Position-by-Position Preview of Virginia Tech's 2014 Roster
There’s still a huge amount that remains unknown about the Virginia Tech football team’s roster heading into 2014, but there are still some things that seem pretty certain.
The question of which player will take the helm at quarterback will persist through the fall, but some positions are more set in stone after spring ball.
Others have more determined starters, but it’s not yet entirely clear how some players will factor in to the rotation, if they do at all.
Read on for a full position-by-position preview of Tech’s roster heading into next season.
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is playing his cards close to his chest when it comes to the player he favors at quarterback, and that isn’t likely to change for several months yet.
Redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley finished the spring atop the depth chart and has three years of experience in the program—two with Loeffler’s offense—but he’s raw as a passer still.
Meanwhile, Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer is the great unknown. He played well in his few appearances with the Red Raiders and has experience in complex offenses, but it’s impossible to know how he’ll fare until he arrives in Blacksburg.
Redshirt senior Mark Leal is likely still somewhat under consideration, but the fact that he fell out of favor pretty quickly in spring practice doesn’t bode well for him.
Freshmen Andrew Ford, Chris Durkin and Travon McMillian will also get some looks, yet none of them seem to have a realistic shot of winning the job this season.
Instead, fall camp will almost certainly come down to a battle between Motley and Brewer. The better performer will take the reins at signal-caller.
Redshirt sophomore Trey Edmunds is still working his way back from his broken leg, but when he returns, he’ll add stability and talent to the running back position.
He had a very promising freshman season and really seemed to find his groove as the year went on, so his sophomore year should bring even more progress.
But beyond Edmunds, the Hokies have plenty of other options at running back.
Junior J.C. Coleman provides a change of pace, as does converted wide receiver and redshirt sophomore Joel Caleb. Both had subpar seasons in 2013, largely due to injuries and the challenge of learning a new position, respectively, but each could contribute to the rotation next year.
Tech also added freshman Marshawn Williams this spring, and his play seemed to indicate he’d be an immediate contributor.
He flashed a tantalizing combination of power and speed in spring drills, seemingly indicating that he could bring something to the table in short-yardage situations right away.
After struggling through the last two seasons with a great deal of uncertainty at the position, things should be much improved for the Hokies here in 2014.
Receiver is another position that should benefit from the presence of players with some extra experience under their belts.
Logan Thomas struggled through the first half of last year with a receiving corps that looked sloppy and inexperienced, but the group did eventually find its footing as the year went on.
Demitri Knowles, Willie Byrn and Josh Stanford all finished the year with more than 600 yards, and all three return to add some explosiveness to the offense.
In addition, converted quarterback Carlis Parker had a nice spring and is starting to look comfortable at the position after struggling last season.
Loeffler started using him on a variety of sweep plays in last year’s Sun Bowl, and it would seem the coordinator has enough confidence in this group to start incorporating players beside Parker in the running game as well.
This group should go from being a liability for the offense to a strength for the new quarterback so long as its development continues.
The tight end group will look almost completely different than it did last year.
The most important addition will likely be the return of 2012 starter Ryan Malleck.
Malleck got hurt immediately before the start of last season after an encouraging first year as the starter, which completely discombobulated the offense and even the special teams.
That forced freshman Kalvin Cline into the lineup, and he got some much-needed experience to bring to this year’s squad.
Cline isn’t the finest blocker but he runs clean routes, and Malleck will be able to take up more of the slack in the running game, along with Darius Redman.
But incoming freshman Bucky Hodges is by far the most tantalizing prospect in the bunch. After converting from quarterback a season ago, Hodges dazzled the staff this spring with his speed down the field.
The team even revived the old “Wild Turkey” package with Hodges in the backfield, so it’s clear that he’ll be a weapon for the offense somewhere on the field next year.
Loeffler will have a variety of capable players to throw on the field at this position next season, which is very good news for the versatility of the offense.
Just a year after former offensive line coach Jeff Grimes tried to revamp this position, the group has a new coach and a multitude of questions swirling around it.
The tackle positions are pretty much set from a year ago, with Jonathan McLaughlin manning the left side and Laurence Gibson taking the right.
But the interior of the line is almost entirely up in the air.
New coach Stacy Searels shook up the group in the spring, benching starting center David Wang and starting guard Brent Benedict.
He shifted former starting guard Caleb Farris to center, the position he played in 2012, and elevated the inexperienced Wyatt Teller and Augie Conte to the left and right guard spots.
Both have shown flashes of raw talent, but neither has any significant playing experience. Conte has played in five games in his two previous seasons, while Teller is still transitioning from playing defensive line in high school two years ago.
