The Hokies open spring practice Wednesday with the spring game scheduled for April 24 at Lane Stadium. They will again be highly ranked, but will need several players to step up at key positions in order to contend for a fourth ACC title. This year's spring practice will tell us a lot about how talented the 2010 edition of Hokie football will be.
1. Defensive End
Both starters, Jason Worilds and Nekos Brown, are gone and there's an interesting list of guys who could replace them. First, there's the returning defensive ends from last year. Junior Chris Drager moved to defensive end from tight end last year and by the end of the year looked pretty good. This will be his first spring at defensive end after being one of the better offensive players during 2009 spring practice while at tight end. Steven Friday will be a redshirt senior who has played in 24 games at DE. Junior Jake Johnson is moving from linebacker to defensive end this spring, where he could be an animal. Then there's the newcomers, including J.R. Collins, James Gayle, Tyrel Wilson and Duan Perez-Means and guys who aren't on the roster yet like Zack McCray. All will get their chance to earn playing time.
This is by far the most important position for the Hokies. Their defense depends on pressure on the quarterback to make everything work so out of that laundry list of potential defensive ends, we have to find at least three who can get to the quarterback consistently.
2. Back-up Quarterback
Tyrod Taylor went through an entire season without getting hurt (knock on wood, rub lucky rabbits foot, pray to cthulhu) so we didn't need to throw rising sophomore Ju-Ju Clayton into the fire last season while Logan Thomas was redshirting. The questions we need to answer this spring are: "How good is Logan Thomas?" and "How much has Ju-Ju Clayton improved?"
Hopefully the answers to these questions will have a much bigger impact 2011 than 2010, but it's still good to have a security blanket.
3. Left Tackle
Ed Wang departs and it's been argued (successfully) junior Blake DeChristopher doesn't have the wing-span or agility to move from right tackle to left tackle. This means sophomore Nick Becton and junior Andrew Lanier will likely get first cracks at being the starting left tackle. Becton backed up Wang at the position in 2009 while Lanier backed up DeChristopher on the right side.
Both are tall guys with long arms. The one that shows the footwork and agility that will help improve Tech's extremely poor pass blocking will be the one who starts. The pass blocking absolutely has to get better in 2010 and I think it will with either of these two at left tackle.
4. Whip Linebacker
It looks like sophomore Alonzo Tweedy has the jump on being Tech's next whip linebacker. However, along with every other guy competing for the spot, Tweedy is an unknown commodity. Can he, sophomore Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, freshman Telvion Clark or another player step up and produce like Cody Grimm did in 2009? Probably not, but the Hokies can't afford for there to be a big drop-off at whip this year because whoever wins the job will be relied on to help put pressure on the quarterback.
For the fifth consecutive year, the Hokies will have a new kicker. Pace beget Dunleavy, who beget Keys, who beget Waldron. So far, Tech has rolled sevens in the kicking craps game but you never know when snake eyes will bite you.
Competing for the position this year are freshman Cody Journell and junior Justin Myer who performed well as our kickoff specialist in 2009. As always, there will be someone who literally comes out of nowhere to compete for this job. Right now my money's on Myer, who hopefully has improved his accuracy. If he has, the Hokies will again be fine at kicker, this time for more than one season.