May 24, 2014

Answers Still Waiting To Be Found For Hokies

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For the second straight year, there weren't many points to be had on the offensive side in Virginia Tech's Spring Game nearly a month ago. 10 points this time around won't ease too many minds in terms of improving the 99th ranked scoring offense (22.5 points per game) of one season ago.

However, there are a lot less questions to be answered on offense heading into August, due to the fact that the unit is returning most of its contributors. But unlike past years, there's questions along the historically dominant front seven of the Hokie defense.

One area which has never really had many concerns is in the secondary, where Virginia Tech could boast the best cornerback tandem (Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller) in the country. And they're both sophomores. That will undoubtedly be the strength of this team, and the group should produce plenty of turnovers and short fields.

Here are five questions that Virginia Tech needs to answer before their battle with William and Mary (most importantly, Ohio State) at the end of August:

1. Running back rotation: Who fits where?

Current New York Giants running back David Wilson had 1,709 yards rushing in his final season in the maroon and orange in 2011. In 2012, four Virginia Tech running backs combined to rush for 1,258 yards. In 2013, the backs took another step backward, combining for 1,163 yards.

However, unlike in both seasons, the Hokies have plenty of horses in the stable. It's just going to be a question of figuring out how to use each of their talents best.

If Trey Edmunds returns to his late 2013 form, it will be hard to see anyone unseat the redshirt sophomore from the starting spot. In his final four games, Edmunds produced seven touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards a carry and accumulated 343 total yards. If he's healthy, there's no reason why that won't be the player we see take the field on Saturday's.

True freshman Marshawn Williams could add some power in short-yardage situations, and may help the Hokies improve upon their 55% touchdown rate in the red zone in 2013. Joel Caleb was the best weapon at running back in the Spring Game, rushing for over 40 yards and a touchdown burst. He could be in line for a breakout year if given the chance.

Speedster J.C. Coleman is the veteran of the group, although he's still only a junior. With likely a more seasoned offensive line, he could find some holes to the outside to keep the defense spread out. Chris Mangus adds a receiving threat to the group, and is most productive in the third down role.

So there's clearly no shortage of options.

Running backs coach Shane Beamer has a tough task ahead of him in picking and choosing where to use his players.

2.. Will there be a noticeable jump in the offensive line play?

Even though there's a new coach guiding the troops in the trenches, there's no reason why the offensive line shouldn't make a huge improvement in both pass and run blocking. That's even with 2013's best lineman, Andrew Miller, gone to the Buccaneers.

The Hokies have two returning tackles in Jonathan McLaughlin and Laurence Gibson, and both made considerable strides in their first year starting in 2013. Expect this to be the strength of the unit, and whoever lines up at quarterback will be fortunate to have those two blocking blitzing defensive ends.

Youngsters Augie Conte and Wyatt Teller seem primed to make an impact at the guard positions, and their progress may ultimately decide just how good the group will be. Both players showed all signs of being ready to play at this level, and they will be responsible for moving that interior ground game and keeping the pocket in tact.

At center, a battle between Caleb Farris and David Wang will yield a battle-tested anchor in the middle, as both have seen significant time in their Hokie careers. The jousting will likely continue throughout the season, as the backup will surely be thrust into the starting role if need be.

The run-game is sure to improve after two lackluster seasons, and this group of players will be the main factor in determining the limitations of the running game production.

3. There's plenty of holes in the defensive line rotation. Who fills them?

After seeing the likes of longtime stalwarts J.R. Collins, James Gayle, and Derrick Hopkins graduate, the Hokies are going to have to figure out how to replace their output. Luther Maddy (109 tackles, 11.5 sacks in 29 starts) is the only returner with significant playing experience.

Dadi Nicholas will be looked upon to be a complete playmaker this season after recording 4 sacks while establishing himself as a force on the edge in 2013. Ken Ekanem will likely line up opposite Nicholas, and all Spring signs point to the redshirt sophomore having a breakout campaign.

Corey Marshall returned to the team after a brief hiatus, but he will likely be an x-factor in the interior after showing promise in his first two years in the orange and maroon. Vinny Mihota, Nigel Williams, and DeWayne Alford will all be looked upon to provide a spark and create not much of a drop-off between the first and second units.

The secondary will be fantastic, but will the Hokies be able to attack the quarterback as well as they have in the past?

4. Who will be Virginia Tech's leading scorer?

This is sort of a trick question, considering a team's high-scorer in points is always the kicker. But who will be handling the kicking duties in 2014?

After having to scramble because of the Cody Journell dismissal in 2013, the Hokies will have to find a reliable foot that is consistent. Redshirt junior and University of Richmond transfer Remington Hinshaw has the job for now, but Eric Kristensen was 4-5 in field goals (4-4 in extra points) after taking over late last season. This should be an interesting battle to watch in fall camp.

The competition will only help whoever ends up winning the battle.

5. Last but certainly not least, who lines up behind center?

For the first time since 2011, there is a quarterback battle in Blacksburg. And whomever the victorious party is, he will likely be the biggest factor in how good the Hokies can be in 2014.

Brenden Motley seized the job in Spring practice over veteran backup Mark Leal, but neither was especially impressive in the Spring showcase game. Virginia Tech would likely be fine employing either of the two. Freshman Andrew Ford doesn't seem to be quite ready to handle the speed of the college game- he'll likely be redshirted.

However, the 2014 Virginia Tech quarterback may have just stepped on campus for summer classes. And he could take the team to a higher level. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer steps into a perfect situation, and he will be given every opportunity to seize the job early in August. His Spring game tapes (the best we can judge of Brewer) are impressive, and the gunslinger can make every throw on the field while also owning impressive accuracy.

It will be quite the heated battle for equally the most criticized and praised position in sports.




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