Each year, certain players emerge from the shadows and become known as "impact players." Last year, those included quarterback Logan Thomas, defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, and cornerback Kyle Fuller. Today, we identify the top five candidates to make the leap in 2012.
Vandyke exploded in the spring and we haven't really stopped writing about him since. Simply put, he has the chance to be the best WHIP ever at Virginia Tech and by a pretty wide margin.
Cody Grimm currently holds that honor proudly, but there's no doubt that Vandyke's combination of athleticism, size, and speed give him a chance to be special. He showed that day-in and day-out during spring practice and hopefully will use his reps in August to secure his spot at the top of his depth chart. He is the type of athlete that can turn a good defense into a great one.
Under assistant coach Torrian Gray, the second cornerback has had a crazy tendency to have a big breakout season. Kyle Fuller did it last year across from Jayron Hosley. Hosley did it the year before across from Rock Carmichael.
This year, Exum figures to be the beneficiary as teams avoid Fuller. Exum's transition to cornerback went about as smoothly as one could hope this spring and he continued working hard all throughout the summer in order to prepare for his new role.
He is a different kind of corner for the Hokies, as he is still built closer to a linebacker than a corner, but has managed to maintain his flexibility and ability to move freely.Exum was never a big ball-hawker at safety, but I expect him to get more than a few interceptions in 2012.
Holmes steps into the top spot in a backfield that returns exactly zero ball carriers from last year, meaning carries won't be hard to come by for the Harrisonburg, VA native. Holmes was solid all spring and provided the highlight of the camp with a long touchdown run during one of the open scrimmages and will look to get better each day leading up to kickoff.
There are a bunch of players jockeying for position on the depth chart behind them, but it is Holmes' spot that seems to be the most secure.
Assistant coach Charley Wiles has a tremendous track record when it comes to the development of linemen in their second year. Hopkins made the big leap last year from backup as a true freshman into a stalwart as a true sophomore.
Maddy was essentially a starter last year and played a lot of snaps, so the transition is expected to go very smoothly as he becomes a starter in 2012. By the end of last year, teams were double-teaming Hopkins, as he was one of the key cogs that kept defensive coordinator Bud Foster's defense together through all the injuries.
However, if Maddy plays as well as he did in the spring this fall, teams will be placed in a very precarious position when deciding how to block those guys.
Dunn had a breakout spring in the passing game and reminded me a lot of former UCLA tight end Mercedes Lewis. He's ultra-athletic and extremely dangerous when he elevates down the field, especially when he gets matched up with a linebacker or a safety.
Dunn's ability in the passing game figures to get him on the field in some capacity in 2012 and when he does, expect him to do some serious damage.
Note: Not including Rivals' premium sites, do not copy/paste and or repost this column outside of Rivals.com, particularly on message boards, chat rooms and e-mails, as it is a direct violation of copyright laws. Thank you.