Virginia Tech Football: 3 Players Who Should See Their Roles Expanded in 2014
With Virginia Tech football’s spring practice set to begin on March 27, there are a number of players on the roster fighting for recognition and attention, with some more deserving than others.
While the team’s most intriguing battle of the spring will be to replace Logan Thomas at quarterback, there are a variety of other players that did see the field last year that will be seeing it quite a bit more in 2014.
Between the losses of important veterans like Derrick Hopkins, Jack Tyler and Andrew Miller, there are three players in particular who should see a huge increase in playing time headed into the new season.
It’s hard to predict who exactly will step up in spring practice, but this trio of players has the ability and the experience to see the field quite a bit this year.
Brent Benedict split time at right tackle with Laurence Gibson last year, but he seems poised to take on a more permanent role this season.
He started six games in 2013 on the right side and started six games at guard in 2012, but it seems as if the stars have aligned for him to get on the field as a full-time starter in 2014.
Benedict has plenty of history with incoming offensive line coach Stacy Searels, since Searels was the one that originally recruited him to play for the Georgia Bulldogs.
The coach called Benedict “one of the top four or five kids in this country” at the time of his recruitment during Searels’ introductory press conference, and it’s clear he’ll be willing to give him a shot.
However, what remains a mystery is where he’ll be willing to play Benedict. He made most of his starts at tackle early in the year, but an ankle injury and some inconsistent play meant that Gibson took over in the last four games of the season.
But Miller’s departure might open things up for Benedict to return to guard, as French of The Key Play observes.
If Gibson stays on the right and Benedict doesn't move back to guard, they will again battle for snaps at the right tackle position. My thoughts on that battle are well documented. Benedict may be the best drive blocker on the team, and his spring workout numbers (585 squat, 350 power clean) indicate that his knee may be as healthy as it has been since arriving in Blacksburg. However, I am still not sure if he has the quickness to play in space and he may be more effective if moved back to guard. Gibson has every tool to be an excellent right tackle, and with his quickness advantage I expect him to win the starting job. Benedict could also be a potential starter at right guard.
Considering that the Hokies’ other options at guard are inexperienced—Alston Smith was a defensive end just a few months ago and Augie Conte has barely stepped on the field as a redshirt sophomore—it makes a lot of sense for Benedict to make the switch.
Gibson seemed to establish himself at right tackle as the season progressed, but there’s no reason that Benedict couldn’t get the start at right guard so that Searels can get his best five players on the field.
The Hokies are losing an irreplaceable star in Derrick Hopkins, but rather than lean on a young player to take his place, it would seem that the coaches are turning to returning veteran Corey Marshall.
Marshall missed the first two games of last season with personal issues, then spent the season redshirting—an uncommon move for a junior.
But he’s rejoined the team now and will be at the defensive tackle spot. He started four games at the position back in 2012, so it seems like his experience makes him the odds-on favorite to start next to Luther Maddy at DT.
However, after working at defensive end before the 2013 season and given the dearth of depth at that position, it seemed logical that he’d stay on the outside in 2014.
Marshall has played tackle in his career, rotating inside and out. Coaches think he makes more plays inside, even if he's undersized. If nothing else, him practicing on the interior this spring will allow Tech to take a long look at what it has with some of its inexperienced defensive ends.
He never seemed comfortable at tackle in 2012, ceding more and more time to Hopkins and his older brother Antoine as the season progressed, so it’ll be interesting to see where exactly he sticks.
But with a pair of redshirt sophomores the only other viable candidates to start at end opposite Dadi Nicolas, it seems like Marshall will get on the field, either on the inside or outside.
Replacing Jack Tyler at linebacker will be a tall, tall task for whoever steps into his shoes.
Tyler was the heart and soul of the defense for most of the past three years, making tackles in numbers that strain credulity.
While Bud Foster would probably prefer to have a variety of options to test out to replace Tyler, it would seem the Hokies only have one realistic player ready to go at middle linebacker: Chase Williams.
As a fifth-year senior, Williams has plenty of experience with Foster’s system, but he’s still very much an unknown commodity.
However, he does seem to have the confidence of the coaching staff, as Bitter details.
Coming out of high school in Northern Virginia, Williams was a ballhawk who posted 173 tackles as a senior at Loudoun County High, a scholarship guy the Hokies thought could be a tackling machine in college. Problem is, he played behind another player just like that in Tyler, who held down a starting spot for nearly his final three seasons at Tech. Now that Tyler is gone, this is Williams' chance to step up into the spotlight. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he's not overwhelming physically (again, just like Tyler), but he's been productive in spring scrimmages and practices in the past. He's a coach's son (St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is his dad), so he's likely got plenty of smarts to play inside linebacker. His time might not have come until his fifth year on campus, but a featured role is there for the taking if he's up to it.
With only one incoming recruit at inside linebacker and redshirt sophomore Devin Vandyke working his way back from an ACL tear last summer, it seems like Williams will be the man from day one.
He’s impressed coaches before during spring practice, and if he does so again, he’ll get the huge burden of playing inside for the Hokies.
Foster treats the position like the quarterback of the defense, and Tyler ran it to a tee—Williams seems like he’s got the right qualities to fit in, but if he shouldn’t, the Hokies will be in big trouble.
Either way, he’s going to get on the field a whole bunch after riding the bench for the last four years, and few players on the team will have their roles expanded quite as much as he will in 2014.