2011 Virginia Tech Spring Football: 5 Players to Watch

Previewing Virginia Tech's spring football practices, which begin Wednesday, March 30. Previously: 5 Position Battles to WatchACC Update. Note: According to Beamerball.com, the Hokies will have two open scrimmages to the public in addition to the Spring Game. The first is Saturday, April 9 at 11 a.m. The second is Friday, April 15 at 7 p.m. Both are open to the public and will be at Lane Stadium.

We continue our look at Virginia Tech's upcoming spring practice with a list of guys you may want to keep an eye on. Whether they're heir apparents at key positions, young guys with tremendous upside potential or upper classmen running out of time to prove themselves, this will be a key spring for these five guys. Mmmmmmmmmm, Five Guys.

1. Logan Thomas, QB

In reality, Thomas could make up the entire list, 1-5. Tech's viability as an ACC title contender will rely on the sophomore's ability to make the Hokies' offense his own. Fortunately for him, Tech clearly made the 2010 schedule with the idea that it would be breaking in a first-year QB in mind. The Hokies open with Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall.

The key for Thomas during spring practice will be getting accustomed to being THE guy for the Hokies. Because of this, we really shouldn't focus on results or stats, which you can typically take with several large grains of salt anyway during spring practice.

Instead, we need to know how his timing is with his receivers and how much confidence he gains as a leader. Tyrod Taylor might have been the best leader the Hokies' have had on offense in the 20+ plus years I've been following this team (it's neck-and-neck with Bryan Randall).

In addition to that, you want to see how his mechanics look: Are the hand-offs seamless or are they wasting valuable tenths of a second in transition? Does he tip off which way the run is going based on which leg is back when under center? It's the little things that matter in spring ball. 

2. Nick Acree, DT

Last year, a photo of the monstrous Acree dwarfing a COSTUMED Hokie Bird made its rounds in the Virginia Tech blogosphere and quickly turned him into a cult hero. He was listed at 6-5, 301 last year as a true freshman and who knows what that will be boosted to now that he has a full year of Gentryfication under his belt.

Acree could conceivably anchor the middle of the defensive line as a freshman and I've wondered if his presence could even facilitate a switch to the 3-4 on a full-time basis. Expectations couldn't be higher for Acree, which could pose a problem because it will probably be nearly impossible for him to live up to them. The last cult hero on Bud Foster's defense is now at South Alabama.

Fortunately for Acree, he doesn't have to be any kind of wunderkind right off the bat, although it would be great if he did. The Brothers Hopkins could start at both defensive tackle spots and do just fine for the Hokies, allowing Acree more time to develop into the rampaging God of Thunder Tech fans want him to be.

Spring ball is his first chance to show us how much pain we can expect him to bring this season.

3. Chris Drager, TE

Dragerbomb'd was always my favorite meme (I hate that word but couldn't find a better one) from The Key Play. Even more so than David Wilson Eats Chick-fil-A on Sundays. So I was obviously a little sad to see Drager moved from defensive end back to tight end, where he had played the last two seasons.

Drager was a promising tight end until switching to defense after 2009 spring practice. He excelled during that 2009 spring session and caught four passes for 41 yards in the Maroon-White game. He was switched to defense shortly after due to depth problems at the position and morphed into Tech's most consistent pass rusher in 2010. Now, the Hokies need him at tight end due to depth issues there.

Now that Andre Smith has exhausted his eligibility, Tech is left with no proven players at tight end. They need Drager's transition back to offense to be as seamless as possible and for him to have a productive senior year. Tech's receiving corps is good enough that it doesn't need Drager to be spectacular. He just needs to bring stability to the position.

4. Vinston Painter, OT

You have to think that eventually Painter will live up to the tremendous billing he had coming out of high school. He was Tom Lemming's 81st-ranked player in the country as a high school senior and came to Tech as a defensive tackle.

He moved to right guard after his redshirt season and is now in his fourth year in the program and third year on the offensive line. Painter may have been able to steal playing time from Jaymes Brooks or Greg Nosal in 2010, but suffered a knee injury during spring practice that limited his development. He was having an excellent spring before the injury.

Now's the time for Painter to see the field if he's ever going to do it and I think he will if he can stay healthy. He'll move to tackle this spring, which is probably less crowded than guard.

5. Cris Hill, CB

All signs point to sophomore Kyle Fuller as the Hokies' starting boundary cornerback next season. As a freshman, he jumped Hill in the depth chart and started at field corner against ECU when Jayron Hosley was suspended. He also got the nod against Virginia and Florida State when Carmichael was out with an ankle injury. But Hill, as senior, will probably get at least a chance to earn the job.

Hill is the defense's answer to Josh Oglesby. He was highly recruited out of high school and has always received glowing reviews from the coaching staff during spring and fall practices. But he hasn't seen the field much because a younger, more talented player has always come along to snatch away playing time whenever he's left the door open with inconsistent play.

Last year, Hill was great in the spring and did well enough in the fall that he and Hosley were going to split time at field corner. They did exactly that against Boise State and Hill was unlucky enough to be one of two guys in coverage (along with Jeron Gouveia-Winslow) when Austin Pettis grabbed the Broncos' game-winning touchdown. He wouldn't see a play from scrimmage again until mop-up duty against BC.

So now here is Hill with one last chance to turn the corner. Torrian Gray said Hill did it last year during spring, but he clearly regressed to the point that a true freshman was able to take away his playing time three weeks into the season. From what I can gather from what I've read about Hill over the years, it's that he's a talented guy with a ton of talent who can't get over the big mental hurdle it takes to play football at a BCS school. If he can do that, and prove he can do it consistently on the field, he could very well wrestle away the starting boundary job from Fuller.

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