The spring game saw young players like Logan Thomas and Antone Exum take advantage of opportunities given to them on a big stage in front of 40,000 Hokie fans. But while the spring game certainly gave us a good idea of what the long-term future looks like for the program, there are still a lot of key issues the Hokies need to address before they face the Broncos on FedEx Field. We have a lot of reasons to be optimistic coming out of spring drills, but more questions to worry about for the next three months before fall camp begins.
Oh and if you had any doubt, this post should prove that I'm a pessimist.
Taylor played only the first half of the spring game and didn't look outstanding, but he did have a solid spring camp. According to the beat writers he looked solid in practice and in every scrimmage. Taylor had a much better 2009 season after a disappointing sophomore campaign. His senior year could be a special one if he already looks to be in mid-season form in April. He's without a doubt the leader of Tech's offense and the other guys feed off him during games. The key will be keeping him upright when drops back to pass.
Steven Friday and John Graves.
Tech needs a defensive end to step up the way Jason Worilds did a year ago. Friday, a redshirt senior, looks like he's going to be that guy. He had an outstanding spring and recorded two sacks in the spring game. One of those sacks resulted in a safety after he beat left tackle Andrew Lanier and took down Logan Thomas in the end zone. If Friday has a big year, a lot of the doubts about the inexperienced defensive line will disappear. Graves is Graves and will be out on the field "as long as he's breathing." Hopefully that's all year since our run defense took a nose-dive when Graves was out last year.
Both Antone Exum and Cris Hill played well late in spring camp and will put pressure on Eddie Whitley and Jayron Hosley for the starting free safety and field corner spots. The secondary is talented and deep and fortunate to have a guy like Whitley who could play all four positions.
Will the offensive line be improved?
We didn't get a good look at the offensive line this spring because it was split up for the spring game. Center Beau Warren, guard Jaymes Brooks and right tackle Blake DeChristopher and known commodities and solid performers. Left tackle Nick Becton appears ready and should be capable at the position. The other guard, Greg Nosal, has experience and played well last season. The problem is we have no idea how these guys will play together once the season starts. If they don't play well as a unit, then having Ryan Williams and Darren Evans won't matter, just like having star running backs didn't matter for Clemson in 2008. The pass blocking has to improve and improve quickly or we'll spend another season watching Tyrod get sacked. And the depth of the O-line is in serious doubt after spring injuries to Michael Via and Vinston Painter. I'm extremely concerned about the line and probably will be until the Boise State game. Or beyond depending on how that game goes.
How will the carries be distributed?
Williams was held out for much of spring practice with a knee injury, so little can be gleaned as far as who will get carries and when. I anticipate Williams will start, Evans will get carries the middle part of the game to wear down opposing defensive fronts and then you'll see a lot of Williams in the 4th quarter like our version of Neftali Feliz: A closer with a 99-mph fastball. I'm also interested to see how many carries Josh Oglesby will get as our new B-back-ish fullback. None of this will probably be answered until late August or during the Boise game.
Will Barquell Rivers be ready by the opener?
Bruce Taylor was solid at mike linebacker during spring drills while Rivers was sidelined with a torn quad. While initial reports had him out 3-4 months, it's now looking like Rivers will need 5-6 months to recover from his injury. Since his surgery was in the first week of March, his time-table stretches right up to kickoff of the Boise game. Taylor looks like he's going to be a good player, but Rivers was playing at a very high level at the end of 2009 and there's no else I'd rather see at mike when we kickoff against the Broncos. It's a Catch-22 with Rivers' injury. The Boise game is an important one, but if he plays before he's ready it could be an injury that lingers and affects him the whole season. If he can't go, hopefully Taylor can step up.
Who will be the kicker?
Kickoff specialist Justin Myer played poorly during the spring and highly-touted freshman Cody Journell has been sidelined with a hip injury. That leaves reshirt-senior Chris Hazley as your starting kicker if the season started today. How inexperienced is Hazley? Virginia Tech's official roster lists him with no assigned number and he doesn't have a bio on HokieSports.com. The Hokies have had a lot of success with r-Sr. kickers who have won the job right before their last season of eligibility, but it still doesn't have me supremely confident should the Boise game come down to a field goal.