Virginia Tech Football: 3 Most Important Spring Practice Position Battles
Spring practice begins on March 27 for Virginia Tech, and just like every year there will be a number of position battles that will determine what happens on the field next fall.
Quarterback, of course, is the biggest position the Hokies must fill. Logan Thomas departs after three record-breaking, albeit, frustrating years.
The Hokies must replace as many as seven starters on defense. Fortunately, cornerbacks Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller, both rising sophomores who played extensively last season, will step right in and not miss a beat with Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum heading to the NFL.
But the transition won't be quite as seamless at other positions. James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins, Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards leave Blacksburg with big shoes to fill.
Who's ready to fill those shoes?
Here's a look at the three biggest position battles to keep an eye on next month at spring practice.
Spring candidates: Mark Leal, Brenden Motley and Andrew Ford
This position got a lot more interesting earlier this week when Michael Brewer announced he was transferring from Texas Tech.
Excited and humbled to announce that I will be attending Virginia Tech #Hokies— Michael Brewer (@MBrewer16) March 2, 2014
Brewer, who will graduate in May from Texas Tech, will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning this fall. However, he will not be practicing with the Hokies next month while he finishes up at Texas Tech.
That leaves Leal, the projected starter. After the Sun Bowl, head coach Frank Beamer confirmed Leal would be the leader to start at quarterback in 2014. It is far from a given, though.
To be fair to Leal, he has never been given a chance. His Sun Bowl appearance against UCLA in relief of Thomas was the first extensive playing time of his career.
Would Beamer and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler have taken Brewer if they were satisfied with Leal starting? That's an impossible question to answer, but the Hokies generally don't take in a lot of transfers, specifically at quarterback.
Ford, a true freshman, looks more likely to redshirt this fall with the addition of Brewer. But given the lack of uncertainty around the position, he has a big opportunity this spring.
Motley, an outstanding athlete with great size (6'4", 216 pounds), is a redshirt sophomore that has impressed Loeffler enough to keep him at quarterback. Don't be surprised if Motley opens up some eyes next month.
Spring candidates: Dadi Nicolas, Ken Ekanem, Seth Dooley, Dewayne Alford and Vinny Mihota
Defensive tackle could have easily been on this list, too, but Bud Foster revealed that junior Corey Marshall would be playing at defensive tackle this spring, per Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times.
Marshall, who redshirted last fall, has shifted between end and tackle throughout his Virginia Tech career. Foster, however, felt he was needed more at tackle, at least this spring:
As we evaluated him over the last couple years, he was a little more productive as a defensive tackle than he was a defensive end. So those are things we look at. And I’m not saying that’s locked in stone. I’m just saying that’s kind of what we recognize and where we feel we need him to be to help our defense be the best we can be.
With Marshall seemingly out of the picture at defensive end—at least for now—that leaves Dadi Nicolas, presumably, locking up one starting spot. Nicolas, a 6'3", 224-pound junior, had four sacks in 2013 as a backup to Gayle and J.R. Collins.
He is a terrific pass-rusher and has a chance to be an All-ACC performer.
But who will play opposite of him?
Ekanem is a former top recruit for the Hokies. He redshirted in 2012 and played sparingly last season. Spring practice will present a prime opportunity for Ekanem to show the coaches he is ready to be a starter. He must prove to Foster he can keep contain in the running game and play the run.
Alford, a sophomore, played mostly on special teams in 2013. Is he ready to play a larger role?
Dooley, a redshirt freshman, has good size (6'5", 245 pounds) and would be nice complement to Nicolas.
The most intriguing player, though, is Mihota. An early enrollee, Mihota has a chance to show coaches he can make an impact next fall. If he has a good spring he will not only avoid a redshirt, but more than likely find himself in the rotation.
Spring candidates: Ronny Vandyke, Josh Trimble, Dahman McKinnon, Devin Vandyke, Jamieon Moss, Deon Clarke, Drew Burns and Derek DiNardo
Recognize a lot of these names?
Outside of Ronny Vandyke, the projected starter at whip linebacker last fall before a shoulder injury ended his season, this group is full of unknowns.
Vandyke is expected to be limited this spring, but should be a full go this summer.
Ronny Vandyke had surgery today to repair a right shoulder labrum tear. Expected to be limited for spring, back full by fall camp.— VT Football (@VT_Football) October 1, 2013
Trimble played quite a bit in 2013, but he is best-served as a backup. However, with his experience he should have a chance to cement himself a starting spot this spring.
The younger Vandyke, Devin, was also injured last season. He tore his ACL against Western Carolina on Sept. 7 and his status for the spring is unknown at this point.
DiNardo and Burns, both former walk-ons, will have an opportunity to crack the two-deep.
McKinnon, a redshirt sophomore, has practiced at the whip linebacker spot and could see time, too.
The two most interesting players are Moss and Clarke. Clarke, an outstanding athlete, was suspended indefinitely late in the season and his status is unclear at this point. If he can participate, this unit will be better as he could compete for Tariq Edwards' spot on the outside.
Moss redshirted last season and is poised to make an impact this spring. With so much uncertainty in front of him, Moss is in a good position to impress coaches. He has the athleticism and coverage skills to thrive for Foster.