Virginia Tech Football: Grading Every New Starter's Week 1 Performance

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2013

Virginia Tech Football: Grading Every New Starter's Week 1 Performance

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    The Hokies' season-opening loss to No. 1 Alabama was expected. Throughout fall camp, the Hokies experienced a rash of injuries that left them short-handed in many areas. 

    So there were a few players who had to step up unexpectedly and make their first career start. How did they fare?

    Surprisingly for a team that lost 35-10, there were several brights spots. Especially with several of the new starters. 

    Here's a look at how each new starter graded out against Alabama on Saturday.

Running Back Trey Edmunds

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    We'll begin with the best new starter from Week 1: running back Trey Edmunds.

    Edmunds, a redshirt freshman, came to Blacksburg last year without truly knowing where he'd play in college. He was a standout at linebacker and running back in high school. The lack of depth at running back paved the way for him on the offensive side of the ball, and it looks like the coaches got this one right.

    Edmunds ran for 132 yards on 20 carries in his college debut. Much of that yardage came on the Hokies' only touchdown, a 77-yard run in the second quarter by Edmunds. 

    With J.C. Coleman set to return soon, the Hokies are now looking good in the backfield.

    Final Grade: A

Right Tackle Laurence Gibson

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    Laurence Gibson, a fourth-year junior, finally made his starting debut for the Hokies against 'Bama. And he looked outstanding.

    One play in particular, Edmunds' touchdown run, saw Gibson block down on the defender to allow Edmunds to cut right behind him. It was the block that sprung the touchdown run. 

    At 6'6", 290 pounds, Gibson possesses NFL size with terrific athleticism. It appears as if he may finally live up to his vast potential.

    Final Grade: B+

Left Tackle Jonathan McLaughlin

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    Imagine being asked to make your college debut, protecting your senior quarterback's blind side, against the No. 1 team in the country. That is exactly what true freshman left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin did Saturday, and he acquitted himself rather nicely.

    Sure, McLaughlin had help, but that is to be expected. Alabama usually has the best front-seven in college football on an annual basis. Regardless, McLaughlin played well.

    The Hokies didn't give up a sack until midway through the fourth quarter, when the game was essentially over. That was a coverage sack. Alabama did apply some pressure throughout the game, but for the most part, Thomas had plenty of time to throw.

    New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has to be excited about McLaughlin moving forward.

    Final Grade: B 

Interior Offensive Line

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    We've included this as a group because each of the three players on the interior of the offensive line, right guard Andrew Miller, center David Wang and left guard Caleb Farris, have all started before. Albeit, at different positions. 

    Considering how well the Hokies ran the ball overall and that Thomas had little pressure up the middle, this group played well. It will be interesting to watch them moving forward. All three players have taken to the position changes well and all bring considerable experience to the offense. 

    These three players will be important for McLaughlin. Teams will try to load up against the left side of the Hokies' offense because they want to test McLaughlin. The experience of these three, especially the center, Wang, will be important in making sure McLaughlin understands all of the line calls. 

    The failure to develop a consistent running game overall, though, knocks their grade down just a bit in Saturday's contest.

    Final Grade: C+

Wide Receivers D.J. Coles and Demitri Knowles

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    This is the easiest position to grade for the Hokies in yesterday's loss. These two combined for an amazing three receptions for 37 yards. 34 of those yards came on the catch seen above by Coles.

    Knowles was targeted 11 times by Thomas. He caught two passes for three yards. Coles just had the one catch. 

    Knowles dropped several passes from Thomas, on one play he did get behind the Alabama secondary, but Thomas overthrew him. Does anyone have confidence Knowles would have actually caught the football?

    Coles was equally as dreadful. When he wasn't quitting on his routes, he was trying to avoid contact. Thomas' only interception, returned 38 yards for a touchdown, was because Coles let up when he saw an Alabama safety closing in. It happened later in the game, too.

    Knowles showed promise last season. The Hokies should stick with him as he will improve, but Coles is a senior with an injury history. His spot could be in jeopardy with talented freshman Joshua Stanford coming on strong. 

    Final Grade: F

Tight End Duan-Perez Means

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    Duan Perez-Means, a converted defensive end, was thrust into the starting lineup last week after an injury to starter, Ryan Malleck.

    Perez-Means had no balls thrown his way in Saturday's game, but a big reason for that would be because he was used in protection. 

    Final Grade: Incomplete

Whip Linebacker Josh Trimble

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    In his first career start, whip linebacker Josh Trimble played well. The defensive line was incredibly dominant and fellow linebackers, Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards, did make things much easier for Trimble. 

    Trimble finished the game with three tackles, including one for loss. Keep in mind, he often came out in nickel situations. Not a bad start for a player who was being counted on as a backup until Ronny Vandyke's injury.

    Final Grade: B-

Cornerback Kendall Fuller

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    What a debut for Kendall Fuller. Fuller, the Hokies' prized recruit from this year's class, started and played the entire game. When brother Kyle went down early with an upper-body injury, Kendall covered Alabama star Amari Cooper and more than held his own.

    When Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron went for a touchdown to Cooper in the back of the end zone, Kendall was right with Cooper and broke up the play, nearly intercepting it. The younger Fuller also looked a lot like his older brother in run support. He was not afraid to get involved in the running game. 

    By the way, Cooper finished the game with only 38 yards on four catches. He was covered by one of the Fullers all game long. 

    The Hokies have a future star in Kendall, but they probably already felt that way.

    Final Grade: A