Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spring Review

We'll have a post soon on the Hokies who get drafted and/or signed to free agent deals. But for now, let's break down every position group following spring practice. Yes, the Spring Game was cancelled which was a huge downer, but the big recruiting splash the Hokies made that weekend helped ease the pain. And they head into summer with a lot better feel about depth at running back and in the secondary. So here we go:


QB - Obviously there are no questions about Logan Thomas, his skills or his leadership. He is poised for a huge season if he stays healthy and can avoid feeling the pressure of carrying the offense. What concerns us the most about QB is depth. Mark Leal needed work this spring and due to a respiratory illness he didn't get it. Considering he's the only legitimate option at QB right now, that was a huge missed opportunity and the Hokies are going to be forced to get him reps when fall practice gets going. 

RB - I feel 100% better about running back after this spring then I did going into it. Michael Holmes is a legitimate ACC-caliber back and JC Coleman - who came in with all sorts of burst with the ball in his hands - showed a remarkable ability to learn his assignments in the blocking and passing game. With incoming freshmen Drew Harris and Chris Mangus in the fall, this position is stacked with talent and will be for the foreseeable future. (I didn't mention Trey Edmunds because he is too good on defense to be anything but a very situational running back).

WR - The dropoff from first string to second string at WR is scary and may be the largest gap on the team. Yes, Marcus Davis, DJ Coles and Dyrell Roberts have been in the battles and are big, fast and capable. But the spring showed that Kevin Asante, Demetri Knowles and Corey Fuller will all struggle to contribute this season. They have speed to burn (especially Knowles who is just blindingly fast) but they just don't have the hands or route-running to make me feel comfortable. And they are still learning to stick their noses in and block like they need to. 
TE - If you could combine the blocking of Eric Martin and the athletic ability of Randall Dunn you'd have.....Ryan Malleck. The problem is that Malleck is still missing assignments and until he gets the offense down cold, it's going to be risky to put him in the game. Dunn drops the ball too much (he dropped several passes last year that you have to make in games) which prevents him from being the automatic starter. Martin is a good blocker, but just isn't any kind of threat in the passing game. And Darius Redman could end up being as good as any of them once the game slows down for him. It will be TE by committee this season unless Malleck makes huge strides over the summer to become the starter.

Offensive Line - Offensive line entered the spring as the #1 concern and leaves the spring the same way. Michael Via missed the entire spring recovering from his knee injury and it's obvious that he's needed on that line somewhere. There is talent and size, but there's just no cohesiveness right now on the offensive line. Projected starters for the fall are LT Nic Becton, LG David Wang, C Andrew Miller,  RG Michael Via and RT Vinston Painter. Backups are LT Mark Shuman, LG Matt Arkema, C Caleb Farris, RG Brent Benedict, RT Jake Goins. These guys need to be able to finish each other's sentences by the time fall practice begins. They started to show signs of life toward the end of spring, but VAST improvement is needed for the Hokies to compete for an ACC title this season. 


Rover - In a surprising move, Detrick Bonner shifted over from corner to rover and has absolutely been crushing it at the position all spring. He is vocal, brash and has the cover skills which Coach Gray knew before making the move. But what we've learned is that Bonner isn't the least bit afraid of contact and had huge hits all spring. He has range because of his speed, although he is going to have to improve on his reads which will only come with experience. I expect teams to challenge him with a lot of play action and draw plays early in the season. Depth-wise Adeboye Aromire looks like the light is finally starting to come on, but whether he, or Theron Norman - who hasn't been completely healthy since he set foot on campus 3 years ago - is ready for primetime remains unknown.

Free Safety - Kyshoen Jarrett moved away from the other corner position to play free safety and it hasn't been as smooth as the Bonner move to rover. Jarrett still needs to get his technique down although he obviously has the physical ability. This is probably the weakest position on the defense as there is not only vast inexperience, but also little depth. Michael Cole, the backup, missed some critical parts of spring with injury. It would be impossible for Cole to spend too much time in the weight room and film room this summer in preparation for the fall. It is possible to imagine one of the multi-talented incoming freshmen competing for the 2-deep at free safety if Cole can't stay healthy. 

