mean, they are strong and they are tough and with that much depth, they can rotate more this fall which means they will be fresh throughout the games, making for what should be an effective 4th quarter running game.


Rover - Antone Exum has found his home. This physical beast has been doing his best Ronnie Lott impression all spring, knocking the snot out of people. He has been out of position more than I would have liked to see and was beaten on a very nice TD pass from Leal to Smiling in the final scrimmage, but I know Coach Gray is in his ear every practice. Not to mention Exum got a ton of playing time in the nickel package last season so he's battle-tested. His backup is probably going to be Lorenzo Williams, but with Williams being so injury prone, it's really a battle between Wiley Brown and incoming freshman Adeboye Aromire. Aromire, you may recall from our recruiting class breakdown was given the chance at corner that he asked for, and then moved to safety as we predicted as he's just not loose enough in the hips for corner. But rover suits him well. Aromire is just a freshman and isn't as physically imposing yet, but he has been very impressive all spring in learning the defense and making plays.

Free Safety - Hard to believe that Bigtime Eddie Whitley is a senior this year. Not much more needs to be said here about Whitley as he is a born leader, and plays incredibly instictively. The defense is in good hands with him making the calls. Depth here is a concern however, as Theron Norman is the backup and he's been out with an injury. Norman played very well when he was in earlier in the spring, enough that they are still calling him #2 headed into the fall, but after Norman the cupboard is bare until the crop of incoming freshmen arrive this summer.

Cornerback - A fascinating development here as Jayron Hosley and Kyle Fuller battle to see who will be the boundary corner (more run support and man-to-man defense) and field corner (more zone and short flat defense). Typically the more experienced star CB plays boundary, but Hosley was just so incredible at field corner last season that Coach Gray swapped boundary and field corner responsibilities back and forth between Fuller and Hosley this spring just to give himself the flexibility to make that decision in the summer. The winner here is Hokie fans because both guys are fast, confident, physical and going to be playing in the League in a few seasons. Detrick Bonner had the breakout spring in the secondary and played amazing in the last scrimmage and the spring game (other than getting beat on a hitch and go by Marcus Davis). The always speedy, but too often out of position, Cris Hill will finish his final season as a backup field corner. He would have started a lot of places but here at DBU he just adds depth to an incredible secondary. And there's a lot more DB talent coming in the fall freshman class as well.

Whip - The play at whip was so poor early last season that Coach Foster had to implement a nickel package to get the pass coverage up to snuff. The result? One of the worst rush defenses in the Bud Foster era. This year Alonzo Tweedy has fully recovered from his groin injury and Jeron Gouviea-Winslow has upped his game to a level that Coach Foster feels comfortable restoring the whip back as a major component of the defense. Neither one is a Cody Grimm, but both are an upgrade from JGW's play at whip last season and I fully expect we'll see a Cam-Martin/Cody-Grimm-like rotation from 2008 at the whip position for the first few games of the season to see if either guy can separate himself as the clear starter. By the way, in the wings are two of the most exciting players on the Hokie defense in a pair of redshirt freshmen (Nick Dew and Dominique Patterson), who I fully expect to be major contributors in 2012. Both get rave reviews from their fellow players but neither has fully grasped the defense enough to see the field this season.

Backer - Lyndell Gibson was an extremely instinctive player, who really understood the Hokie defense. Unfortunately he was also a little too small and a half-step too slow to be a star at the Backer position, rather he was just a solid player. Unfortunately for him, he also had way too many off-the-field problems (I tell people the only reason I didn't play Division I football was because of a drinking problem, but in the case of Gibson it's actually true) and Gibson is gone. Size and speed are not the problem for the two guys who will man the Backer position in 2011 - Tariq Edwards and Telvion Clark. Edwards has been so good that he held onto the starting spot coming out of spring despite the holy terror that Telvion Clark was in the last two scrimmages and the spring game. Edwards is bigger and far faster than Gibson ever was and while not as instinctive, he seems to have worked his ass off in the film room because he's consistently been making the right read. Meanwhile, Clark looks like he just stepped off the set of the film "300". I expect a LOT more out of the Backer position in 2011 then the Hokies got in 2010.

