Virginia Tech hits the practice field today for spring practice as coach Frank Beamer tries to right the ship after two subpar seasons. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is looking for a starting quarterback, while defensive coordinator Bud Foster must replace leading tackler Jack Tyler. Spring practice culminates with the annual spring game April 26, but what will the team look like by then?
1. Who plays quarterback? Senior to be Mark Leal enters the spring as the top guy after several years as the top backup in Blacksburg. He played a shaky half during the Sun Bowl after Logan Thomas got hurt, which didn't ease concerns about his ability to take over this year. He will have a chance to prove himself, though, starting this spring.
Redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley is a wild card in that no one really knows if he's a serious option at quarterback yet. If he is, he will get a chance this spring as well. Then there is true freshman Andrew Ford, who enrolled in January to try and get involved in the competition. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer doesn't arrive until the summer and has a terrific chance at ending up the starter, so Leal, Motley, and Ford will have to be on top of their games this spring. True freshmen Chris Durkin and Travon McMillian will also jump in the mix after they arrive on campus this summer.
2. The Offensive Line Hears a New Voice Former offensive line coach Jeff Grimes spent one season in Blacksburg and completely changed the way Virginia Tech offensive lines are coached. It was much more demanding and much more complex than anything run under Curt Newsome, who coached the Hokies' offensive lines from 2006-12.
However, Grimes is now at LSU and former Texas offensive line coach Stacy Searels now has control. Grimes basically ran an option competition through spring last year, but will Searels try and lock players into positions earlier than normal? Redshirt freshman Wyatt Teller, who is listed at right guard entering the spring, is the one to watch here. He's put up huge weight room numbers and is now at 305 pounds.
3. Bud Foster looks for inside linebackers Tyler and Tariq Edwards graduated after last season, leaving two gaping holes at linebacker for the Hokies. Veteran Chase Williams will get first crack at mike linebacker, although redshirt freshman Andrew Motuapuaka could challenge him. At backer, Deon Clarke and Dahmon McKinnon are listed as co-starters, which means there will be a big position battle at that spot. I could also see Ronny Vandyke - if he gets healthy - getting a crack at backer as well.
Five Players To Watch
1. TE Bucky Hodges Hodges made the move to tight end from quarterback during the fall and immediately impressed. The reviews from his scout team performances have all been jaw dropping. The Hokies return Kalvin Cline and Ryan Malleck, who missed last year with a shoulder injury, at tight end, but Hodges' playmaking ability - if he can translate it at the highest level - will be hard to keep off the field.
2. DE Seth Dooley Foster needs another defensive end to emerge opposite of Dadi Nicolas, who had a strong 2013 season. Corey Marshall might end up having to be the guy, but he can't be trusted to be on the team in September at this point. Dooley was extremely underrated coming out of high school, but he has put in the work over the past two years and completely passes the eye test. He is listed as a co-starter with Ken Ekanem, but I won't be surprised if Dooley impresses enough this spring to take over the top spot alone.
3. DT Nigel Williams Williams is first in line to replace Derrick Hopkins at defensive tackle, although he will have to ward off both Corey Marshall and Woody Baron. He played well in a limited role last season, but will have to prove this spring that he is not only talented enough to take on a bigger role, but able to hold up over the course of several weeks.
4. DT Wade Hansen Hansen is one guy virtually no one knows anything about. He transferred to VT last year from Division III Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and redshirted per NCAA rules. He's a senior with the size to play defensive tackle at this level (6 foot 6, 290 pounds), but whether he has the talent remains to be seen. Defensive line coach Charley Wiles had to have seen something to take a flyer on him, so maybe he becomes the unlikely story to fill a vital backup role for the Hokies this year.
5. K Michael Branthover Expect to hear Frank Beamer to talk often about his kicking situation this spring, as he must find a long-term replacement for Cody Journell. The position turned into a bit of a mess late last season after Journell was dismissed and Branthover eventually took most of the reigns. He will get the first chance at locking the position down, but will face competition from Eric Kristensen and a few others.
One Fearless Prediction Loeffler will not name a starting quarterback this spring. Leal gets the first team reps to start, but Loeffler will spend time evaluating Motley and especially Ford. However, expect Loffler to hold off on naming a starter until the August camp, as Brewer seems to be the guy he really wants to see perform. At this point in time, I believe Brewer is most likely to start for the Hokies against William & Mary.