The Hokies have finally opened spring practice and the big storylines early on are the Bourbon Backfield, position changes and key position battles. Here's what the experts are saying about the first day of spring ball:
Beyond the Pail
John Graves was awarded the lunch pail by Bud Foster and with good reason. He will need to be the anchor of the defensive line like he was last season. Our ability to stop the run went out the door whenever Graves was out with injury. He will be one of the keys for the defense this season. Mark Viera writes Graves' work ethic on and off the field makes him a perfect keeper of the pail:
Graves is considered a consistent, hard worker and also performs well in the classroom. He was named to the 2009 ACC all-academic team and is graduating this summer with a double major in psychology and sociology.
Jake-a-mania on the Move
Jake Johnson was expected to be a beast at linebacker going into the 2009 season. One year later, fans hope that he'll be a viable option at defensive end. Johnson will be competing for one of two starting DE roles vacated by Jason Worilds and Nekos Brown. His drastic fall from grace starting in late October of last season is noted by Randy King:
I've been on the Tech beat since 1994, and I can't recall a player whose stock has dropped so precipitously so fast.
Johnson always caused chaos from the linebacker position, but was never able to pick up on pass coverages. Hopefully his unselfish decision to agree to a position change will lead to more playing time for him.
Joe over at The Key Play writes that there's no need for even distribution of carries in the Hokies' Bourbon Backfield this season:
Statistically speaking, when you take away what Williams does best, break the big run, he's still lethal and can control a game on the ground. Williams' adjusted yards per carry average for the 2009 season was 4.26, while Evans' overall yards per carry for 2008 is 4.37. That's only .11 yards a carry more! This isn't an Imoh Humes situation, Ryan is capable of doing it all.
It's still important to give the ball to Evans to wear down opposing defenses and give Williams a breather, but Williams' big-play ability is too enticing to leave on the bench for too long.
Because Kickers Need Love, Too
Kyle Tucker has several observations from the first practice, including updates on Josh Oglesby's transition to fullback and Tyrod Taylor's fast start to the spring. However, since I always worry about the kickers more than a rational football fan should, I was just as interested in his note about one of the punter challenging Brian Saunders for the starting job:
P Scott Demler was BOMBING punts today. Hitting ‘em high and deep, several in a row, in the brief time I spent watching the kickers. I also saw Brian Saunders crush a couple. Very good hang time. Not sure about the other fellas. They might well have been hammering kicks, too, but I didn't pay close enough attention to say.
Continue after the jump for news from Our Soon to be Vanquished Foes.
A lot of people are excited about Miami's high-octane spring game. The Canes' offense put up big numbers, which is great and all except for the fact that it came against the Canes' defense. SBN blog The Seventh Floor has more details on who played well on both sides of the ball along with plenty of pictures. The one defensive unit that impressed them was the front four:
The defensive line was getting pressure both in the passing game (pressuring the QB's out of the pocket, forcing throws on the run) and wreaking havoc on the RB's.
Leave it to a former Tar Heel player to provide the best coverage of UNC's spring on the series of tubes. In the Bleachers is impressed with offensive lineman James Hurst, who's working with the first team while Alan Pelc and Carl Gaskins are held out due to injury.
ITB said the offensive line, the weakest link from the Heels a year ago, looks like it has improved across the board:
he surprise is the improvements that Cam Holland has made at center as well, coaches are impressed and at least reportedly toying with going with Gaskins, Cooper, Holland, Pelc and Hurst/Ingersoll up front.
Bird has a nice post on the basics of the 3-4 defense, which the Jackets will implement this season, over at From the Rumble Seat. GT is getting its first taste of Al Groh's NFL-style defense this spring and the concern is whether or not it can come up with the personnel needed to be successful in its first season. More specifically, whether the Jackets can find a big, agile guy who can play defensive tackle.
The Hokies have had success in recent years against 3-4 defenses not anchored by Terrence Cody, so I'm interested to see how we fare against Groh in 2010. It interests Bird as well:
The loss of a defensive lineman means that teams will be tempted to run against Tech and the Groh-fense. We will have to survive a trial by fire against Georgie, VT, and Clemson next season as they seem almost excited to run two to three tight ends against us. If the down linemen cannot tie up 4-5 blockers on every play, the 3-4 is doomed.
Marc Verica has to frustrated with how his career has gone at UVa. The good news for the senior is it now looks like he's going to get his chance to take the reigns of the Hoos' offense while working with his third offensive coordinator in three years:
"When you're installing a new offense, you're going to push the players, and the quarterback's going to have the most on his plate," Lazor said. "Having dealt with a lot of different schemes in the past helps (Verica) picture it, and I think he's got a pretty good mind for it.
"When you're working with a guy at the college level, what you want to see in practice is that the game doesn't get too fast for him. Whenever we've gotten to competitive points in practice, what shows up is that Marc keeps his cool pretty well."
Verica was a decent quarterback when he had time to throw in 2008. However, he still threw 16 interceptions to eight touchdowns, including three games in which he threw three picks or more.
While I'm more interested in how Wake Forest is going to replace its exceptional defensive tackles, most Deacs are concerned with the search for a quarterback. Last week, we told you about Wake's troubles returning to the option. This week we have news of how the QBs looked throwing the ball from Blogger So Dear:
Skylar Jones threw a few good balls, especially on out routes, and showed a good zip in his passes to go along with his mobility. Brendan Cross made some good passes, but also showed his youth and inexperience by underthrowing some of the longer passes and misleading receivers.
True freshman quarterback Devin Burns is making a good impression on Ralph Friedgen, according to Patrick Stevens' D1SCOUSE blog:
"He's doing OK," Friedgen said. "He's very calm guy. He's not going to get flustered. I think he keeps his poise pretty good. I know he's like all these other freshmen. Their heads are spinning with nomenclature. The quarterback, he's got to make the call. Today, he was in there and he wasn't very loud and I think he's kind of an introverted kid from what I can see. I was telling him, 'Devin, you're going to play in front of a lot of people. They better hear you. Let's go.' I'm fairly impressed with him as a kid. I think he'll be fine."