For nearly a month each spring, college football programs spend a large amount of time molding their teams in preparation for the fall season. Without the pressure of getting ready to win a game on Saturday, coaches are able to focus more on the individual development of players rather than rehearsing the game plan. Each year, a number of players benefit from this and use it to spring board into a big season in the fall. Today, we identify ten players to keep an eye on this spring who might make that leap.
Nicolas has been impressive from the moment he stepped on campus aside from the bike theft incident that left him suspended for several weeks in the fall. The one thing assistant coach Charley Wiles was concerned about when Nicolas arrived was his football IQ, although he developed enough in that department for Wiles to play him a decent amount by the end of last season. To continue development, Nicolas just needs reps, reps, and more reps and that's exactly what this spring presents. I fully expect him to be the undisputed No. 3 defensive end heading into the fall.
Virginia Tech didn't get great production out of any of their tailbacks last season, which is why Edmunds is receiving a lot of attention heading into his first spring session. Assistant coach Shane Beamer will be holding an open competition in hopes of finding a workhorse he can trust and, based of his high school efforts and time on the scout team last year, Edmunds just might be that guy. He doesn't have the game experience that others have, but he might have the most talented and that's what matters at the end of the day.
Coleman arrived in Blacksburg in time for spring practice last year and had a lot of people excited about him in the fall. He had one monstrous game against Duke but other than that he wasn't any more effective than any of the other options. After just 13 games, it seems that Coleman has kind of been lost in the shuffle. However, the talent that made people so excited is clearly still there. Is he big enough to be a primary back? Maybe, maybe not, but there has to be a role for his skill set within the offense. His stiffest competition will likely come from Edmunds, but I believe both will be at the top of the depth chart after this spring.
Thomas had a pretty poor season when compared to his 2011 effort and that pushes all the attention on him as he tries to rebound under a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Usually the spring is for players trying to breakthrough and become contributors for the first time, but for Thomas this spring will be about reestablishing his confidence and adjusting to the new offense implemented by Scot Loeffler.
McCray fizzled out on the defensive side of the ball as he wound up being caught in-between positions and buried on the depth chart. Luckily for him, he was able to make a move across the line of scrimmage to tight end, where he hopes to excel. His competition isn't exactly the deepest or most proven, so there is a chance for McCray to take a couple giant leaps forward this spring if he can acclimate himself to the position fast enough.
Similar to the situation at tight end, Virginia Tech doesn't have a whole lot of proven options at receiver entering this spring. That's what happens when five seniors graduate over the past two seasons. There are a bunch of talented youngsters looking to prove themselves this spring though and at the top of the list has to be Caleb. A redshirt freshman, former Rivals100 four-star and Army All-American, Caleb has the kind of athleticism and size to be a very capable target. The first week will be huge for Caleb and the rest of the receivers as they fight to establish a pecking order of sorts going forward. I expect Caleb to establish himself in the top three going into August.
New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes is in the process of implementing a much tougher and more complicated blocking scheme, which makes the performance of the offensive linemen this spring extremely worth watching. Farris has been on the verge of breaking through for the past 12 months or so and maybe a new voice coaching him will finally allow the light to turn all the way on. He has played both center and guard so far, but with Andrew Miller returning at center I fully expect him to get every shot possible to prove himself at one of the guard positions. While a lot of attention will be focused on finding the right offensive tackles, a fierce competition will be taking place on the inside among guys like Farris, Brent Benedict, and David Wang.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is hoping Edwards can slide back into the starting backer position he held in 2011 and can replace the production lost when Bruce Taylor ran out of eligibility. He played only a few snaps in the fall as Taylor was virtually indispensable, so he might have to shake off some rust in the early going, but based on his 2011 effort he certainly has the talent to lock down the position next to Jack Tyler.
For the past several years, most of the attention on the defensive line has been focused on James Gayle. After finally convincing Wiles with his play that defensive end is the spot for him, Marshall seems poised to start stealing some of that attention from Gayle. Marshall finished with just 26 stops, three tackles for loss, and one sack last year, but he really took a couple steps forward down the stretch. Marshall has all the physical tools in the world to be a force at defensive end; now, it's just about maintaining consistency from play-to-play and game-to-game.
Shuman has been biding his time the last couple years behind Nick Becton at left tackle. This spring will determine whether he truly is ready to assume the starting role. He has the size that everyone wants in an offensive tackle, he just has to prove that he can not only pick up, but also excel, in Grimes' system. Protecting Thomas' blindside and making sure he's comfortable is priority number one for the guys vying to become starting offensive tackles. Shuman may not be ready and throw Virginia Tech really into a bind, or he could have benefited from practicing against guys like Marshall, Nicolas, and Gayle for the last few years and be ready to go from day one. This spring will determine that.