Mike - Mike linebacker is a position of unbelievable depth for the Hokies going into the 2011 season. Starter Bruce Taylor had surgery and missed much of the spring, but he had nothing to prove to anyone after the monster season he had last year. Then Jack Tyler got hurt and missed the rest of the spring. Again, he showed in the ACC Championship game that he can play at this level. In steps 2009 star Barquell Rivers, whose recovery from a torn quad took longer than anyone could have expected. He still isn't all the way back but he showed that he is a) made of some damn strong stuff, b) in it for the team as a true Hokie and c) can actually provide depth at the position this season. Two young stars in the middle are Chase Williams, who looks better suited for Mike than his previous position of Backer with his amazing ability to read a play, and Brian Laiti, who as a redshirt freshman still needs to get bigger and faster, but made some big hits and even an interception in a scrimmage this spring. 2011 means the Hokies are going 5 deep at Mike including a former All-ACC player (Rivers), one who will be All-ACC this year (Taylor), the defensive MVP of the ACC Championship game (Tyler), and two studly redshirt freshmen (Williams and Laiti). It's like the Victoria's Secret catalog of middle linebackers. It's winners on every page. Or something.

Defensive line - Still not enough depth on the defensive line but the starters are absolute studs. The Hopkins brothers (and boy was I wrong about Derrick Hopkins in my 2010 recruiting class breakdown) are an upgrade from John Graves/Kwamaine Battle at tackle and that is seriously saying something because I thought Graves and Battle were total studs. J.R. Collins can also play inside as he did some this spring but what was so neat about that move is that it really lit a flame under him at end. He seemed to somehow grasp the overall scheme much better having played some inside and in 2011 he will start at one defensive end position where he had a monster spring game. But the real revelation (at least to those who don't read TSF) of the spring was James Gayle. Our favorite recruit of the 2009 class has had the light turn on for him and basically became unblockable at the other defensive end position. What's important about this is that when you think of a dominant Hokies' defense you can always name a dominant defensive end. From the days of Cornell Brown to Corey Moore, to Nathaniel Adibi, to Darryl Tapp, to Chris Ellis to Jason Worilds the Hokies had a ferocious pass rush from a guy who an offense had to scheme around. Steven Friday and Chris Drager were both productive and solid at defensive end last year, there's no question, but they weren't game-changers. James Gayle has the ability to be a game-changer and could possibly be the best of the bunch since Darryl Tapp. Blake DeChristopher said that Gayle is tougher to block than any end that BDC faced in 2010 which included Allen Bailey at Miami, Markus White at Florida State and Ryan Winterswyk from Boise State. Whew. The backups unfortunately are another story. Other than Kwamaine Battle who, if fully recovered from his knee injury, will see a lot of playing time in the rotation, the rest of the players are raw and unproven. The 2nd backup tackle will be a huge competion that will include incoming stud recruit Kris Harley, along with Isiaih Hamlette and Dwight Tucker who really haven't shown much this spring and Nick Acree, who is basically a physical monster who unfortunately doesn't always play his technique properly. Coach Wiles isn't going to play a guy he can't count on every play. At defensive end, things look a little better with Duan Perez-Means and Tyrel Wilson, though Wilson only has the position because Zack McCray hasn't had the light go on yet. When it does, McCray will play because he also has unbelievable physical ability. And there is some major talent at defensive end incoming, including 2011 recruit Justin Taylor who was already on campus this spring. Coach Wiles wants to rotate guys a lot and keep them fresh so there's playing time at stake and that's going to inspire all these linemen to fight for it.

Every year we say that the coaches are going to throw some raw meat in the weight room and bar the door (it's a phrase we got from Coach Foster and we love it). But this year the starters already have the physical tools. Sure these players are going to work hard this summer because it's Virginia Tech and the program is known for physical toughness, but this year what's needed in many positions on the roster is more depth. The 2nd stringers need to spend just as much time on film study as they do in the weight room. There are guys like Nick Acree, Zack McCray and Vinston Painter who are physically superior to the guys ahead of them, but the game hasn't slowed down for them yet (although Painter did make huge strides this spring). Players like Dominique Patterson and Nick Dew need to use this summer to learn from the leaders on this team about how to prepare to win. From everything I see on this roster, 2011 looks like it can be a great season for the Hokies but 2012 looks like it could be an absolute monster and a lot of that will be how hard these 2nd stringers push themselves to prepare for game experience this season and reaching their full potential.

One last point - you've read in this spring breakdown about how we hit and missed on a few prospects in our recruiting class summaries. On a suggestion from one of our readers, we will put together a look at all of our recruiting breakdowns and give you the three biggest misses and the three most accurate calls we've made about Hokie recruits in the past 4-5 seasons. Until then,


Saturday, April 02, 2011

Football is back

Spring practice is here and as usual, we will provide a breakdown after each scrimmage on the progress of this year's squad. In the meantime, the revelations about the Fiesta Bowl highlight an issue that we have been bashing on for years and years and years. The BCS is broken. It is completely broken and it brings in less money for the schools involved than it does for the bowl games and their cronies.

There was an excellent write-up on Yahoo that you should read. A playoff can't get here soon enough.

Hopefully that tides you over until our first spring practice breakdown.