Virginia Tech Hokies Football: 10 Hottest Storylines as 2013 Season Kicks off

Alex KomaContributor IIIAugust 21, 2013

Virginia Tech Hokies Football: 10 Hottest Storylines as 2013 Season Kicks off

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    The Virginia Tech Hokies suffered through a dismal 7-6 season in 2012, and things could get ugly again in 2013 if Logan Thomas, Trey Edmunds and the offensive line can’t deliver on their tremendous promise.

    Make no mistake; this team has plenty of talent.

    The defense managed to rank 18th in the country in yards per game, and Thomas was one of the most dominant quarterbacks in the nation in 2011.

    The team has the potential to make a run for an ACC title this year, thanks partly to a relatively weak schedule, but it all depends on the performance of these key players. 

    With some new coaches, inexperienced underclassmen and copious injuries, there are a variety of intriguing storylines surrounding Tech players that warrant watching as the season progresses.

Honorable Mentions

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    Ryan Malleck

    The junior got a lot of hype before last season began, but only caught 17 passes for 174 yards.

    He has a firm grasp on the starting job, since backups Duan Perez-Means and Zack McCray are still learning the position, but his development could help give Thomas a much-needed security blanket.

     

    A.J. Hughes

    It may not be interesting to talk about the punter, but Frank Beamer will always emphasize the special teams guys.

    Hughes was unspectacular for the year, averaging just 40.6 yards a punt, but he improved as the season wore on. If he can keep improving, the defense will have a much easier time of things in the field-position game.

     

    Tariq Edwards

    Edwards started all 14 games at linebacker in 2011, but injuries made him a forgotten man last season.

    It’s easy to overlook how productive he was two seasons ago, as he wracked up 71 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions, but Bruce Taylor and Jack Tyler handled his duties while he recuperated last year.

    Now, it will be key to see if he can return to form and anchor the middle of the defense.

    There’s no doubt his play will be important, but the injuries at this first position on the list make these players absolutely essential.

10.Whip Linebackers Josh Trimble and Derek DiNardo

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    Ronny Vandyke looked like a monster at outside linebacker, or “whip” as it’s known in Bud Foster’s scheme, by the end of the 2012 season.

    He figured to play a crucial role in the team’s gradual transition back to a 4-4 defense and might have been the Hokies’ fast player on defense.

    Then he went out for the year with a shoulder injury in a stunning blow for the defense that threw the position into turmoil.

    Backups Josh Trimble and Derek DiNardo have a combined 16 career tackles between them, so it’s no exaggeration to say that they’ll have to learn very quickly.

    Foster may respond to Vandyke’s absence by using a third cornerback on more than just obvious passing downs, but when he doesn’t, these two will have to step up in a big way.

    Yet for all their importance, a certain safety will be even more important to making Foster’s re-tooled defense work.

9. Rover Kyshoen Jarrett

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    Kyshoen Jarrett is the defense’s “rover,” commonly known as the free safety in the pro ranks, and he showed incredible improvement as the season wore on.

    He really shone in run support, making 83 tackles with 4.5 for loss, and he’ll likely be playing close to the line even more frequently this season.

    If he can keep that up, Foster’s defense will be dominant; if he can’t, they may be merely average.

    He’ll also be a big part of the special teams unit. He was electric as a punt returner last season, to the point that teams were kicking away from him with regularity, but some feel he’s too important to risk on returns.

    The team’s returners have yet to be decided, and if he’s in the backfield, he could be an injury risk, but a very threatening presence as well.

8. Wide Receiver Demetri Knowles

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    The Hokies are perilously thin at wide receiver this season after losing veterans Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller.

    That means that someone will have to step up opposite redshirt senior D.J. Coles, and it will probably have to be Demetri Knowles.

    The sophomore started three games in place of Davis last year and caught a huge touchdown in the opener against Georgia Tech, but he didn’t make much of an impact otherwise. 

    Knowles has exhilarating speed, and if he can nail down his route running, he could be the perfect deep threat to stretch the field for the offense.

    If he regresses, then Thomas will have very few options to look for consistently.

7. Defensive End James Gayle

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    James Gayle is an intimidating man.

    He “slimmed down” to 255 pounds this offseason to go with his 6’4” frame, but he is still an absolute monster at defensive end.

    Yet, he’s never put together a truly dominant season for Tech. His 16 career sacks and 59 career quarterback hits aren’t anything to sneeze at, but they also aren’t indicative of his physical prowess either.

    This year, Gayle is aiming for a double-digit sack season, something that few Tech players have achieved.

    If he reaches that goal, then he’ll be feared by every quarterback in the ACC, making life infinitely easier on the rest of the defense.

    But Gayle is lucky in that he enters the season healthy, unlike the next player on this list, whose health could make or break the whole unit.

6. Cornerback Antone Exum

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    No one was sure how Exum would handle the transition to cornerback after spending his first year at safety.

    While he had a few missteps early, he quickly rounded into a fearsome ball hawk that could also stop the run, finishing with five picks and two forced fumbles. 

