Virginia Tech Football: 4 Top Performers from the Hokies' Spring Game
The Virginia Tech football team hardly lit up the scoreboard in the White team’s 7-3 victory over the Maroon squad in the program’s spring game, but there were still a few players that distinguished themselves on the day.
While the staff opted to pit the first and second teams against each other in previous spring games, the coaches chose to mix up the teams this time around.
Starting quarterback Brenden Motley and most of the team's starting receivers worked with the White team, while redshirt senior Mark Leal and the starting offensive line as well as running backs worked with the Maroon team.
Head coach Frank Beamer had previously claimed that both quarterbacks would be fair game for the defense to hit in this one, but each passer’s lingering injuries meant that they wore the yellow no-contact jerseys instead.
The defense also featured a mix of starters and backups. The starting secondary mostly worked on the Maroon side, while the starting linebackers and defensive line took the field for the White team.
All of this jumbling led to a bit of a disjointed affair on both sides. While evening out the teams certainly made the game more competitive, it also didn’t really give viewers a good sense of what to expect from next year’s squad.
Nevertheless, some players did manage to stand above the crowd on offense and defense.
It may be slightly disconcerting for Hokies fans that neither Motley nor Leal was among the game’s top performers, but four other players did step up and make a good impression.
Defensive tackle Corey Marshall has been turning heads all spring long, and the spring game was no exception.
Despite moving from tackle to his original position of defensive end before last season, Marshall seems fully comfortable on the interior of the defensive line.
His numbers in the game weren’t eye-popping, as he made two tackles and earned half a sack on the day, but his effect on the running game was immediately evident.
“He’s been a great improvement. It’s great to see what he’s done all the way around. He’s been an impact guy all spring,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster at the team’s last media availability before the game.
Marshall now seems to have fully earned back the trust of the coaching staff after some off-the-field troubles, and he seems to be rewarding their faith so far.
“I had a string of bad habits and put Coach Beamer in a tough position,” Marshall told The Washington Post’s Mark Giannotto after the game. “We were able to reconcile, he stuck with me and now it’s paying off.”
Now that he’s back at full speed, Marshall forms a truly intimidating tandem with Luther Maddy on the interior of the line that should give offensive linemen nightmares in 2014.
It seems like the Hokies have depth at wide receiver for the first time in two years, and redshirt freshman Deon Newsome seems to be proof of that.
The top of the depth chart at receiver is pretty set in stone, with starters Demitri Knowles, Josh Stanford and Willie Byrn all returning this season, but there does seem to be room for development after the veterans.
Newsome’s been making some noise all spring to be one of the players that earns consideration for a role as a fourth or fifth receiver in the offense, and the spring game only further proved his worth.
He really broke out when he caught four passes for 83 yards in the team’s second spring scrimmage and followed that up nicely by catching a 37-yard bomb from Motley to go along with 18 rushing yards on a sweep in the spring game.
“We’ve really got to keep bringing him a long, and he’s got the ability to make big plays,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler told Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times after the second scrimmage.
Loeffler has shown a propensity for using lots of four- and five-receiver sets in his offense and Newsome could absolutely figure into the mix.
Sophomore Carlis Parker seems to have a hold on the fourth receiver spot, as evidenced by his two catches and 26-yard rush in the spring game, but the current fifth option—redshirt sophomore Charley Meyer—hasn’t made much of an impact this spring.
That gives Newsome the chance to figure in the passing game. He’s got big-play ability, and since Loeffler seems to like jet sweep looks he showed off in the Sun Bowl last season and in the spring game, Newsome's speed would make him well-suited to what the offense needs.
But all that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily finished developing just yet.
“He kind of reminds me of our wide outs last year at this time,” Loeffler said. “He’s swimming and there are some things that are really his first time getting a lot of reps and trying to figure it out."
Any fan that had yet to be introduced to the brilliance of tight end Bucky Hodges surely got a nice surprise at the spring game.
Hodges looked like far and away the best receiver on the White team, an impressive feat considering that he was often working with starter Demitri Knowles.
Hodges caught only three passes for 24 yards, but his physical tools immediately jumped out when he stepped on the field.
He seems to already have a rapport with Motley, and the quarterback looked for him on several occasions beyond his three receptions.
On one particular play, Hodges got behind the defense and was running uncovered to the end zone, but Motley put the ball just a few inches too far in front of him—the second time that’s happened this spring.
The redshirt freshman was given the “Coaches Award” for an exceptional spring and definitely seems like he’s earned it.
It’s unclear exactly how he’ll fit into the tight end rotation once 2012 starter Ryan Malleck and 2013 starter Kalvin Cline return from their injuries, but it certainly seems like he has the athletic ability to warrant the staff working to get him on the field whenever possible.
The Hokies’ running back rotation is an awfully crowded one, and Joel Caleb’s strong performance in the spring game likely made it even tougher for the staff to sort through its backfield options.
Coming into the game, early-enrolled freshman Marshawn Williams was the player that made the biggest impact in the running game. Spring starter J.C. Coleman got a lot of carries, yet very few yards, while Williams was bowling over defensive starters left and right.
By contrast, Caleb looked like he was dropping out of favor entirely. In the team’s last two spring scrimmages, he carried the ball seven times for 14 yards and five times for 10 yards, respectively.
Then, he broke out in the spring game, carrying the ball six times for 43 yards, including a 27-yard burst for a touchdown.
Caleb has always had intriguing athletic ability, but never really put things together last year. If the coaches liked what they saw enough to include him in next year’s rotation, that’s going to make things very crowded indeed in the backfield.
Between 2013 starter Trey Edmunds, Coleman, Caleb and now Williams, there just aren’t enough carries to go around. Accordingly, it looks like the team’s going to try and thin the ranks this fall.
“I think we need about three guys and that’s who we’re going to be with," Beamer told The Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter after the game. "Some of those other guys are probably going to need to go to another position if we can, because they’re all good athletes.”
Caleb would seem like the most obvious candidate for a position change, as 247Sports.com indicates that he was recruited as a receiver and played there for a bit before moving to running back to add some depth to the position in fall camp last year.
However, his improved performance could keep in the mix and instead force the staff to focus on a more situational rotation, playing the speedy Coleman and Caleb on passing downs and the powerful Williams in short-yardage scenarios.
"It may get down to packages," Beamer told Bitter. "But that’s again, I think, some personnel meetings that we need to look long and hard at how we want to do things. What’s in the best interest of the kid and our program."
While Caleb’s strong play certainly presents what has to be considered a good problem for the staff, it is nonetheless a major issue it’ll have to address going forward.