Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Practice Update #2

The Hokies had their second major scrimmage of spring, and people always say that you can't read too much into what happens in the spring, but there are two themes that are becoming apparent about this year's team:

A) The defensive line is as talented and as deep as it's been since 2006. Up and down the line, at end and at tackle, there are unbelievable athletes. At end, James Gayle is living up to the potential that we saw in him from the first time we say his high school film and there's an even better athlete at end right now - redshirt freshman Dadi Nicholas - who, if he can get the mental part of the game down, is going to be a first round pick someday. He is running plays down from the back side like a bolt of lightning. And the tackles are basically unblockable right now. Yes, the offensive line is a mish-mash while they try different combinations, but in the one-on-ones, Kris Harley and Luther Maddy are beating everyone off the snap. Coach Foster is at his most fearsome best when he can get pressure with a four man rush so that he can mix up coverages and blitzes all over his back seven. I do believe he will be able to get pressure with this front four throughout the season.

B) The offensive gameplan is a MASSIVE work in progress. Coach Stinespring and Coach O'Cain are throwing everything under the sun at the wall to see what sticks. This is an area of great concern and great excitement at the same time. There are a ton of plays out of the pistol formation - which I really like - and a lot of pre-snap motion converting from one formation to another. If these two guys are able to identify some plays that match up well with the skills of these offensive players, it could be productive. But that is a Mount Everest-sized IF. Ignoring the ridiculous incompetence of Coach Stinespring at gameplanning for a moment, the remaining downsides are still many. Is it too much for these young players on offense to try and take in and remember? What kind of identity can you forge when you're moving all around and lining up in 5 or 6 different formations? How do you still incorporate the power running game that Coach Beamer the Elder will insist on having? I sure hope this spring has just been a test bed for some of these ideas and that the coaches woodshed on this over the summer. Maybe if they roll out a cohesive offensive gameplan for fall practice, I'll feel better, but for now, color me nervous.

Now after those two glaringly obvious observations, here are 5 more tidbits we picked up from the scrimmage on Saturday.

1) A lot of talk about Michael Holmes and deservedly so. He reminds me of Brandon Ore, but not in his running style. It's more of the fact that, like Holmes, Ore was never big enough or fast enough to be a top-shelf RB, but he still was one (albeit one with his head screwed on backwards) because his vision and his instincts were as good as any Hokie RB ever, save maybe Ryan Williams. Holmes is decent sized and somewhat strong but he's not setting weight room records. And he doesn't have blazing speed nor is he as explosive as JC Coleman. The back whose running style Holmes reminds me most of is a man I watched every Sunday for years as a Dallas Cowboy fan - Emmitt Smith. Both have this uncanny ability to read the flow of a play, make a move and run to daylight. Now early in his career, Smith was more powerful and broke a TON of tackles, but late in his career, he was still gaining yards with his clever running. And that's how I describe Holmes - he's a very clever runner. I'm not saying he's as good as the NFL all-time leading rusher for goodness sake, but their running styles are eerily similar to me.

2) Speaking of running backs, Martin Scales has surprised a lot of people this spring, me included. People didn't realize how fast he was, and I guarantee you that this little experiment in moving him over from fullback is now permanent. Joey Phillips will be the fullback this year and Scales will get some carries both in short yardage and at the end of games at the running back spot. He even looks hard enough to tackle that I'd be ok with him filling in for a game or two in case of injury to one of either Holmes or Coleman. Nobody predicted this kind of running ability - except for Scales himself, who's been pleading with Coach Beamer the Younger for the past 18 months to give him a chance at running back.

3) I sure hope Dyrell Roberts, DJ Coles and Marcus Davis stay healthy this season at receiver. Yes, Corey Fuller is fast and Demetri Knowles is blindingly so, but these guys couldn't catch a cold sitting naked in a rainstorm. Hell, Knowles doesn't even know how to properly secure the ball when he runs yet. Now if either of them get behind you, they're gone, but damn it takes an act of Congress to get them to catch the ball first. I like Kevin Asante's hands, but he's not been through enough Gentry cycles yet. Between these guys and the incoming freshmen this fall, there's a lot of talent at receiver but they're as raw as ahi-tuna out there. There were 5 dropped passes on Saturday and that's 10 too many for me (yes, each dropped pass takes 2 months off of the end of my life).

4) Unlike wide receiver, there is experience, depth and talent at the linebacker positions. All 3 starters are out at LB and with Jack Tyler (Mike), Chase Williams (Backer) and Ronnie VanDyke (Whip) filling in, their performance has been stellar. Tyler's showing is to be expected as he played a lot last season and played extremely well. Williams, isn't QUITE fast enough to be a star at backer, and he'll move over to the middle later in his career, but his instincts and tackling ability have lived up to the reputation he came into the program with. He has set aside the distractions surrounding his father and thrown himself into this spring and it shows. And Ronnie VanDyke has been an absolute revelation at Whip. He is almost as fast as Alonzo Tweedy but he plays the position far more physically and has already had tons of big hits this spring along with an interception and several tackles for loss. VanDyke is always around the football which is what Coach Foster loves out of that position. If Gouviea-Winslow can't recover to full speed, I'd expect VanDyke to see some significant minutes this season, maybe even battling for the starting spot later in the year if the game begins to slow down for him.

5) The defensive secondary is no longer a concern. A top three concern headed into this spring, Coach Gray "do what he do" and has made the right moves. Detrick Bonner has been the star of the spring defensively from rover and Kyshoen Jarrett has been physical enough at free safety to go along with his tremendous ball skills and cover ability. Antone Exum has emerged as a presence at boundary corner and while I'm still not quite sure he can be a shutdown corner on an island out there (his direction-change isn't elite yet), he'll be good enough against most receivers to cover them, while being tremendous in run support and providing leadership to the secondary. And of course, with the strength on the team at whip this year, Kyle Fuller can settle into his field corner role, where he has potential All-ACC if not All-American awards awaiting him if he stays healthy. There's still not enough depth here - why on earth did James Farrow transfer? - but more help arrives in the fall and with the QB pressure the defensive line should be getting, D-Block should be making plays this season as usual.

Well, the Spring Game is Saturday and we'll do our final position-by-position breakdown after that. Until then,


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