Another 10 tidbits and musings for you now that 2 weeks of pre-season practice are in the books.
1) Michael Holmes will sneak up on you. I was absolutely unimpressed by the film I watched on him in high school. But if there's one thing that film can't show, it's how hard someone is willing to work and Holmes has just worked his ass right on off. He used his entire redshirt year to get bigger, stronger, faster and learn the offense inside and out. A very dependable blocker, he's still not dropping my jaw with his running ability, but then we've been spoiled the past 4 years haven't we? Holmes is far better than I thought he would be. He's got good patience, sets up his blocks VERY well, is slippery in traffic and he holds on to the rock. In other words, he's a perfect back for a Coach Frank Beamer type of offense and despite the talent behind him, Holmes has truly earned the #1 spot.
2) The offense has undergone some changes in terms of picking up the tempo and pre-snap motion that I think are going to serve as a great mix-it-up type of gameplan to confuse defensive opponents. But the new mainstay of the offense is this pistol formation which I absolutely love. Think of a shotgun formation, but instead of the QB being back lined up next to the running back, he is lined up closer to the center with the running back directly behind him. Logan Thomas is a great threat to run out of this formation, plus the entire playbook of runs for the backs is available out of the formation. The pistol has proven to be VERY effective in practice and I expect, with no footage on the Hokies running it, that Georgia Tech is going to have some challenges adapting to it in that first game.
3) James Gayle could end up being a monster this season, literally a first-team All American. But as I alluded to last week, the major caveat is - can he stay healthy? He's already had bad ankle trouble in practice and don't forget that the Yellow Jackets are always throwing themselves at your legs with their blocking scheme. Gayle is someone we've loved since he was an underrated recruit, but he's got to get over these ankle injuries if he wants to have the type of season that puts him high up in the NFL draft. And make no mistake, he has his eye on the NFL next season.
4) DJ Coles has made enormous strides the past week. He played in the closed scrimmage on Saturday and forgetting any contributions he makes in the passing game, he is the best blocker the Hokies have in the WR corps. If he can be back healthy against the Yellow Jackets, even if he isn't 100%, he can make a difference in the running game, especially with the Jackets missing one of their playmakers in the secondary - Louis Young.
5) Unfortunately, Tariq Edwards has not made a similar recovery and the training staff is now targeting the Pitt game for his return. But all is not bare at Backer. Bruce Taylor continues to fit nicely there, and a fantastic surprise has been the rapid ascent of incoming freshman Deon Clarke. Clarke has earned his stripes in the middle drill, making huge hits and being willing to stick his nose in there even as he needs another 15 pounds of Gentrification to become the type of player he will be. He now finds himself in the two deep as a result of his instinctive play and physical gifts.
6) While we're talking about linebackers, how about Jeron Gouviea-Winslow?!?! Ronnie Van Dyke is the perfect specimen for whip in a Bud Foster defense, and while he surpassed Alonzo Tweedy with his play, he just can't unseat JGW. The reason is that JGW just never makes a mis-read. He is always where he's supposed to be on every play. He might not make every tackle out in space, but he'll be there and he can slow down the opposing back or receiver until the cavalry can arrive. His improvement from that Boise State game two years ago has been nothing short of the personification of willpower. He could have just packed it in after playing so poorly early in his career, but he didn't. He's risen to the challenge and now finds himself one of the team captains for the Georgia Tech game. JGW is a reminder that sometimes this game is bigger than the wins and losses, it's about the kind of men that a program like Coach Beamer's can develop.
7) Demetri Knowles is a name that Hokie fans all across the country are going to know very well by mid-season. This kid has got that burst, that Bryan Still type of field-stretching speed that the Hokies WR corps has been missing since Eddie Royal was on the field. Knowles is still so raw at the game of football that I doubt he'll get a ton of snaps at receiver. But look for him on punt and kickoff returns (Beamer needs to make Knowles and Gregory the kickoff return tandem to protect Dyrell Roberts), to make a splash. He has been uncatchable the past two scrimmages with the ball in his hands. There's track speed and there's football speed and Knowles has football speed.
8) Antone Exum has stepped up to the challenge at cornerback. He still doesn't have the fluidity in the hips of a Jayron Hosley or Kyle Fuller, but he is faster than I thought, has better ball skills than ANYONE thought (he's knocked three passes out of receiver's hands these past two scrimmages) and provided the run support that we all knew he'd bring to the position. He also has the mentality you need at cornerback - cocky, easily forgets the last play and gets in the head of anyone he's matched up against. He's the one who said that this defense has as much talent as the one the Hokies fielded in '99 when they played for the national title. Whether that's true or not is up for debate, but it provides a stake in the ground for the rest of the team to live up to and that type of locker room leadership is a hidden ingredient in the very best teams.
9) The punting battle is probably the fiercest of training camp. Two true freshmen - AJ Hughes and Hunter Windmuller - are fighting it out. Windmuller has the strongest leg and can hang a punt in the air for 5 seconds which Beamer absolutely loves. BUT, Windmuller is also prone to shanking a punt too often. Beamer's already experienced the trials and tribulations of a true freshman punter with a strong, inconsistent leg - Michael Branthover last season. I doubt he goes down that road again and so I bet Beamer chooses the guy who gives him a 40-45 yard punt every time in AJ Hughes.
10) Ryan Malleck has finally taken the steps forward necessary to be the starting tight end in this offense. He has the physical blocking ability of Eric Martin and almost the receiving ability of Randall Dunn. Malleck is a great weapon in motion from the pistol formation. He can switch to the side where the run play is, or decoy away from it and go to the flat on play action passes. I really expect that Malleck can provide the type of year at tight end that Andre Smith had in 2010 which would be a big boost to the offense.
Well that wraps up our post-scrimmage thoughts. The next post will be a position-by-position breakdown of the team as they head into the season. Until then,