Cornerback - When the Giants selected Jayron Hosley in the 3rd round of the draft this year, that made it 14 straight years of sending a defensive back to the NFL, which has made it the premiere position on the Hokie defense. Kyle Fuller picked up right where he left off last season and if he stays healthy, looks ready for another possible defensive MVP season. The revelation here has been Antone Exum stepping in at boundary corner. There was never any question about Exum's strength and toughness, but he showed he was agile enough to cover receivers out on an island. The top two are fantastic, but the backups are both probably going to be true freshman. Donaldven Manning went through the entire spring and showed that he is serious about playing this season. And incoming freshman Davion Tookes will probably be all over the place when fall practice starts, but he is so fast and quick that he could also contribute. Unlike offensive line, the defensive secondary entered the spring as a question mark, but leaves the spring looking like a strength.

Whip - Jeron Gouveia-Winslow missed the spring recovering from his Lisfranc injury and Alonzo Tweedy had a few nicks during the spring but both of them are experienced and proven players, which means whip will be fine this season. However, their missed time helped the Hokies uncover a future star at the position. Ronnie Van Dyke was a guided missile at whip in every scrimmage. He was fast, tough and in the right place at the right time most of the time. If he works his ass off this fall he has the potential to see playing time in case of injury, but more importantly could revive the whip position next year as being one of the playmaker type of roles that is was for so long in Coach Foster's defense. That was supposed to be what Nick Dew accomplished, but Dew just hasn't learned the defense to where he can be counted on to be in the right place every time.

Backer - Tariq Edwards also missed the spring with leg surgery, which opened the door for Chase Williams to show that he is ready to contribute to the football team this fall. Williams will be a middle linebacker later in his career, but had a chance to show his physical presence and knack for the game every time he took the field this spring. Edwards is a very good backer, but there is depth to spare now, especially considering the incoming talent this fall.

Mike - Bruce Taylor was the third starting LB who didn't play this spring as he also recovered from the Lisfranc injury. But Jack Tyler took yet another step forward to where there's not much dropoff from Taylor to Tyler if it comes to that this fall (e.g. if Taylor's Lisfranc injury doesn't fully heal until a few weeks into the season). Tyler won the defensive award for Most Hustle this spring and he was just everywhere. Lest you forget, he actually started 5 games for the Hokies last season and made a HUGE play early in the Virginia game, knifing through to stop Wahoo RB Kevin Parks on that 4th down play near the goal line. Brian Laiti and a LB heavy recruiting class provide future depth at the position.

Defensive line - The defensive line for the 2012 Hokie team is as talented and deep as any team since the 2006 Hokies and should be the top D-line in the ACC in 2012. Starters JR Collins, James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy are going to be a nightmare for opponents this fall (could I be any happier to have been so wrong about Hopkins and Maddy? No I could not). And though there are 7 more guys to choose from, I predict the 2nd string defensive line looks like this in the fall: DE Dadi Nicholas, DT Antoine Hopkins, DT Kris Harley and DE Corey Marshall. That is a murderer's row of strength AND speed to burn just from the backups. Getting heat on the QB from the defensive line has been a hallmark of Bud Foster defenses, and it looks like that is going to be happening in 2012. After facing Hokie QB's wearing yellow jerseys all spring, well let's just say you would not want to be GT QB Tevin Washington in that first game where the line can actually hit the quarterback. 

Coach Foster has a saying that if you're not green, you're dying. The Hokies should have some optimism coming out of the spring, but it will be all about how hard they work this fall to get better yet. The offensive line just flat-out needs to be better as a unit. There are tons of backups all over the team who need to bust their asses this summer. And with leadership coming from players like Kyle Fuller and Logan Thomas I have a feeling the starters are going to be reminded plenty that this team lost the ACC championship and a winnable Sugar Bowl which had to have left an unbelievably bad taste in their mouths.

The summer is going to be unbearably long, as it is every year, but we can't wait for August to roll around and see the results of all the hard work the team puts in this summer. Until then,


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