April 26, 2014

Spring Game Preview

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Virginia Tech's 2014 spring session concludes today with the annual spring game inside Lane Stadium. The Hokies are far from a finished product and this will be the last chance before August to compete full tilt on the field. What can we expect on Saturday?

Quarterbacks Look to Impress
All eyes will be on the quarterback situation, as offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is trying to figure out who will lead this team come September. Both Mark Leal and Brenden Motley are banged up with knee and ankle injuries, respectively.

Leal's knee has bothered him for most of the spring, while Motley went down on Tuesday. With Michael Brewer and Chris Durkin arriving this summer, Leal and Motley need this Saturday to prove themselves ahead of their arrival.

If they can't play, the keys to the spring game will be handed over to freshman Andrew Ford. He is behind Motley and Leal on the depth chart right now, so this would be a huge opportunity for him to make a move.

Marshawn Williams' chance to shine
One of the most impressive players this spring has been freshman running back Marshawn Williams. He is a bowling ball of a tailback and has shown a ton of ability over the last three weeks. With Trey Edmunds working his way back, Williams has shown that he should definitely be on the field this fall. The spring game gives him the chance to show what he can do to a vast majority of Virginia Tech fans that haven't seen him yet. Consider it an introduction of sorts.

With Williams impressive and Edmunds likely to return in the fall, the pressure is on for backups J.C. Coleman, Joel Caleb, and Chris Mangus to keep up on the depth chart. All three will get their chance to shine on Saturday and must impress if they hope to get in the mix at a suddenly loaded position for the Hokies.

Hodges a new weapon at tight end
Redshirt freshman Bucky Hodges came to VT as a quarterback but made the move to tight end in the middle of the fall. With returners Ryan Malleck and Kalvin Cline out injured this spring, Hodges has gotten a ton of reps with the first unit. He gives the Hokies a legitimate weapon in the passing game at tight end and has drawn rave reviews from nearly everyone since he made the move. I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a play that becomes the story of the day Saturday.

Loeffler likes to use Hodges as the wildcat quarterback and run a bunch of Logan Thomas-style zone-reads that get Hodges' big frame going forward on the ground. You may see a little bit of that Saturday as I suspect it will be a big part of the offense in the fall, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see Loeffler sit on it to keep it far from the eyes of opposing coaches.

Searels' group under scrutiny
Finally, all eyes will be on the play of the offensive line. New offensive line coach Stacy Searels has spent a good portion of this spring trying to figure out his best combination. If the line plays poorly, there will likely be a ton of concern heading into the summer.

The key here is to not overreact when the second team offensive line is battling the first team defensive line. The first team defensive line is going to win those battles the vast majority of the time. It's when the Hokies go first team versus first team that you should pay attention to how they perform.

Second Team DL needs to emerge
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has offered nothing but praise for the play of his defensive line, particularly defensive tackle Luther Maddy and defensive end Ken Ekanem. There shouldn't be any concern about that first unit. However, the Hokies desperately need some guys to step up on the second unit up front. Some reinforcements are enrolling in the fall, but it is hard to count on true freshmen to contribute from day one. Watch the second unit closely on today.

Riley Impresses in Facyson's Absence
Cornerback Brandon Facyson's injury this spring has allowed Donovan Riley to develop into a very capable third cornerback for the fall. He's an impressive open field tackler and has gotten much better in coverage. Besides Ekanem, he has probably helped himself the most this spring defensively.

For the most part, the first eleven for the defense is mostly set. Linebackers Deon Clarke and Chase Williams must prove themselves as every down players, but most of the competition is further down on the depth chart. It's really no surprise that Foster has his first unit nearly ready to go months before the season starts.

Hinshaw vs. Branthover at kicker
The Hokies will punt a good bit on Saturday, but A.J. Hughes is a very good punter and that is of no concern at this point. The kicking battle will be the most interesting thing to watch, as Remington Hinshaw overtook Michael Branthover over the last two weeks to give him the edge. Beamer always likes to see how his kickers perform in front of a big crowd and that's exactly what Saturday provides. Hinshaw leads, but Branthover could make a big move if Hinsaw struggles.

The return units are usually pretty tame during spring games, as teams don't want to get their guys hurt on coverage units and returns. The Hokies have been using two guys on punt return during the scrimmages, so expect to see that and a lot of fair catches on Saturday.

One More Thing
If you are attending the spring game on Saturday, keep an eye on defensive backs coach Torrian Gray. Gray usually sets up shop deep down the field behind the defensive secondary and reacts in real-time to the plays as they develop. He's very demonstrative when he sees a chance to make a big play and the mannerisms and emotions that follow are usually extremely entertaining.

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