Accordingly, it seems like Wang could still play a role at guard—a former position of his—while backing up Farris, but Benedict is out of the mix.
Benedict is dealing with the complications from a knee injury he suffered in the spring, and he’ll miss at least the 2014 season, if not be forced to end his career prematurely.
All this means is that the line will be very inexperienced on the interior, and Searels will likely have to do some further tinkering this fall to figure out exactly whom he wants to start.
The Hokies are losing a lot of experience and depth at this position from last season, but the team should still have plenty of options here.
Dadi Nicolas has the potential to have a breakout year now that he’s earned a starting spot. He had four sacks and 32 tackles while rotating into the lineup last season, and it would seem he’s only scratched the surface of his potential.
On the interior, senior defensive tackle Luther Maddy returns to lead the defense and should be an NFL-caliber star once more.
Next to him, Corey Marshall has shifted inside to provide a combination of speed and power that should really help the Hokies’ pass rush. Marshall has played at both defensive end and tackle over the course of his career, and he told ESPN.com’s Matt Fortuna that he hopes to be a “defensive weapon” for coordinator Bud Foster to employ.
The one uncertain spot is the other defensive end slot, but Ken Ekanem seems to have put much of that concern to bed in the spring.
He was regularly one of the unit’s leading tacklers in scrimmages, and Foster frequently praised Ekanem’s breakout performance after he struggled through injuries in his first two years with the team.
While the line may lack the experience it had a year ago, it makes up for it in potential and should be a key part of the defense once more.
The Hokies are replacing a pair of experienced starters at linebacker, while also trying to integrate a player back into the lineup that missed a whole season to injury.
Chase Williams steps in for Jack Tyler at the team’s “Mike” linebacker position, and he seems a very similar breed to the former star. He doesn’t have incredible speed, but he displayed a sure tackling ability that should help him anchor the defense.
The “backer” position formerly occupied by Tariq Edwards was a similarly important spot for Foster to address.
In the spring, he pitted junior Deon Clarke and redshirt sophomore Dahman McKinnon against each other at the position, and it’d seem that Clarke came out ahead.
The coaches have always liked Clarke’s explosiveness, but personal issues held him back. Now that he seems to be back on track, he should be an asset in the middle of the defense.
At the defense’s lone outside linebacker spot, known as the “whip,” Ronny Vandyke returns after missing last year with a shoulder injury.
It’s not clear how the injury has affected Vandyke’s abilities, but as the starter at the position in 2012, he flashed some impressive speed. His return gives Foster the option of using a position he frequently kept off the field entirely last season.
This group has a lot of unknowns, but it does have the potential to develop into an excellent one.
The Hokies secondary was stellar last season, and it should be again next year.
The team is losing Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum to the NFL, but each player was absent so frequently with injuries last year that the team is pretty much used to their absence by now.
Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson spent much of 2013 starting in place of the nicked-up veterans, and each had stellar years for a pair of freshmen.
Facyson missed the team’s spring drills with a foot injury, but if he can come back and approach his level of play from early last season, the cornerbacks will be phenomenal this time around.
Facyson’s absence wasn’t entirely detrimental to the team in the spring—Donovan Riley performed very well in his relief, emerging as a prime contender for the third cornerback spot.
At safety, senior rover Kyshoen Jarrett also missed the spring with an injury, but he should be ready to return in the fall and lends a huge element of physicality to the back end of the defense.
Redshirt senior Detrick Bonner also returns at free safety, adding further stability to the unit.
Tech’s secondary was among the country’s best in 2013, and there’s little reason to expect much of a drop-off in 2014.
For the first time in a long time, Frank Beamer is facing a very uncertain situation at kicker.
As many as four different players have a realistic shot at the job, and it’s truly anyone’s guess who will take over place-kicking duties in Blacksburg.
Eric Kristensen handled the starting duties in relief of Cody Journell after his unceremonious dismissal, but he never got much of a look in the spring.
Instead, Sun Bowl starter Michael Branthover opened practice as the favorite, yet fell out of favor after getting banged up and having a kick blocked in a scrimmage.
That left Richmond transfer Remington Hinshaw, who Beamer called the top contender for the job at the end of spring practice.
But it’s worth noting that the team will welcome several freshmen in the fall, and any of them could realistically enter the competition or even win it if they impress quickly.
It’s a completely different story at punter—A.J. Hughes was among the country’s leaders in punting average last season, and he certainly made the defense’s lives easier with regularity.
But while Hughes remains entrenched, the battle at kicker could stretch long into the fall, strangely reminiscent to the quarterback spot.