Virginia Tech Football: Frank Beamer's 3 Biggest Spring Practice Concerns
The Virginia Tech football team has been practicing for the better part of three weeks this spring, yet there are still a few position battles that have to be giving head coach Frank Beamer headaches.
While some players have stepped up to make their roles more clear, others haven’t shown the kind of progress the coaching staff had hoped for.
Others still are struggling with injuries, making it difficult for the Hokies to make definitive decisions about how several position groups will shake out.
With another week to go before Tech’s spring game, the Hokies still have some time to sort things out, but these three position battles have to be concerning for Beamer.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes come from the team’s media availability after its second open scrimmage.
Interior Offensive Line
Heading into the spring, new offensive line coach Stacy Searels picked a fairly predictable trio of players to man the center and guard positions.
Redshirt senior David Wang would remain the starting center, while Caleb Farris would continue to start at left guard. Searels moved Brent Benedict from tackle to start at right guard. Given his experience playing the position in 2012, it was hardly a shocking move.
But now that Searels updated the depth chart, it’s clear he wasn’t happy with that arrangement.
Wang has been demoted to the second string behind Farris at center. Benedict has slipped all the way to the third string in favor of redshirt freshmen Wyatt Teller and Alston Smith, the No. 1 and 2 options on the left side respectively.
Most surprisingly, Augie Conte has become the starter at right guard after working mainly at tackle.
Conte has earned praise this year for his development, but a starting spot seems a bit extreme.
What all these major changes seem to say is that the staff wants to send a message to its players, even older veterans like Wang and Benedict.
Wang is still working through an ankle injury, and could only get in on a few plays during the team’s second spring scrimmage. Farris started in his place and largely was effective. It seems as if this move is designed to give Farris more time at center should Wang get hurt again during the season.
The bigger concern has to be Benedict. Is his drop an attempt by Searels to extract more effort from the redshirt senior, a former Georgia transfer who has started 12 games for the Hokies over the last two seasons?
Just last week, offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler was talking about how redshirt sophomore Conte was further along than Teller, despite Teller impressing with his physicality. Now, both of them are listed as starters, which seems like a clear message to the veterans.
Maybe the coaches aren’t wholly concerned with how the offensive line will perform next season. But they certainly appear to be trying to shake things up at the position with moves like this.
With Brandon Facyson, Kendall Fuller, Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner entrenched as starters in the Hokies’ secondary, it might seem like there’s no reason for the staff to worry about the back end of the defense.
Junior Donovan Riley has taken over Facyson at corner, while junior Desmond Frye has stepped in for Jarrett. That’s forced relatively unseasoned players like Der’Woun Greene, Anthony Shegog and Zach Snell into roles they might not be prepared for yet. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster addressed the concern:
We have no seconds in our back end. It’s a bunch of walk-on kids that can’t even get lined up right now with some attrition and stuff. There’s a reason there’s a depth chart, there’s a difference between the first team and the second across the board.
Of the new starters, Riley has been the most impressive thus far. He recorded an interception in the second scrimmage and has been turning some heads in the spring.
“He’s had a good spring so far. Several times you noticed him out here, so you can tell he’s been around a while and getting better,” Beamer said.
According to Foster, however, Frye hasn’t responded to the challenge in quite the same way at rover.
I’d like to see Des be a little bit more physical. Our safeties, we’re really involving them in tackling and that type of stuff, and that’s an area that he really needs to improve on. He needs to spend a little more time in the weight room, that’s something we’re going to challenge him with. You’ve got to be a physical player to play that position.
Given the quality of the starters in the secondary, it might not seem like the coaches need to worry about depth too much.
“We’ve just got to get those backup guys better because they’re a play away from being the guys,” Foster said.
It’s no secret that Beamer and Loeffler are stressed over finding a new starting quarterback.
Recent developments in the quarterback competition have made it particularly clear that nothing is close to being settled.
Redshirt senior Mark Leal was proclaimed by Beamer as the top candidate to take the reins before spring practice began, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any more.
Leal sat out the second scrimmage with a knee injury, which opened the door for Brenden Motley. The redshirt sophomore has impressed the staff enough to vault to the top of the depth chart.
Motley certainly seemed to have a command of the offense, completing 12 of 20 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown, but his sudden elevation is a sharp departure from everything the staff has said so far.
Loeffler frequently trusted him to run the offense without huddling during the scrimmage, and gave him the chance to run the read-option six different times.
Beamer announced after the scrimmage that Leal’s injury wasn’t that serious, saying that he “just tweaked (his knee) a little bit yesterday,” which doesn't make his demotion seem like it is based on health.
Instead, Loeffler sounded as if Leal needed every rep possible, and that his absence has been a real concern in the competition:
Whenever you’re in a competitive atmosphere and every rep counts, every day counts. I think it’s critical that every chance you can you get out there. Obviously, that injury kept him out (for the scrimmage) but he needs to rehab and get back out here.
Whatever the exact reason why Motley has jumped Leal, it’s clear that Loeffler is looking for something different at the position.
Obviously, things will change completely once freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arrive in town this summer, but for now, the coaches are looking for someone to step up and seize the job.
Motley could’ve easily slipped out of the competition had he not made an impression, but now it seems like Leal could be the one to fall out of the mix. Andrew Ford seems headed for a redshirt, but if Motley can continue to play well, he’ll likely be the main candidate to compete with the newcomers.
But for Beamer and his staff, with spring workouts soon to be complete, the constant changes have got to be concerning.