    Then he tore his ACL playing basketball in the offseason and everything fell apart. 

    After visiting knee specialist Dr. James Andrews, Exum expects that he won’t be ready for game action for another two months at least.

    Not only does it leave the team in a bit of a lurch in the defensive backfield, but it could take him a while to recover his explosiveness.

    Tech’s secondary could be intimidating if it features a healthy Exum, but if he struggles upon his return, the ripples will be felt throughout the defense. 

    But even more important than Exum are the pair of young cornerbacks that will have to hold down the fort in his absence.

5. Cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson

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    Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller both come with high expectations, but at the end of the day, they’re both freshmen.

    Fuller has outstanding talent as a 5-star recruit, and Facyson has been with the team since enrolling early in January, but Alabama is an intimidating opening task for the duo.

    If Antone Exum is indeed out until October, then the pair will have some cupcakes on the schedule, like Western Carolina and Marshall, but the Crimson Tide, Yellow Jackets and Tar Heels could all test their mettle. 

    The freshmen could easily rise to the challenge, but if they don’t, offenses will be able to pick apart Foster’s defense through the air.

    Facyson and Fuller both come with high expectations, but at the end of the day, they’re both freshmen.

    Fuller has outstanding talent as a 5-star recruit and Facyson has been with the team since enrolling early in January, but Alabama is an intimidating opening task for the duo.

    If Exum is indeed out until October, then the pair will have some cupcakes on the schedule, like Western Carolina and Marshall, but the Crimson Tide, Yellow Jackets and Tar Heels could all test their mettle. 

    The freshmen could easily rise to the challenge, but if they don’t, offenses will be able to pick apart Foster’s defense through the air.

4. Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler

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    After years of Bryan Stinespring’s bizarre offensive schemes, Frank Beamer finally made a change at offensive coordinator, bringing former Auburn offensive boss Scot Loeffler.

    Loeffler has groomed NFL quarterbacks before, like Tom Brady, Chad Henne and even Tim Tebow, and the coaching staff hopes he’ll be able to resuscitate Thomas’ career.

    However, he has a bit of a mixed track record as an offensive coordinator.

    His stint at Auburn last year was disastrous, as the team could only muster 18.7 points per game, and his previous system at Temple earned criticism for being overly dependent on running back Bernard Pierce.

    Loeffler aims to clear out the clutter from the Hokies’ playbook while restoring Thomas’ confidence, and the success of his new scheme is incredibly important to the team’s conference chances.

    The coordinator wants to get back to basics and establish the run, but he can only do that if he has some running backs to work with.

3. Running Backs Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman

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    Redshirting Trey Edmunds might be the coaching staff’s most egregious sin in a season full of them.

    The freshman was explosive in preseason scrimmages, but the staff sat him for a year, and the team suffered for it.

    The combination of J.C. Coleman, Michael Holmes and Tony Gregory produced the 81st ranked rushing attack in the nation, averaging just 145 yards a game.

    But now Edmunds is back, and he figures to be the feature back in Loeffler’s offense, with some help from Coleman on passing downs.

    The duo is even more important now that Holmes has left the team and Gregory suffered a career-ending knee injury. 

    Loeffler wants to run the ball, and the speedy development of these two will be the key to doing so. An effective running game will take an immense amount of pressure off Thomas, and if Edmunds in particular can step up, the offense might actually be impressive.

    However, the quality of the line that these two will run behind will determine if they even get a chance to show off their skills.

2. The Offensive Line

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    Former offensive line coach Curt Newsome infuriated fans with his constant lineup shuffling and bizarre personnel decisions. 

    Now, Jeff Grimes arrives on the scene from Auburn to remake a line that allowed both the running backs and Thomas to be absolutely abused last year.

    Last year’s starters gave up 25 sacks in 2012, and the ineptitude of the running game is a good indicator of the group’s run-blocking ability.

    Andrew Miller is the group’s only returning starter, and he moves to right guard from center.

    Freshman Jonathan McLaughlin is being trusted with the crucial left tackle spot, yet right tackle remains unsettled as presumptive starter Mark Shuman deals with a knee injury.

    There’s talent on the line, but if they can’t mesh or Grimes must constantly reshuffle the group due to injuries, it could be another rough season on offense.

    But as important as the line is, only man will determine if this team can truly win the ACC.

1. Quarterback Logan Thomas

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    Few players were more maligned than Logan Thomas last year.

    He lit the world on fire in 2011, then threw 16 interceptions and completed just 51 percent of his passes in 2012.

    He still managed to set a school record for total yards and totaled 27 touchdowns, but his inaccuracy severely hamstrung the offense throughout the year.

    Now, he seems to be back in sync with some help with Loeffler.

    Yet, with inexperience at nearly every offensive position, the burden will fall squarely on his shoulders to lift the team when it struggles. 

    If he can return to his 2011 form, or even simply just not being quite so turnover prone as he was in 2012, then this team will make some noise.

    If he can’t, these other players will barely be a footnote on another disappointing year.

    It’s as simple as that.