It's out with the old, in with the new in the Virginia Tech backfield. David Wilson is gone, taking his 1,709 yards and nine rushing touchdowns from last season with him. Left to replace him this spring is a collection of challengers with experience ranging from hardly any to absolutely none.
While there are other concerns the coaching staff hopes to alleviate this spring — namely the offensive line — no other position will be as closely watched as running back, a position of excellence for the better part of two decades in Blacksburg.
After the jump, we'll examine each of the potential ball-carriers in 2012.
#20 Michael Holmes (R-Fr.), 5-11, 208 lbs.
The coaches have been very pleased with Holmes' work this spring after redshirting in 2011. The players also seem to expect great things from Holmes. Logan Thomas needed to pump the brakes, though, when he put Holmes' name in the same sentence with Ryan Williams after the first practice. Shane Beamer said in the off-season that Holmes has his own unique style that's unlike any Tech runner in recent years.
Holmes boasts a blend of power and speed that excites the coaching staff, including Frank Beamer, who's been very complimentary of the Harrisonburg native all spring. . He's not the home run threat that Wilson or Williams was, rather more in line with Darren Evans, who could churn it out between the tackles but also turn the corner for a big gain every so often. In two mini-scrimmages plus Saturday's public practice, Holmes has 13 carries for 37 yards. Of all those hoping to get the first carry against Georgia Tech, Holmes seems to have the fewest weaknesses.
#4 J.C. Coleman (Fr.), 5-7, 176 lbs.
Coleman graduated early from Tidewater powerhouse Oscar Smith knowing he had a strong chance of playing immediately at Tech. The extra 15 practices he's experienced will give him a leg up on fellow incoming freshmen who won't arrive until the summer.
Coleman is a speedster, scat-back style runner in a loosely similar mold to Mike Imoh. He's a good fit in a spread scheme, which Tech really began to implement last season. Coleman is obviously most dangerous in space on the perimeter. Like most freshman running backs, Coleman looked very tentative between the tackles on Saturday. He must learn quickly to trust his vision and his blockers, because he can't simply outrun the defense to the sideline anymore. How quickly he progresses in that respect will have a direct impact on how critical his role will be this season.
Drew Harris (Fr.), 6-1, 210 lbs.
Harris was in town for the Hokies' first spring practice, and told reporters he hoped to bulk up to a comfortable 220 pounds before August. Of all the backs hoping to earn the starting nod, Harris best looks the part. A torn ACL derailed most of his final highs school season, but he'll be 100 percent in time for fall practice.
Harris hits the line with good acceleration, and showed good agility for a back of his size in his high school tape. Unlike Coleman, Harris has the potential to be an every-down back, which could actually make things a little tougher for Harris in fall camp. Coleman seemingly fills an immediate as a change-of-pace back and possible kick return specialist.
It makes sense to think that Harris and Holmes will go toe-to-toe as the more traditional runner in the Tech backfield. That could end up being entirely wrong, but it's what makes sense to me.If that is the case, Holmes has the edge simply because of his extra year in the system. That comes into play when talking about pass protection, especially, which is a critical deciding factor in this race.
Drew Harris Downingtown East 2010 football highlights (via DrewHarris3838)
Martin Scales (R-Sr.), 5-11, 225 lbs.
Shane Beamer moved Scales from fullback this spring primarily out of depth concerns, but Scales has embraced the opportunity. On Saturday, he showed off a physical running style that led to 26 yards on six carries. With Joey Phillips firmly entrenched as the fullback, it's not crazy to think Scales could serve as a short-yardage specialist. The only problem with that is, what's the need for a short-yardage specialist at running back when you already have one at quarterback? Logan Thomas is a walking, talking two-yard-gain machine.
Tony Gregory (R-Jr.), 6-10, 180 lbs.
Shane Beamer didn't shut the door completely on Gregory's chances to win the starting job, but it doesn't look good. Not only is Gregory recovering from knee surgery following the Sugar Bowl, but he's spent the off-season learning the cornerback position as the Hokies try to build depth in the secondary. You have to think if there was a legitimate chance Gregory would be the featured running back this fall, they would have found someone else to try and bolster a depleted secondary.
Even in limited appearances, Gregory has never impressed as a runner. He's dealt with ball security issues and a lack conviction in hitting the hole at the line. Basically, he has similar concerns as J.C. Coleman, only Gregory has been here for three and a half years already. I'd be stunned if Gregory was even a factor in this mix when he returns to the field in August.
Chris Mangus (Fr.), 6-0, 180 lbs.
Mangus is another small but quick back who is a good fit in the spread. He can shake a tackler and looks like a reliable pass-catcher. He needs to add weight to a slender frame, but once he does that, he'll be a factor for the Hokies. Hard to see him avoiding a redshirt in 2012, though.
Trey Edmunds (Fr.), 6-2, 205 lbs.
The Hokies recruited Edmunds without knowing whether he'd end up as a running back or linebacker. Rivals rated him the No. 16 outside linebacker in the country, but he was a dominant running back at Dan River High. With so many promising freshman at running back, it seem like Edmunds' best chance to see the field earlier in his career would be on defense. Holmes, Coleman and Harris all seem firmly entrenched in the backfield for years to come. Edmunds could be an eye-opener if he gets the chance this fall, but I'd bet on seeing Edmunds under Bud Fosters' watch for his stay in Blacksburg.