Previewing Virginia Tech's spring football practices, which begin Wednesday, March 30.
The Hokies don't have to replace a lot of seniors from their 2010 ACC championship team, but the ones they do have left behind large shoes to fill. The one thing we do know is that barring injury, Logan Thomas will be Virginia Tech's starting quarterback in 2011. But what about the other key positions? Many of them won't be decided until this fall, but spring practice will give us a good idea how the depth chart will look this fall.
1. Back-up Running Back
David Wilson will be the featured back for the Hokies this season, but as we've discussed before, he needs a partner in crime. Tech is at its best when it has two capable backs sharing the load and it will be no different with Wilson. Specifically, the Hokies need a short-yardage running back who can get the tough yards that Wilson had trouble picking up.
We don't know for sure if Josh Oglesby will be moved back to tailback from fullback, but you'd assume he'll be the top candidate to back up Wilson when the season starts. Another candidate, the speedy Tony Gregory, likely won't participate in spring drills after tearing his ACL covering a punt against North Carolina in November.
Oglesby's a player who we've always been told was "about to turn a corner" by the coaching staff. But while he's excelled in practice, that success has rarely manifest itself in games. He'll be a senior next year, so he's running out of corners. Gregory had a good spring in 2010, but only carried the ball 23 times last year in a crowded backfield.
The job is Oglesby's to lose if he moves back to tailback. With Gregory sidelined, he can either lock down the job by playing well or leave the door open for Gregory in the fall with a sub-par effort.
2. Mike Linebacker
There aren't any unfamiliar faces competing for Tech's inside linebacker position, but its embarrassment of riches at mike linebacker could lead to a fundamental change in the Hokies' defense.
Barquell Rivers should be back at full speed after a devastating quad injury last summer that kept him out until the Orange Bowl. With Rivers on the sidelines, Bruce Taylor took over at mike and earned second-team all-conference honors. He then moved to backer for the Orange Bowl for the injured Lyndell Gibson and gave way to Jack Tyler and Rivers at mike.
With all three back next year, along with Gibson and the promising Chase Williams back at backer, is it possible the Hokies will try to get three of the five on the field at the same time? BCO from The Key Play thinks Tech will ditch the whip linebacker position and do exactly that. If they do, we'll likely get our first look at during the spring.
3. Left Tackle
A turf toe injury during fall camp hampered the development of Nick Becton, who potentially could have been a three-year starter at LT according to the coaching staff. Becton gave way to Andrew Lanier, who started all 14 games last year and was inconsistent.
Becton should now be at full speed and should challenge to take over the position from Lanier after getting about a quarter of the snaps at LT last season. He would make the Hokies bigger on the offensive line by nearly 40 pounds if he's able to supplant Lanier. If Lanier keeps the job, Tech will start four seniors on the line in 2010.
4. Defensive End
The Hokies will have to replace both starting defensive ends for the second consecutive year. Last year, they lost two starters due to graduation and early entry in the draft. This year, it's graduation and a position change. Chris Drager, who was arguably Tech's most consistent pass rusher last year, had been moved back to tight end, which is depleted after the departure of Andre Smith.
Fortunately for the Hokies, they aren't completely bereft of talent at end. J.R. Collins and James Gayle both played well as freshmen last year and will be joined by redshirt freshmen Zack McCray and Duan Perez-Means. All are still very young and how they perform in the spring will go a long way to alleviating any concerns fans have about what is probably the most important position to what Tech tries to do on defense.
Once again, Tech will have a new kicker after Chris Hazley's record-setting year in his only season as the Hokies' starter. The Hokies have had five different kickers each of the last five years and will have a sixth in 2011. Will their run of good luck with walk-ons who earn scholarships their senior year continue?
If another senior wins the job, it will likely be Justin Myer, who has handled Tech's kickoff duties the last three years. He has a big leg, but inconsistency and height on kicks have kept him from winning the job before. His biggest challenge will come from Conor Goulding, a redshirt freshman from Florida, and Cody Journell, a sophomore from Giles High School.
With a first-year quarterback at the helm, odds are Tech is going to be in more close games than they were in 2010. It stands to reason at least one of them will come down to a kick.