Summer Questions Series No. 7: Which players will step up for the first time this fall for Virginia Tech?
After each college football season, players run out of eligibility and move on. This forces new players to emerge and step into a bigger role than they previously were comfortable with. Who will it be for Virginia Tech this season? Let's identify five.
1. Trey Edmunds, Running Back
Virginia Tech's running game last season rested squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Logan Thomas. He led the team with 524 yards, which were the lowest total yards by the leading rusher since Mike Imoh rushed for 720 yards in 2004.
Not surprisingly, the offense struggled to be any kind of consistent without another threat in the backfield. After redshirting in 2012, Edmunds is the most likely to emerge as the top dog at tailback and take control of the rushing game. J.C. Coleman is a year older and will likely take a step forward, but Edmunds is the new option for assistant coach Shane Beamer this year.
2. Jonathan McLaughlin, Offensive Tackle
McLaughlin might be the most important player on the roster in 2013. He is penciled in right now as the starting left tackle and will be protecting Thomas' blind side. He's just a true freshman, although he did spend a semester at FUMA, so he's essentially a redshirt freshman. If McLaughlin succeeds, the Hokies have a chance to be successful this season. If he struggles, who knows what will happen.
3. Joel Caleb, Wide Receiver
After the 2011 season, the Hokies lost Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. After the 2012 season, the Hokies lost Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller. Needless to say, new wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead has his work cut out for him to get some production in 2013.
Caleb was the top recruit in the state of Virginia two years ago and could be a big-time threat this season for the Hokies. We reported last week that he's suspended for the season opener, but that hopefully won't prevent him from playing in the final 11 games of the year.
4. Laurence Gibson, Offensive Tackle
Gibson has had an up-and-down career at Virginia Tech so far, but as a redshirt junior he has his best chance to make his mark on the team. He has switched positions and gone everywhere on the depth chart over the last several years, but now he is looking like the starting right tackle when the Hokies take the field in Atlanta.
Virginia Tech has experience at guard and center, making the tackles the focus of the offensive line entering the season. Gibson doesn't have to protect McLaughlin's blindside, but he is a critical part of the team as well.
5. Kendall Fuller, Cornerback
Assistant coach Torrian Gray has a history of playing true freshmen corners, so redshirting is not an option here for the five-star recruit. Fuller also has a ton of playing time open to him early as senior Antone Exum recovers from his ACL injury.
It wouldn't be shocking to see Kendall start opposite of Kyle in the season opener, although he will face stiff competition from the likes of Donaldven Manning and Brandon Facyson. If Fuller can pick up the defense in August, look for him to have a big role in 2013. If Fuller succeeds at one of the corner positions and Exum returns, older brother Kyle could be moved back to the nickel position he excelled at in 2011.