Though the Virginia Tech Hokies will return the bulk of their starters from last season, questions still remain concerning the depth at the skill positions, as well as the replacements at key positions on the defense.
The battles for each position will be hard-fought, and may have a great part in determining whether or not the Hokies can perform to their full potential in 2009.
Joseph “Ju-Ju” Clayton: Redshirt freshman Joseph “Ju-Ju” Clayton is the primary candidate to serve as back-up quarterback to Tyrod Taylor.
A two-star recruit out of Richmond, the 6-foot, 205-lbs redshirt freshman spent last year serving as the scout-team quarterback, and though he has no experience running the Hokies’ playbook, the fact that he has recently played in the quarterback position gives him a leg up on the other players vying for the backup position.
During his senior season at Hermitage, Clayton recorded an impressive 2,117 passing yards, 22 touchdown passes, and only nine interceptions.
Clayton now stands as the likely candidate for the No. 2 quarterback position simply based on experience. He has spent his redshirt season sitting in on meetings and learning from Taylor, who has since been mentoring him on the Hokie offense.
Clayton should be more adept than his competitors because of his ability to read a collegiate defense, as he learned to do so while running plays on the Hokies’ scout-team.
Marcus Davis: Redshirt freshman Marcus Davis is the other standout quarterback in the mix to hold the title as Taylor’s standby.
At 6’4 and 220-lbs, Davis is the perfect size for many positions on the Hokies’ roster. Last year, while training at wide receiver, Davis severely injured his shoulder, had surgery, and was forced to sit on the bench and recuperate.
Though his lack of recent experience at the quarterback position will affect his status behind Taylor and Clayton, Davis had a productive senior season as quarterback at Ocean Lakes and should be able to hold his own as the competition for backup quarterback heats up.
Second-String Running Backs
(Note: Depending on the offensive structure in 2009, we may see a running back tandem. In that case, we may see these players alongside Darren Evans rather than serving as his backup.)
Josh Oglesby: Redshirt sophomore Josh Oglesby will headline the race for backup running back this spring due to his game time experience.
The 5-11, 205-lbs native of North Carolina served as backup to Darren Evans following the season-ending injury to Kenny Lewis, Jr. early in the season last year.
Though never as productive as his peers, Oglesby has shown flashes of great playmaking ability, especially late last season when he was able to race up the field for medium-yard gains.
Oglesby maintains a very respectable 4.4 second 40-yard dash, though he has underachieved when it comes to his ability to break tackles and cut past the first line of defenders.
He will have to ramp up his elusiveness if he wants to compete against the young talent that has been recruited over the last two years.
Ryan Williams: Possibly the most highly anticipated player entering next season is the high school standout Ryan Williams.
This four-star recruit has been hailed as the best East Coast running back of his recruiting class, and has the numbers and tape to prove it.
Boasting a 4.5 second 40-yard dash time and an ankle-breaking juke, Williams will be the trendy pick as next year’s understudy to Evans.
Williams will have an extra advantage in the case of the running back tandem as his mercurial fluidity will nicely compliment Evans’ tackle-breaking, smash-mouth style of play.
Williams' only hurdle will be his ability to become a better football player in a more holistic sense. Last year, he struggled with picking up blocking assignments—a key factor when blocking for a dual-threat quarterback—but as long as the competition is high, learning them should be one of his top priorities.
Jake Johnson: At just over six feet and 230lbs, sophomore linebacker Jake Johnson should be able to fill the shoes worn by Purnell Sturdivant last year.
Though he entered the Virginia Tech football program as a sought-after recruit, Johnson’s meteoric rise to the top of the depth chart is due, in part, to the failures of his peers rather than his hearty playing ability.
His biggest competition, Quillie Odom, was mysteriously cut from games about halfway through last season. But, that being said, Johnson has wowed defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach Bud Foster enough to solidify himself (at least for now) as the top pick to fill the backer position this Spring.
Luckily for Johnson, his coach (Foster) is a magician when it comes to making the most out of what he is given.
With a good Foster-defense size and a low 4.5 second 40-yard dash, Johnson should be able to maintain his position at top of the pile.
The robust talent that has blossomed from Tech’s past few recruiting classes will surely make a difference this season, especially in the hotly competitive positions in need of filling.
I forecast that regardless of who lands what position, all of these players will be called upon next year to step up and make a name for themselves.
QB: Taylor/Clayton | Davis: Flanker
RB: Tandem Evans/Williams | Third: Oglesby