Virginia Tech Football: 4 Breakout Players in 2013
Now that the 2012 season has ended, we can start looking ahead to 2013 and that is good news for the Virginia Tech Hokies.
The Hokies, coming off their worst season in 20 years, received more good news on Tuesday when quarterback Logan Thomas announced his plans to return to school for his senior season. Thomas joins defensive standouts James Gayle and Antone Exum in choosing one more year in Blacksburg over the NFL.
Head coach Frank Beamer's decision to go with a new offensive coordinator more than likely helped convince Thomas to return. While it is not yet official, reports are the Hokies will hire former Michigan, Florida and Auburn assistant Scot Loeffler as the team's new offensive coordinator (CBSSports via the Daily Press).
Thomas' return and a new offensive coordinator will be a big boost for a unit that struggled mightily in 2012. However, don't expect miracles as the Hokies will be replacing as many as seven starters.
The defense will be in good hands as 10 of the 11 starters return.
Here are four players that will have a big 2013 for the Hokies.
Running Back J.C. Coleman
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As a true freshman in 2012, Coleman finished second on the team with 535 rushing yards. His carries were somewhat limited early in the season as the Hokies started Michael Holmes at tailback.
As the season wore on and offensive-line struggles became even more apparent, the Hokies gave Coleman more playing time. Against Duke, he rushed for 183 yards and two touchdowns.
Coleman also showed an ability to be a threat in the passing game, finishing fourth on the team with 21 receptions.
Blessed with incredible speed and surprising power, the diminutive RB should be on top of the depth chart heading into spring practice. Expect the Hokies to get back to running the football with consistency, and Coleman will be a big catalyst for that.
Wide Receiver Demitri Knowles
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Knowles, a redshirt freshman in 2012, had his share of big moments. Stuck behind three seniors on the depth chart, Knowles took advantage of opportunities when presented to him.
Two plays in particular demonstrate Knowles' big-play ability. His touchdown against Georgia Tech in the season-opener showed how dangerous he can be in the passing game. Then, against North Carolina, Knowles took a kick back 93 yards for a touchdown, solidifying his hold as the team's primary kick returner. In 21 returns on the season, Knowles averaged just over 28 yards per return.
Knowles will be the team's No. 1 returner in 2013 and has proven he is ready for an expanded role. He also possesses good size and speed at 6'1", 180 pounds. Born in the Bahamas, Knowles is a late-bloomer and will be the next great Hokies receiver.
Offensive Tackle Mark Shuman
It is no given that Shuman will open the season as the Hokies' starting left tackle. At 6'7", 307 pounds, the former 4-star recruit seems ready to finally ascend to the starting lineup.
Stuck playing behind more experienced players his first two years on campus, Shuman seemed to struggle adjusting to the speed of the college game.
Shuman, a junior, is one of the stronger players on the team. His run-blocking is considered superior to his pass-blocking, so he will have to prove in spring practice that he is versatile enough to be the starter.
Expect Shuman to respond to the challenge and become a solid two-year starter for the Hokies.
Linebacker Ronny Vandyke
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Vandyke is one of the best athletes on the team and got considerable experience as a redshirt freshman in 2012, playing in every game and starting two.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has long raved about Vandyke. The Hokies considered playing him as a true freshman in 2011, but an injury kept him from doing so.
The Hokies will pencil Vandyke into the whip linebacker spot and expect him to take care of the rest. At 6'3", 215 pounds, Vandyke has terrific size and the speed of a defensive back. The whip linebacker position has long been one of the most important spots on the defense, and Vandyke is perfect for the role.
Once Vandyke starts playing to his speed, showing less hesitation, he could end up being one of the best linebackers in school history. He has that type of ability and will make an impact in both the run defense and pass defense.