Last week was a good one for Virginia Tech fans. Junior defensive back Antone Exum and fellow junior, defensive end James Gayle, announced they would be returning for their senior seasons.
The deadline for underclassmen to make their intentions known about the NFL draft is January 15th, so the Hokies will know junior quarterback Logan Thomas' intentions for 2013 this week.
As spring practice gets closer, being just over two months away, the Hokies have clarity on defense. As many as 10 starters could return on what should be a dominant unit in 2013.
The offense is another story. The Hokies struggled all season on offense and never found consistency. They replaced eight starters from a 2011 team that played in the ACC Championship Game, including four on the offensive line. The 2013 team could also be faced with replacing six or seven starters, depending on whether or not Thomas returns to school.
National Signing Day is just under a month away and here is a look at the Hokies' 2-deep depth chart as it would stand today.
Starter - SR - Logan Thomas (6'6", 260)
Backup - JR - Mark Leal (6'1", 213)
If Thomas returns to school, this position will be in good hands. Should the Hokies have a new offensive staff in place, Thomas will benefit greatly, as he is extremely talented and has a wealth of experience to match.
Leal hasn't played enough to inspire confidence. He is athletic and possesses a strong arm.
Starter - SO - J.C. Coleman (5'7", 192)
Backup - SR - Tony Gregory (6'0", 185), FR - Drew Harris (6'1", 210), FR - Trey Edmunds (6'1", 212)
To say Coleman is the starter as this point would be entirely speculation. He was the most impressive runner in 2012 and will undoubtedly improve as a sophomore. He is fast, deceptively strong and runs with excellent vision.
Gregory was solid in 2012. Harris and Edmunds were both top recruits in 2012. However, Harris prepped at Fork Union while Edmunds redshirted.
Edmunds may end up playing linebacker, but as of now, he is still listed as a running back.
There is tremendous depth at this position, and it should be a strength next season.
Starter - JR - Riley Beiro (5'9", 228)
Backup - SO - Griffin Hite (5'11", 226)
Both players are the type of hard-working players Virginia Tech loves at the fullback position. Beiro has proven to be a good blocker in limited play and should head into spring practice as the starter.
Starter - SO - Demitri Knowles (6'1", 177)
Backup - SO - Kevin Asante (5'11", 181), SO - Joshua Stanford (6'1", 188)
Knowles showed a lot of promise this past season. He caught 19 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. He shows the ability to get deep, and now he will learn how to be a complete receiver. He could end up being one of the best in school history.
Asante and Stanford are promising sophomores who will play a lot in 2013.
Starter - SR - D.J. Coles (6'4", 226)
Backup - FR - Joel Caleb (6'2", 211)
Coles is the most experienced receiver on the team. Having had his senior season shortened due to injury, Coles received a medical redshirt. He is a big, reliable target and if healthy, will lead the team in receptions in 2013.
Caleb was the Hokies' top recruit in 2012. He redshirted last season as he adjusted to the speed of the college game. He will make an impact in 2013.
Starter - JR - Ryan Malleck (6'4", 244)
Backup - JR - Duan Perez-Means (6'4", 237)
Malleck played often in 2012. He showed good hands and was a reliable receiver in the red zone. He could stand to improve his blocking, though.
Perez-Means is an outstanding physical specimen. He agreed to move to tight end in order to get on the field sooner. He has the type of athletic ability to be a really good player.
Starter - JR - Mark Shuman (6'7", 307)
Backup - FR - Augie Conte (6'5", 277)
Shuman is a former 4-star recruit who has waited patiently for this opportunity. He has outstanding size and possesses surprising agility. He should solidify this position for the next two years.
Conte was impressive last summer, but the coaches decided to redshirt him so he could add strength. It's conceivable that he could start at one of the tackle positions in 2013.
Starter - SR - David Wang (6'2", 288)
Backup - JR - Matt Arkema (6'3", 287)
Wang is one of the stronger players on the team. He has struggled staying healthy, though. Arkema is an experienced backup who could push Wang for the starting position.
Starter - SR - Andrew Miller (6'4", 304)
Backup - JR - Caleb Farris (6'3", 309)
Miller was considered one of the top centers in the nation entering 2012. However, coaches alternated Miller with Farris early in the season until Miller's injury kept him out for the rest of the season.
Farris is another experienced backup and will play somewhere on the line in 2013. It wouldn't be a surprise if coaches let these two compete for the starting position.
Starter - JR - Brent Benedict (6'5", 304)
Backup - JR - Caleb Farris (6'3", 309)
Benedict had his struggles in 2012, but he did seem to improve as the season wore on once coaches let him play rather than alternating with other players.
This is another position where Farris could push the starter.
Starter - JR - Laurence Gibson (6'6", 303)
Backup - FR - Adam Taraschke (6'5", 292)
Gibson, like Shuman, is another former 4-star recruit. He has played sparingly at guard in his first two years but is a natural tackle. He should be given every opportunity to seize this position.
Taraschke is another promising freshman who appears to have a bright future. Could he be the next Blake DeChristopher?
Starter - SR - James Gayle (6'4", 269)
Backup - SR - Tyrel Wilson (6'1", 228), SO - Dadi Nicolas (6'2", 225)
The Hokies received outstanding news when Gayle decided to return to Blacksburg for one more season. He is an outstanding pass-rusher who played better as the season wore on. Expect him to eclipse double-digit sacks next year.
