It still might not feel like spring in Blacksburg, Va., but the Virginia Tech football team’s spring practice is well underway.
As the team’s spring game rapidly approaches, excitement about the upcoming season is in the air on campus. Even incoming university president Tim Sands couldn’t resist the allure of stopping by the practice field to get a glimpse of the Hokies.
The coaching staff has started to become particularly enthralled with some players, while others have fallen out of favor slightly.
Read on to get a sense of which players’ stock is ascendant and which ones have seen some slight dips.
Augie Conte and Wyatt Teller
After last week’s round of practices, it seemed as if redshirt freshman Wyatt Teller was the backup on the offensive line that had the best shot to compete for playing time.
Now the staff looks to be leaning toward redshirt sophomore Augie Conte instead, as The Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter reports.
Conte is currently listed as Laurence Gibson’s backup at right tackle on the depth chart, and his development is likely a major reason why the staff is giving Teller a shot at guard.
Considering that Conte has an extra year of experience at the position, and that Teller is still adjusting to playing on the offensive side of the ball in general, it’s not a huge surprise that Conte’s a little further along so far.
Conte put up some huge numbers in the team’s winter workouts, breaking the school record for power clean by a tackle and topping the team in the bench press, so it’s a good sign that he’s been able to turn his physical tools into results on the field.
He might not have a particularly clear path to the field while working behind Gibson, but his improvement will certainly help the team’s depth on the line.
Backup Running Backs
J.C. Coleman is pretty firmly entrenched as the spring starter with Trey Edmunds on the sidelines, but it does seem like there’s been some movement on the depth chart below the top spot.
Jerome Wright appeared to be in the mix for carries this season at running back along with Joel Caleb, but he since seems to have fallen out of favor with the staff, as Bitter notes.
It looked like Wright was catching on after he made a few big plays in the Sun Bowl, but this move seems like a demotion for Wright and a vote of confidence in Caleb.
Wright may still be on the depth chart as Sam Rogers’ backup at fullback, but he was in on all of 27 plays on offense when working in a similar role last season—an especially small number when compared to Rogers’ 257 offensive snaps.
Meanwhile, early-enrolled freshman Marshawn Williams may still be on the third string, but he continues to turn heads in practice.
Williams has long seemed like the type of back that could help the Hokies in short-yardage situations, and the coaches appear to agree, according to Bitter.
If coaches were pleasantly surprised about Bucky Hodges’ athleticism at tight end last week, they were positively giddy this week.
The redshirt freshman is still adjusting to the position after playing quarterback in high school, but every media availability this spring seems to be another chance for the staff to rave about his athletic abilities.
"I think he’s a guy that's a prototypical weapon," offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler told Bitter. "Potentially a prototypical weapon in that you can play him in a lot of different places, which is really good with matchups."
The coaches initially seemed to be excited about Hodges because of the way he could blend his speed with incredible size, in the same style as tight ends like UNC’s Eric Ebron.
However, they now appear particularly excited about what his versatility can do for the offense, as Bitter explains.
Hodges could be especially critical for the offense that Loeffler wants to run. What makes Hodges so valuable is that he won't be relied upon to just play tight end. For that spot, the Hokies have Ryan Malleck, who's back from a shoulder injury, and Kavlin Cline, who's now played more than just a handful of football games in his life.
That frees up Hodges to do more things if he's up to the task. He did split out wide some in Saturday's scrimmage. He played on the line. He went in motion. At the very beginning of drills, he tossed a deep ball to Willie Byrn out of the Wildcat.
That flexibility is a crucial component for Loeffler's offense, which will motion players to different spots on the field to take advantage of matchups without having to substitute.
Even blocking, something that would seem difficult for a guy who has played almost exclusively quarterback in his career up to this point, has come naturally.
The staff might’ve originally envisioned Hodges revolutionizing the offense from under center when they recruited him two years ago.
But, now it sure seems like the staff has fallen head over heels for Hodges due to his abilities to shape the offense in other ways.
Suffice it to say that Hodges’ stock is positively through the roof right now at this point in the spring.