Virginia Tech Football: 3 Weaknesses That Could Keep Hokies from ACC Title Game
Virginia Tech goes into 2012 as favorite for the Coastal Division—but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed. There were moments of inconsistency last year that raise concerns for the coming season.
Frank Beamer will be hoping that his defense will smooth over the offensive cracks and raise the team above their contemporaries. The group he and Bud Foster have assembled has the potential to be the best Hokies unit in recent memory.
Nine of last year’s starters return, including cornerback Kyle Fuller and defensive end James Gayle, who will look to continue their impressive 2011 form. Bruce Taylor will need to come back strong from his Lisfranc injury, but Andy Bitter reported for The Roanake Times that the signs were encouraging.
If the defense plays as it should, the Hokies will most likely be fine. However, weaknesses still remain, and the three examples that follow could have a serious impact on their title challenge.
It seems bizarre to mention the running back position as a weakness, as Frank Beamer has always discovered useful running backs in the same way that Mike Shanahan has always discovered useful running backs.
This season, however, there are no guarantees. David Wilson has gone to the New York Giants and he was utterly invaluable to Logan Thomas in his first year. Continuing the Mike Shanahan analogy, the Hokies’ best option may be to adopt the running-back-by-committee approach that always seems to gain Shanahan yards for his team.
Reporting for The Virginian-Pilot, Andy Bitter spoke to running backs coach Shane Beamer and got a similar response:
I think we've got a lot of guys who complement each other. You'd like to get it narrowed down there pretty good and whoever that top one or two guys are and get them into a routine.
But at the same time, we want to do what's best for our offense, and that might mean playing four or five guys and having complementary roles throughout the game.
This seems a useful strategy in the absence of a true No.1 back; however it also relies on getting results from an unproven freshman. Bitter noted that Michael Holmes was impressive in spring training—and that Shane Beamer has as much confidence in him as he had in Logan Thomas last year—but his lack of game experience remains a question mark.
There isn’t a lot of experience behind Holmes, either. As Bitter points out, Martin Scales is a senior, but he’s also a converted fullback, while junior Tony Gregory is returning from an ACL tear. That leaves sophomore Daniel Dyer and true freshmen Chris Mangus and Trey Edmunds.
At least two of the guys listed above need to step up in 2012 and produce the kind of team effort that was so prevalent in 2010. Beamer has shown in the past that he can deliver results in this regard, but that doesn’t automatically bring victories.
Mike Shanahan knows a thing about that, too.
When a team is forced to replace four of their five starters along the offensive line, there are bound to be questions asked. The first spring practice didn’t yield great results, either.
Frank Beamer spoke to Mike Barber of the Richmond Times Dispatch:
There’s a lot going on. You’re trying to work everybody. When you do that, it gets ragged a little bit. Both ways it gets ragged.
Offensive line coach Curt Newsome echoed Frank Beamer’s comments, stating that the “production wasn’t very good," as well as admitting that the program had “got off to a little bit of a rough start."
Center Andrew Miller is the key to the Hokies line in 2012. The only returning starter, he will be relied upon to marshal the new guys into a unit over the course of the season. The first game against Georgia Tech is crucial to its development, as defeat here will affect the confidence of both players and fans in the line’s ability to get the job done.
David Wang returns at left guard—after his season-ending foot injury—and will need to make an immediate impact. Wang was impressive in training last year and will be expected to take on a more senior role in 2012. The other interior spot belongs to Brent Benedict, who is now available after transferring from Georgia.
The interior will likely be the weak point of the line, despite showing improvement as spring practice went on. Logan Thomas has said that he has confidence in the players in front of him, but a little more experience would enable them to function effectively as a unit. The offensive line is essentially a team within a team, so the more reps they take together, the better they get at working as one.
Time and practice isn’t a luxury that the Hokies have, however, and the Georgia Tech game won’t break the line in easily. Although they lack experience themselves, Yellow Jackets senior DE Izaan Cross has been a constant in the last two years and will pose a real threat to the Hokies.
If Logan Thomas comes out of that first game unscathed, a lot of questions will have been answered.
Although the Hokies are expected to be strong in defense, this is mainly due to their front seven. The secondary is good enough to compete, but any injuries to the starters would have a huge effect on the team.
Jayron Hosley and Eddie Whitley are gone, and although Antone Exum will take Hosley’s place, he is a converted safety. This is also true across the secondary, as the exits of last year’s starters meant a reshuffle of the positions.
Detrick Bonner has moved to free safety, while Kyshoen Jarrett has also made the transition from cornerback to safety in the offseason. Their transition has so far been impressive, as Andy Bitter noted for The Roanake Times:
When wide receiver Kevin Asante ran a route across the middle, Bonner leveled him with a bone-rattling hit just as the ball arrived, popping it into the air. Jarrett snatched it for an interception and took it the other way.
There is no doubting the ability of all the names mentioned above, but inexperience could be a factor in the opening few games, which could then cost the Hokies a shot at the ACC title later on down the line.