No Surprises Offensively In Virginia Tech Football Spring Game

Jared Wickerham

Something about Saturday's Spring Game felt eerily familiar. With so much yet to be determined and unable to be decided on the field, the Hokies went through the paces in a bizarre ending to Spring practice.

Because I had a long trip back after a day out in the blazing sun I am just going to forgo the fancy lede and go position by position, OK? Let's begin:

Quarterbacks

0-17 on third downs. What are the early odds on a futures bet involving AJ Hughes and the Ray Guy award in December? Wait, don't tell me, it might be too tempting. