Virginia Tech Football: Position-by-Position Fall Practice Preview
It's that time of the year, folks. College football season is just over a month away. Most teams will begin fall practice within the next two weeks.
For most schools, there are still position battles that will be determined in August. It is also the first chance for coaches to see incoming freshmen on the field and determine if they can make an immediate impact or if they should redshirt.
No team has a tougher season opener than the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies begin the season on August 31 against two-time defending national champion Alabama.
Fall practice will be extremely valuable to new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. The Hokies were a mess on offense in 2012 and could have as many as seven new starters on that side of the ball in 2013. The spring game proved this unit has a ways to go.
Before fall practice officially begins, let's take a look at how each position stacks up before the inevitable changes happen in the next month.
Let's be clear: The 2013 season is all about senior quarterback Logan Thomas. If the Hokies are to get back to the top of the ACC, Thomas will have to perform at a high level.
After last season's disappointment, many wonder if Thomas can get back to where he was in 2011. 2012 was a year Thomas would like to forget. His interceptions went up while his completion percentage and touchdowns went down. Thomas' completion percentage actually went down almost nine percent, an alarming number for a strong-armed quarterback with preexisting accuracy concerns.
However, a change at offensive coordinator seems to have rejuvenated the talented Thomas. Loeffler worked with Thomas all offseason on changing some of his mechanics. The coach is thrilled with the progress.
Look for Thomas to continue to build a rapport with a young, talented group of receivers throughout the month of August.
This appeared to be a three-way battle for playing time in the spring. Sophomores J.C. Coleman and Michael Holmes would compete with redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds for the bulk of carries.
After the spring game, however, Holmes was involved in an altercation that would lead to his dismissal from school earlier this month. A tough blow for sure, but one the Hokies should be able to overcome.
Holmes had an opportunity last season to be the primary ball-carrier, but he struggled with consistency. Coleman eventually moved past him on the depth chart .
Edmunds is an intriguing player. At 6'1" and 215 pounds, Edmunds has excellent size. He brings something to the table the Hokies lacked last year when they struggled in short-yardage situations. Despite his size, Edmunds is also very fast. He was timed at 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash in winter testing. The same time as the diminutive and speedy Coleman ran.
These two will battle all camp for who gets the start against Alabama next month. The truth is the Hokies will need both players all season to reignite a once-powerful running game. Edmunds and Coleman's styles complement one another nicely.
This will be a fun position to watch throughout fall practice.
The Hokies will have two new starters at this position for the third year in a row. Replacing last season's starters will not be as daunting as replacing Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale the prior year, though.
Senior D.J. Coles returns after missing all of last season due to injury. Coles was expected to play a large role last season, but he was injured in the season opener and never played again. He is big (6'4", 238 pounds) and reliable. He should be a good option for Thomas on third-down situations.
Freshman Joshua Stanford and sophomore Demitri Knowles should get the bulk of playing time opposite Coles. Stanford had an excellent spring capped off by a strong performance in the spring game. Knowles is a true playmaker and will make an impact in the deep passing game, as well as returning kicks.
Thomas seemed to really trust Stanford in the spring game. That will be something to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the summer.
Redshirt freshmen Charley Meyer, a walk-on, and Joel Caleb, last year's top recruit, both figure to be in the mix at the wide receiver position.
This group may be inexperienced, but the talent is there.
The Hokies haven't got a lot of production from the tight end position in recent years. Much of that was due to the offensive scheme, while part of it was due to not having a lot of talent at the position.
That shouldn't be an issue with this year's Hokies.
Junior Ryan Malleck returns as the starter. Malleck caught only 17 balls last season, but he impressed with a solid performance in the spring game. Both Thomas and backup quarterback Mark Leal felt comfortable with Malleck and backup tight end Zack McCray.
McCray, a junior who was recruited to Blacksburg as a blue-chip defensive end, moved to tight end last season. McCray, like Malleck, is considered more of a receiver than a blocker.
Another tight end, junior Duan Perez-Means, is also a former defensive end. Fall practice will be important for him; Malleck and McCray appear to be ahead of him for the moment.
No position group is in as much flux as the offensive line. New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes made it clear in January when taking the job he wouldn't be playing favorites.
That came to fruition in the spring when true freshman offensive tackle Jonathan McLaughlin was playing first-team left tackle. Many expected a pair of juniors, Mark Shuman and Laurence Gibson, to be the left tackle and right tackle, respectively.
No one knows for sure who will open the season at the tackle spots, but Gibson and McLaughlin both figure to start fall practice at the top of the tackle depth chart. Shuman will be in the mix, as will redshirt freshman Augie Conte.
David Wang, Brent Benedict, Andrew Miller, Caleb Farris and Matt Arkema all return to compete for playing time at the three interior positions. Miller, a senior, is a solid center who missed time last year due to injury. Grimes worked him at both guard and center in the spring.
Farris rotated with Miller at center before Miller's injury. He may start the season at center in 2013.
Arkema gained quite a bit of experience at guard last season because of injuries to the starters.
Wang and Benedict should be the starters at left and right guard, respectively. Despite the mind-boggling rotation of the interior linemen last season, they were mainstays at their positions and should start fall practice there in 2013.
There is no doubt that this is the Hokies' deepest position group. It begins at defensive end.
Senior James Gayle returned to school and is a potential All-American. Gayle, at 6'4" and 270 pounds, has the athleticism of a defensive back and is a relentless pass-rusher. The Hokies hope he improves on his sack numbers in 2013. If he does, this unit will dominate games.
Opposite of Gayle will be a host players. Seniors J.R. Collins and Tyrel Wilson will compete with junior Corey Marshall and sophomore Dadi Nicolas for playing time. All are talented and bring a unique skill set to the position. Nicolas has outstanding potential as a pass-rusher and will make his presence felt, perhaps as soon as 2013.
A pair of freshmen, Ken Ekanem and Wyatt Teller, look to impress coaches next month. Ekanem redshirted last year to recover from an injury, while Teller will likely redshirt this year due to the depth at the position.
The Hokies don't quite have the same depth at defensive tackle, but their starters are excellent. Senior Derrick Hopkins is a very steady player who will be a three-year starter. He is strong against the run.
Junior Luther Maddy makes this entire group go. When fully healthy, he is a difference-maker both against the run and rushing the passer. He isn't the biggest player at 6'1" and 295 pounds, but he is athletic and understands how to play with leverage.
Junior Kris Harley is the team's third defensive tackle and looks to finally deliver on those high expectations that awaited him upon signing with the Hokies. Nigel Williams and Alston Smith will compete with Harley for time behind Hopkins and Maddy.
This group should be in good hands, led by senior middle linebacker Jack Tyler. Tyler is a tackling machine who is active in all facets of the game. Tyler is one of the more underrated linebackers in the nation.
Senior Tariq Edwards returns from a lost 2012 season due to injury. Edwards tried to play at times last season, but he was clearly not the same player. The Hokies hope he has fully recovered from a leg injury because he is a terrific talent.
Sophomore Ronny Vandyke is the player to watch here. Vandyke will play the whip linebacker position, perhaps the most important spot on Bud Foster's defense. He gained some experience last season, which should serve him well in 2013. The whip linebacker ideally plays sideline-to-sideline and also possesses the ability to drop into coverage and rush the passer.
Vandyke is supremely talented and could be the guy that takes the Hokies from a good defense to an elite unit.
Junior Chase Williams could start for many teams and will play often. Vandyke's younger brother, Devin, will look to impress coaches throughout fall practice.
If Edwards returns to full health, this group will be better than it has been in recent seasons. Keep an eye on him next month and see how often he practices.
If senior cornerback Antone Exum were completely healthy, this unit could be considered the Hokies' best. But Exum's status for the season opener is still in question and likely will be throughout August. Exum is an All-ACC player who improved each week last season and was due for a big senior campaign.
Fellow senior Kyle Fuller, another former All-ACC performer, returns to the spot across from Exum. He is one of the more physical defensive backs in the country and is always around the ball. His younger brother, Kendall, one of the top recruits in the country, looks to make an immediate impact in his first set of practices as a Hokie.
Sophomores Donaldven Manning and Donovan Riley bring depth to the cornerback position and will play a lot in 2013.
The Hokies return both starting safeties from 2012. Junior Kyshoen Jarrett is the rover, while Detrick Bonner returns at free safety. Both players moved from cornerback before last season and adapted well to their new positions.
Jarrett was consistent all season long. He brings the required physicality of a rover to the field and remains good in coverage. Bonner struggled early last season, but as the season wore on he acclimated nicely to his new position.
The progress of Kendall Fuller and fellow freshman Brandon Facyson will be fun to watch throughout fall practice. Each player has a legitimate chance of helping the Hokies early this season.