Virginia Tech Football: How Hokies Will Survive After Losing Another Top Back
Losing a player who just set the school record for over 1,700 yards rushing would have many schools concerned about where their offense is going to come from.
Not at Virginia Tech.
After breaking former teammate Ryan Williams' 2009 record for most rushing yards in a season, David Wilson left Blacksburg a year early for the NFL.
Just in the last two years, the Hokies have lost three record-setting running backs early to the NFL.
Darren Evans, who set an ACC-record for most rushing yards in a season by a freshman in 2008, signed as an undrafted free agent with his hometown Indianapolis Colts in 2011.
Ryan Williams, who, in 2009, shattered Evans' freshman rushing record, also set the single-season school rushing record. Williams also set an ACC-record for 21 rushing touchdowns in a season in 2009. Williams was a second-round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2011.
Wilson, a junior in 2011, broke Williams' single-season rushing record, finishing the season with 1,709 yards.
Wilson will be missed. Not only was he a terrific running back, but he was arguably the team's fastest player and top big-play threat.
But, here are five reasons the Hokies will be fine at running back in 2012.
True Freshman J.C. Coleman
Standing 5'7" and weighing 170 pounds, Coleman doesn't possess the type of size to carry the ball over 20 times per game.
Coleman, who enrolled at Virginia Tech in January, expects to contribute immediately in a variety of ways.
The freshman will wear the prized No. 4 jersey usually reserved for a top Hokie playmaker and most recently worn by Wilson.
Coleman should see several snaps per game and may be a big part of the return game if the Hokies don't use Dyrell Roberts there.
Coleman's dynamic speed will help the Hokies in 2012. And while Coleman may be small in stature, he is a lot thicker than his size would indicate.
Redshirt Freshman Michael Holmes
Holmes was a decorated high school running back, but didn't get a lot of attention from schools outside of the state.
As a senior, Holmes rushed 2,877 yards and scored 41 touchdowns. He was a two-time State of Virginia Group AA Player-of-the-Year.
As a true freshman in 2011, Holmes was considered for playing time, as the depth chart wasn't deep behind Wilson. The Hokies wisely opted to keep the redshirt on Holmes so he would have four years of eligibility beginning in 2012.
Seeing Holmes' size (5'11", 208) and watching him run, he looks a lot like Lee Suggs. Suggs, a former Virginia Tech great, set several school records during his career.
While Holmes may not be the fastest Hokie running back, he has good speed. He also has the size to take a pounding and has excellent vision.
Before it is all said and done, Holmes will be the starting running back for the Hokies in 2012.
Someone Always Steps Up
Certain positions are synonymous with certain schools.
For instance, when you think of linebackers, you think of Penn State.
Now, while Virginia Tech's running backs haven't quite had that type of success, chances are, if you are the leading rusher for the Hokies, you will get an opportunity in the NFL.
Going back to the early 90s, some of the great Hokie running backs include Vaughn Hebron, Ken Oxendine, Shyrone Stith, Suggs, Kevin Jones, Evans, Williams and Wilson, to name a few.
Kevin Jones split time with Suggs, but when he got his opportunity to start, he set several school records. And Jones was arguably the top recruit in the entire nation in 2001, yet he sat behind Suggs.
In 2009, Evans was coming off a record-breaking freshman campaign, but his injury opened the door for another highly-regarded freshman in Williams.
The Hokies will be fine at running back. They recruit the position well and always have the cupboard stocked with more than one talented back.
While the Hokies will replace eight starters on offense, they return the quarterback that many are predicting great things for.
As a first-time starter in 2011, Thomas showed the inexperience of a first-year starter. However, as the season wore on, Thomas showed tremendous growth and, at times, carried the team on his broad shoulders.
Thomas has the ability to pick up big chunks of yardage on the ground, but the Hokies will be counting on his right arm. With the inexperience of the running backs, look for Thomas and his trio of senior wide receivers to throw the ball often while the running backs get accustomed to the speed of the college game.
At any rate, with a quarterback like Thomas under center, whoever is carrying the ball is going to have a much easier job.
Commitment to the Running Game
In an era where coaches want to throw the ball on first, second or third down, Beamer always prefers a strong running game.
The Hokies will have four new starters on the offensive and a new running back, so Beamer may opt to lean on Thomas and the experience of the wide receivers. Even if Beamer leans on the passing game, he will always look to establish the running game at some point.
In his 25 years as head coach at Virginia Tech, Beamer has built his reputation on opportunistic defense, strong special teams and a stout running game.
So, if the Hokies get off to a slow start running the football, don't panic. Beamer won't. He believes the short runs wear down a defense and open up chances not only in the running game, but the passing game as well.
Give Beamer credit for sticking to his running game. As long as his philosophy remains the same, the Hokies will continue to get outstanding high school running backs.
As for 2012, don't bet against the Hokies churning out another 1,000-yard rusher.