The players have thrown on the pads and taken to the practice field once more, as the first day of Virginia Tech football’s spring practice is in the books.
The team has released an updated depth chart for spring ball, and it reveals some key thinking on the part of the coaching staff.
Namely, some players are still struggling with injuries, while others find themselves thrust into prominent roles.
Read on to find out which players saw their stock rise with the start of spring practice, and which ones have seen it drop.
With the departure of starting “Mike” linebacker Jack Tyler, the depth chart was wide open at this position headed into the spring.
Unsurprisingly, fifth-year senior Chase Williams has stepped in as the presumptive starter.
It’ll be a big adjustment for Williams, who’s made only one career start, yet appeared in 33 games over the course of his time at Tech.
It might be early yet, but at least in the early going, Williams has the confidence of the coaching staff, according to the Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter.
Beamer on ILB Chase Williams: "I think he's ready to step into that position. ... It's his time." #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) March 27, 2014
If he has a big spring, he can really establish himself at the position headed into the season.
However, he’s hardly the perfect player, as French of the The Key Play notes.
Unfortunately the 6-2 220 pound former three-star recruit struggled with injuries early in his career and watched Tyler and Edwards pass him up for starting jobs. Early in his career, the staff could not say enough good things about Williams, who has bounced back and forth at both the mike and backer positions. However, when asked about Williams this offseason, Foster said “I mean, you're talking at linebacker, Chase Williams is coming back. He's started one game, but he's been primarily a special teams guy.” That isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.
Count me as one of the doubters about Williams. While most of his practice time has been at the mike position, his only start came at the backer position (when he replaced an injured Bruce Taylor against Austin Peay. Against FCS competition, Williams had trouble getting to his gap fit and then shedding blockers to make tackles from the backer spot.
With intriguing freshman Andrew Motuapuaka behind him on the depth chart, Williams will have to perform well this spring to earn the job, instead of just getting it automatically.
His stock may be high now, but he’ll have to be careful.
He’s played in only 12 games in his career, making 12 total tackles, and missed most of the 2012 season with injuries.
However, thanks to some position scarcity, he finds himself at the top of the depth chart at the “backer” position on the inside.
He’s not alone at the top, joined by redshirt sophomore Dahman McKinnon, but even the fact that Clarke’s found his way back into the staff’s good graces is mildly incredible after his early discipline troubles.
Frank Beamer even singled him out for praise, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Mike Barber noted.
#Hokies coach Frank Beamer says LB Deon Clarke will have a bright future if he can do things right off the field.— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) March 27, 2014
Clark has put on 11 pounds in the offseason and seems to have left his injury problems behind, and he’ll have every chance to prove himself in the spring.
McKinnon impressed coaches with his speed and strength in offseason workouts, but it seems like Clark has the upper hand for now.
Corey Marshall and Nigel Williams
Corey Marshall is another player with a checkered past that finds himself in the limelight this spring.
Marshall is listed at the top of the depth chart with redshirt sophomore Nigel Williams, despite spending the last year redshirting following some personal issues of his own.
The redshirt junior flashed some serious athleticism while working at defensive end as a freshman, playing in all of the team’s 14 games. The team moved him to defensive tackle in 2012, where he played in 13 games, but started only four of them while looking uneven all year.
Now, the coaching staff has confidence enough to give him first-team reps at DT alongside Luther Maddy, a move that’s a bit surprising given the quality of Williams’ freshman season.
Marshall certainly has experience at the position, but Williams looked dominant in his limited playing time last year. He played in all 13 games, and made 14 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks.
He has good size for the position at 6’2” and 289 pounds, but clearly the staff didn’t trust him enough to name him the lone starter.
Given that the team has very little experience at defensive end opposite Dadi Nicolas, it’s surprising that Marshall isn’t starting out at end.
However, this move might speak just as much to the ends that could end up starting as it does the team’s lack of faith in Williams.
Ken Ekanem and Seth Dooley
Ekanem and Dooley sit on top of the depth chart at defensive end while Marshall works at tackle, and it’s clear the coaches believe in them if they’re willing to use the veteran elsewhere.
Neither has seen the field very much, as Ekanem is just a redshirt sophomore and Dooley is a redshirt freshman, but Ekanem did play in 11 games last season, mostly on special teams.
Ekanem was a 4-star prospect coming out of high school, but he hasn’t really done anything with that talent as of yet. Now, he finds himself atop the depth chart.
However, it’s no guarantee that Marshall won’t get into the mix as well, as the Daily Press’ Norm Wood noted.
#Hokies coach Frank Beamer said Corey Marshall, returning from redshirt yr., could slide to DE at some pt though he's listed as co-No. 1 DT— Norm Wood (@normwood) March 27, 2014
But the fact that these two will get first-team reps at all has to be an indicator that their stock is way up.
It’s hard to say that the starting left tackle’s stock is “dropping” per se, but the news that he’ll be limited early in the spring is a little disconcerting.
According to Bitter, he had hernia surgery in the offseason, a detail the team hadn’t released until March 27.
LT Jonathan McLaughlin in blue after hernia surgery this offseason. That's one I hadn't heard yet. Will start out in blue. #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) March 27, 2014
The blue jersey means he’ll be cleared only for limited contact in the spring, so he’ll likely be confined to sprints and not much else.
It’s hardly a big issue, but McLaughlin is entrenched at the tackle position, and since he does still have some work to do to improve against elite pass rushers, spring would’ve been a good time to do it.
Losing out on that time isn’t great, but it doesn’t seem like a huge issue in the long run.
As spring practice moves forward, his injury status—as well as several of these other position battles—should become clearer.