Wilson and Nicolas are both relentless, undersized pass rushers. Nicolas has an extremely bright future and may be the starter once Gayle graduates.
Starter - JR - Luther Maddy (6'1", 288)
Backup - FR - Alston Smith (6'2", 284)
Maddy is a terrific player. Arguably the Hokies' best defender in 2012, Maddy is not only a force in the running game but also a good pass rusher from the inside. He will continue to get better.
Penciling Smith in behind him is speculation at the moment. Who plays behind Maddy will be sorted out in spring practice.
Starter - SR - Derrick Hopkins (6'0", 306)
Backup - SO - Kris Harley (6'1", 282)
Hopkins has been an anchor on the inside for a few seasons now. He is a good all-around player who is unexpectedly athletic.
Harley was one of the Hokies' top recruits two years ago and looks primed for a bigger role in 2013.
Starter - JR - Corey Marshall (6'1", 267)
Backup - SR - J.R. Collins (6'2", 261)
Marshall is a versatile player who is still developing as a pass-rusher. He has played both inside and outside in his first two years and gets better each season.
Collins is a talented pass-rusher who was the starter opposite Gayle early in 2012.
Starter - SR - Tariq Edwards (6'2", 237)
Backup - SO - Deon Clarke (6'2", 214)
Edwards had a terrific season in 2011 but was limited for much of 2012 due to a leg injury. The Hokies hope Edwards returns to full strength, as he could be one of the better linebackers in the ACC.
Clarke is an outstanding athlete. If he understands where he needs to be on the field, he will play next season.
Starter - SR - Jack Tyler (6'1", 236)
Backup - JR - Chase Williams (6'2", 235)
Tyler will be the unquestioned leader of this team in 2013. An All-ACC selection in 2012, Tyler is one of the best tacklers in the country and is underrated in coverage.
Williams could start for most teams. His playing time has increased in each of the last two seasons and the Hokies will look to get him on the field often next season.
Starter - SO - Ronny Vandyke (6'3", 215)
Backup - FR - Devin Vandyke (6'1", 212)
Ronny Vandyke is one of the best athletes on this team. As the 2012 season wore on, Vandyke understood his role and was put in a position to make plays. He often thrived. He has the makings of a future star.
It may be a bit presumptuous to list his younger brother, Devin, as his backup, but he shows many of the same characteristics as Ronny.
Cornerback - SR - Antone Exum (6'1", 224)
Backup - SO - Donovan Riley (5'11", 200)
Exum's return to school is good news for the Hokies. He now gets to play the same position two years in a row and will benefit greatly from it. He is terrific in run support and improved each game in coverage. He has a bright NFL future that is certainly enhanced with more experience.
Riley played more as the season progressed in 2012. He showed a nose for the ball and has impressive speed. He will likely begin the season as the Hokies' nickel corner.
Starter - SR - Kyle Fuller (6'0", 193)
Backup - SO - Donaldven Manning (5'9", 155), FR - Kendall Fuller (5'11", 189)
Kyle Fuller is a good football player. However, he struggled with coverage at times in 2012. Fuller later got better as the season progressed. He is a sure tackler and one of the most physical defensive backs in the country. Fuller was by no means bad in 2012 but seems to thrive more playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
Manning is a talented sophomore who had his share of struggles both off and on the field in 2012.
Kyle's younger brother, Kendall, is one of the most decorated recruits to ever come to Blacksburg and should play often as a true freshman. He can make an impact immediately.
Starter - JR - Detrick Bonner (6'0", 198)
Backup - SO - Desmond Frye (6'2", 181)
Bonner, a former cornerback, moved to free safety last offseason. He struggled both in coverage and with tackling at times. He improved in coverage late in the season, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster hopes his experience will allow him to be better player next season. He certainly has the ability.
Frye is a terrific athlete who will most certainly push Bonner for playing time. Bonner's starting job shouldn't just be handed to him in 2013.
Starter - JR - Kyshoen Jarrett (5'11", 195)
Backup - SO - Michael Cole (6'1", 199)
Thanks to Jarrett and Cole, this is a deep and talented position.
Jarrett, like Bonner, moved to safety from corner. Unlike Bonner, though, Jarrett thrived. He was good in coverage but surprisingly was terrific in the running game. He brought the type of physicality needed from the rover position. The Hokies haven't had a rover who could cover like Jarrett in years.
Cole became the Hokies' nickel back midway through last season and thrived. He is a smart player who also happens to be a very good athlete. While Jarrett is the unquestioned starter, Foster will get Cole on the field.
Starter - SO - A.J. Hughes (6'1", 190)
Backup - JR - Michael Branthover (5'9", 190)
To say Hughes solidified this position in 2012 would be an understatement. He averaged just under 41 yards per punt and had 22 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. He also had 15 punts over 50 yards.
With such an anemic offense in 2012, Hughes was often an asset to the defense.
Starter - SR - Cody Journell (6'0" 190)
Backup - SO - Brooks Abbott (6'2", 182)
Journell has proven to be a reliable kicker during his career. He has connected on 81 percent of his kicks including two game-winners in 2012. He has only attempted one kick over 50 yards in his career. He is a former All-ACC kicker and could be in contention to be the league's top kicker in 2013.