Zero touchdowns in Virginia Tech's first public scrimmage wasn't exactly what fans were hoping for. But it's important to remember- much like Spring Training baseball, the defense is always ahead of the offense.
There was good and bad as both the offense and defense took time to get going, but fans did get a glimpse of a new offense yet saw there's plenty of work to be done.
"The good, the bad, the ugly, almost identical to every first scrimmage I've been around," offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. "But they're learning, they're getting better. I think when we get to the fall and get the whole thing in, we'll be alright."
The offense gained a total 265 yards on 85 plays (3.1 yards per play), so it wasn't a total disappointment statistically for the Maroon offense. That number was aided by three plays over 40 yards, but it's worth mentioning the Hokies had just one play over 40 yards in their last three games of 2012. So there are still some positives to take out of the day offensively wise.
Five other observations from the Hokies first scrimmage:
1. Loeffler used motion on pretty much every one of the 85 plays during the scrimmage. It's certainly something we should expect come September- the main goal is to create mismatches amongst the defense.
"Once we get the whole deal in, we'll be doing that a lot," Loeffler said. "In the first six days we got an understanding of what [our receivers] can do, and creating matchups is going to be absolutely imperative."
We saw instances of this strategy with the likes of Trey Edmunds, J.C. Coleman, D.J. Coles (more on him later), and whoever the slot receiver was. Defenses will be forced to adjust coverages on the fly, and once every skill player finds their niche, it could certainly be a very efficient offense.
Expect to see this create a lot of one-on-one matchups, and perhaps some big breakdowns if anyone on the defense miscommunicates. The gridiron is a chess match, and it seems like the 38-year-old has quite the mind for the game.
2. Quarterback Logan Thomas didn't perform up to, really, anybody's expectations, but it's important to remember that this is a process. The product on the field come August 31 will be drastically different than April 8.
"He's got a really good sense of body position, his release is quicker, he's getting the ball out of his hands, and he's upright," Loeffler said regarding Thomas. "He's improved in these six days as fast as I've ever been around. If he keeps going and keeps working (of course I'm not going to tell him all these good things), but I like him a lot. He's going to be a heck of a player."
Each of the first three points Loeffler made were clearly evident in the scrimmage, even though Thomas was 7-17 for 164 yards and two interceptions. On a few throws over the middle, I did a double take because I couldn't believe how quickly the ball arrived from point A to point B (especially compared to last season). Whatever was wrong with his mechanics, Loeffler is on a direct path to fixing them. He just looks more fluid throwing the ball.
Another interesting fact is that Thomas graduated, so he isn't attending class right now. He mentioned that he'll spend anywhere from "two to seven hours" on a given day with his new offensive coordinator. So, instead of having to balance school work and sports, Thomas is 100% concentrated on improving his game. It should be interesting to see how much he develops.
3. The first-team defense is exactly where you'd want it to be.
Defensive end James Gayle was an absolute monster. He recorded 5 tackles, 3.5 sacks (for 33 yards lost), and also gave Trey Gresh quite a whack on a botched screen attempt that drew the ire of offensive coaches. Safety Detrick Bonner led the defense with 6 tackles and added one breakup for an impressive day- if you'll recall, he was quite hot at the end of last season. Expect both to be vital cogs within the unit.
"I like our first group, I think they're communicating and playing well with each other," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. He also mentioned Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett as having exceptional Springs thus far.
It's important to note that perhaps the Hokies' best defender, linebacker Jack Tyler, was not in attendance at the scrimmage due to class obligations. Linebacker Tariq Edwards looks enormous out there (measured at 6'2, 232 pounds), and those two should be pretty fun to watch this fall.
4. The question on everyone's mind- who will play corner if Antone Exum can't play against Alabama? For now, it's Donovan Riley.
"I like how Riley has really improved," Foster said. "He wants to be considered a Big Orange (what guys call the first-team unit), he's working hard on his technique and being fundamentally sound. He really wants those 10 other guys on the field to trust and have confidence in him, that's the kind of guy he is. I think he wants those guys to feel that way about him. I've really been pleased with how he's performed.
Riley won't have the job without some serious competition, though. Donaldven Manning and true freshman Brandon Facyson were also mentioned by Foster as having good practices thus far, especially Facyson.
"He's a little body, he can transition out of his breaks," Foster said. "He's a guy that really has a closing ability, you see day in and day out he's making plays. He's got a great future here."
While the Hokies would certainly like Exum to be healthy by Week one, it's good to know there's plenty of capable candidates to seize the opportunity.
5. If there's going to be a go-to receiver on this team, it's likely to be Coles. And his production will come from many different positions- he'll be called the H-back.
"We are trying to create mismatch problems for the defense," Coles said. "Trying to put a running back on a linebacker and get him into space or get me (or another receiver) on a linebacker or a safety. We're just going to take advantage of it and attack the defense."
Coles had 3 catches for 53 yards, and all were in completely different spots. One was a quick out route after he motioned to match up with a linebacker (he was abruptly tackled), another was a screen pass, and yet another was a 46-yard bomb down the middle. He'll be all over the field, and if this offense is going to work, Coles will need to play a vital role.
"I like it a lot because of my versatility. It sets me up with a linebacker that I can outrun or I can use my size and strength against a safety."
The Hokies will have two practices, Wednesday and Friday until their next scrimmage. Virginia Tech will hold its second open scrimmage to fans at 10:45 a.m. Saturday at Lane Stadium.