Virginia Tech Football: 4 Biggest Challenges for Scot Loeffler
The Virginia Tech Hokies were offensively inept in 2012. The Hokies' offense finished No. 81 in the nation in total offense and longtime offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring was reassigned as a result.
Head coach Frank Beamer took his time in the search for a new offensive coordinator before settling on Scot Loeffler. Loeffler spent 2012 as offensive coordinator at Auburn and was relieved of his duties when the entire staff was fired.
Loeffler's offense struggled in his only season at Auburn, and many Hokie fans originally questioned the hire. Before Loeffler's one unsuccessful season at Auburn, he was terrific in his one season at Temple the year before. Loeffler's philosophy of building an offense around a strong running game to complement a deep passing game mirrors Beamer's preferred style of play.
One thing Loeffler is known for? Developing quarterbacks. Loeffler has a strong track record working with successful quarterbacks, and the Hokies have a talented and experienced senior in Logan Thomas.
Can Loeffler get the Hokies' offense back on track in 2013? If he can, the Hokies will likely rebound from their worst season in 20 years.
Here are the four biggest challenges Loeffler faces in his first year in charge of the Hokies' offense.
Development of Logan Thomas
Logan Thomas was terrific in his first year as a starter in 2011. He completed just under 60 percent of his passes and passed for 3,013 yards. Thomas threw 19 touchdowns versus 10 interceptions.
In 2012, however, things were quite different for Thomas. While he led the Hokies in rushing and rushing touchdowns, Thomas' development as a passer took a step backward. He completed only 51 percent of his passes, and his interceptions increased to 16.
Many of the problems Thomas faced were personnel issues. In his first season as the starter, Thomas had senior receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, the top two pass-catchers in school history, respectively. He also had the services of record-setting running back David Wilson.
Last season, Thomas had talented receivers, but they weren't quite as reliable as Boykin and Coale. Many of Thomas' turnovers can be traced to receivers running the wrong routes or not running the proper depth on their routes.
Much will be expected from Thomas in 2013. A senior, Thomas will be expected to make the younger receivers better.
Loeffler and Thomas have worked hard together this offseason to overhaul his mechanics. If their work pays off, the Hokies will be in good shape this fall.
Finding a Running Game
The foundation of Virginia Tech's rise to national prosperity has always been a strong defense complemented by a dominant running game. The Hokies were anything but dominant in 2012.
The Hokies' ranking of No. 79 in rushing offense was the worst in the last 20 years under Beamer. It's no coincidence the Hokies struggled on offense. Beamer's best teams were always able to run the ball.
Many of last season's problems were due to a lack of offensive identity. The Hokies often experimented with plays out of the pistol formation. If they had success with something, you wouldn't see it again that game.
The Hokies need balance on offense. But that balance begins and ends with a good rushing attack. The Hokies have talent at the position. Sophomore J.C. Coleman, although undersized, is a dynamic talent. He brings blazing speed to the position and is a good pass-catcher.
Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds, at 6'1" and 215 pounds, has good size. Edmunds' speed is extremely underrated. He was timed at 4.37 in the 40 this spring. The coaches raved about Edmunds throughout spring practice and he and Coleman will be expected to complement one another's strengths versus having one bell cow at the position.
Who Will Catch Passes from Thomas?
For the third straight season, the Hokies will have a senior as one of their starting wide receivers. This season, D.J. Coles is expected to be Thomas' top receiver. Coles, at 6'4", 238 pounds, is a big possession receiver who has struggled staying healthy in recent seasons. Thomas needs Coles in 2013.
Outside of Coles, the Hokies have a lot of young players at the position. Leading the way is sophomore speedster Demitri Knowles. Knowles, who caught 19 passes and one touchdown in 2012, is the team's best big-play threat at receiver. He will be competing with redshirt freshman Joshua Stanford to start opposite Coles.
Stanford was the star of spring practice for the team. His performance culminated with a team-high 86 yards receiving in the spring game. He made several plays and showed he has the ability to not only get down the field but to also create yards after the catch. He is the player to watch as Thomas seems to trust him already.
Expect junior tight ends Ryan Malleck and Zack McCray to be heavily involved in the passing game. Both played well in the spring game with Malleck catching a touchdown pass. McCray is in his first full season as a tight end at the collegiate level after moving over from defensive end. He is a much more explosive athlete than Malleck.
Offensive Line Play
The Hokies lack of a consistent running game last season was due in part to a inconsistent offensive line. While seniors Nick Becton and Vinston Painter were solid at both tackle spots, the Hokies had all sorts of troubles on the interior of the line.
Andrew Miller was expected to be the anchor of last season's line, but often rotated in and out of the lineup with sophomore Caleb Farris before an ankle injury ended his season. Miller is back for his senior season, but he may play more at guard in 2013.
Senior David Wang is back at guard. Wang is an inconsistent player who has had issues with injuries.
New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes comes to Blacksburg from Auburn, like Loeffler. Grimes has coached at several schools over the years and put several players in the NFL. Grimes is a hard-nosed offensive line coach who will play the best players, not necessarily the highest-ranked recruits.
That is a positive change for the Hokies. Some of the best linemen in school history were walk-ons, and the Hokies have a strong tradition with their blue-collar approach in the trenches.
True freshman Jonathan McLaughlin worked with the first team at left tackle throughout the spring. It is an indictment of not only McLaughlin's ability but also the lack of depth at the offensive tackle position. Big things are still expected from juniors Laurence Gibson and Mark Shuman, however, Grimes had Shuman working at guard in the spring.
Fixing the offensive line is, perhaps, Loeffler's biggest challenge this season. If the group doesn't perform consistently, then the rest of the offense will struggle, too.