Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer
The 2014 offseason got off to an inauspicious start for the Virginia Tech Hokies this week when offensive line coach Jeff Grimes left the team after one season to accept the same position at LSU, per Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post.
It's tough to gauge how significant Grimes' departure will be since he was only on the job one year. The Hokies struggled to run the ball the last year, but the development of true freshman Jonathan McLaughlin may be seen as Grimes' biggest accomplishment.
The Hokies will need to fill this position quickly, as national signing day is just under three weeks away and they currently have five verbal commitments (247Sports, subscription required) from offensive linemen.
The offseason is all about hope, and the departure of one position coach will not change that.
If Virginia Tech had a blueprint for the perfect offseason, these would be the top five items on that list.
Losing Grimes was a tough blow, especially this close to national signing day, but the Hokies may have an extremely capable replacement in Baltimore Ravens assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington, according to Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times.
The best part about Washington: He's a former Hokie.
Washington started at both guard and center while in Blacksburg and was a first-team All-Big East selection his senior year. He would go on to play eight seasons in the NFL.
But will Washington want to come back to his alma mater? Considering he's just an assistant offensive line coach, you'd think so; however, Washington turned down USC in its attempt to hire him, per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. It was said to be a lucrative offer, too.
Whether it's Washington or someone else, Tech needs to hire someone soon or it could prompt some of its recruits to jump ship.
Shane Beamer doesn't think the Hokies will have a problem replacing Grimes.
Extremely excited about the future here.It's amazing the number of BIG-TIME OL coaches that have called today wanting to coach here! #Hokies— Shane Beamer (@CoachSBeamer) January 15, 2014
The Hokies currently have 27 verbal commitments and are still in the mix for a few other high-profile players.
The biggest question, of course, is if the can coaches convince the aforementioned five offensive linemen to stay true to their pledge to VT.
On paper, this is a strong recruiting class for the Hokies. They have taken verbals from two 4-star QBs, a pair of talented running backs and several playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Now, can they keep them? As with any recruiting cycle, big-time schools will move in and try to poach recruits once they've lost out on other players. It's already happening this year, as Florida State is trying to lure (subscription required) receiver Javon Harrison away from the Hokies, while Ohio State just extended an offer to Brady Taylor last week.
It will come as no surprise if Tech loses a commitment or two—it happens often—but the Hokies have to keep this class intact while also adding a player the quality of defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi.
Rising senior quarterback Mark Leal
Last week I wrote about whether or not Mark Leal could successfully replace Logan Thomas at quarterback for the Hokies in 2014.
The sooner the Hokies have the answer to that question, the better off they will be.
Leal will likely compete with sophomore Brenden Motley and incoming freshman Andrew Ford this spring. Leal will have the upper hand, having been in the program for four years and actually having game experience.
But for the first time in years, Virginia Tech has no clear-cut choice at quarterback heading into spring practice. With the struggles on offense each of the last two years, it is imperative the Hokies find out who their quarterback will be so that player can work with the first-team offense exclusively through spring practice and fall camp.
Eric Kristensen, one of Virginia Tech's four kickers in 2013
Virginia Tech was an abysmal 15 of 26 on field-goal attempts in 2013. Four different players attempted field goals for the Hokies. Senior Cody Journell, a former all-ACC kicker, was suspended and eventually kicked off the team for continued off-field indiscretions.
Well, it wasn't as if Journell was any good either. He was just 10 of 16 on field-goal attempts and also missed a pair of extra points.
Simply put, the Hokies need to find a kicker in the spring.
Eric Kristensen, Michael Branthover and Ethan Keyserling, all of whom attempted field goals in 2013, will return. Are they the answer? Or does an incoming freshman take the job and not look back?
The Hokies used to dominate all areas of special teams. That hasn't been the case in a few years, and the instability at the kicking position has played a part in that.
Former Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum
Yeah, I know, injuries are a part of the game and you can't prevent them.
However, injuries were the story of the 2013 season for Virginia Tech, and it began last January when star cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL playing pickup basketball.
Exum only played in three games in 2013 and was never a factor.
The Hokies also lost Ryan Malleck, Ronny Vandyke and J.C. Coleman all before the season began. Each player was expected to start or have significant playing time last season. Coleman returned, but he was not the same player he was as a freshman in 2012.
Yes, it takes a little luck, but Virginia Tech is no doubt hoping—and wishing—for a healthy offseason in preparation for 2014.