July 20, 2013

Summer Questions #2: Thomas' Help

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Summer Questions Series No. 2: Does Logan Thomas have enough help?

This fall, senior quarterback Logan Thomas is looking to rebound under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler after a poor 2012 season. He is working on his fundamentals and technique to improve as a signal caller. But does he have enough help around him to truly be successful this season? That is one of the big questions heading into 2013.

In 2011, Thomas was at the top of his game. While guiding the Hokies to an 11-3 record and a spot in the Sugar Bowl, Thomas had help in the form of 1,709 yards and nine touchdowns from David Wilson, 61 catches and 761 yards from Jarrett Boykin, and 60 catches and 904 yards from Danny Coale. Add in a combined 590 yards from third and fourth receivers D.J. Coles and Marcus Davis plus another 371 yards on the ground from Josh Oglesby and there was no shortage of talent for Thomas to rely on as he matured as a quarterback.

Then, Wilson, Boykin, Coale, and Oglesby graduated, Coles got hurt, and the Hokies were left with Davis as Thomas' biggest help on the field. Davis deserves all the credit he gets, as he caught 51 passes for 953 yards, nearly becoming the first Virginia Tech receiver to surpass the 1,000 yard mark for a season. Corey Fuller also took a huge leap forward to provide a one-two punch that essentially matched Boykin and Coale's statistical production.

The big problem last year was the lack of a ground game. Between J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory, and Michael Holmes, the Hokies could not produce a consistent threat from the tailback position. The passing game depended on Thomas, and so did the running game.

This leads us to 2013. Now, the wide receiver cupboard is completely barren, as the leading receivers returning are Coleman (21 catches, 132 yards) and Demitri Knowles (19 catches, 240 yards). Guys like Coles (knee injury), Kevin Asante (2 catches, 18 yards), Josh Stanford (1 catch, 9 yards), and Joel Caleb (redshirted) are being counted upon to consistently beat high-major defensive backs.

Improved accuracy and decision making from Thomas will certainly help, as the passing stats last year could have been much higher had Thomas been able to consistently find his targets, but at the same time, what if these guys can't get open? What if Thomas is left going through his third and fourth progression before trying to squeeze a ball into tight coverage or being forced to tuck and run again? How will this offense be any better than the 2012 version?

Two ways. Loeffler, and the ground game. There is a level of expectation that Loeffler's play calling will dwarf that of the past decade. Better play calling means players are in position to make plays more and maybe the natural speed of a guy like Knowles or the physical ability of a guy like Caleb can make the difference.

The other key to improvement is on the ground where Gregory and Coleman return at tailback, but also in the mix is redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds.

Edmunds seems to be the favorite heading into fall camp to emerge as the number one with Coleman and Gregory behind him, in that order. However, as Coleman proved last year, a freshman playing his first collegiate games is no sure thing, no matter how much time they spent preparing. The Hokies were spoiled by the likes of Darren Evans (287 carries, 1,265 yards, 11 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman) and Ryan Williams (293 carries, 1,655 yards, 21 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman). Edmunds certainly isn't a sure thing to produce any kind of consistency in the backfield.

Coleman could take a giant leap forward in year two, but the question remains whether he can handle a full-time load, or whether his quickness and speed is better used a change of pace back and a threat out of the backfield. Then there is Gregory, who has battled injuries and may not have enough natural ability to really be that workhorse back the Hokies so desperately need.

I wrote earlier this week about what to expect from Thomas in 2013. It depends on these guys. It depends on the ability of these young skill players to make defenses think about someone other than Thomas. That's what made the 2011 offense effective. Is it Thomas with the ball or NFL first rounder David Wilson? Is Thomas going to tuck and run or throw it to one of the best receivers in school history?

Loeffler will have Thomas ready to be the kind of quarterback that can make players around him better. But will these guys be ready to step up and reciprocate the effort? Do that, and the Hokies are ACC Championship contenders.

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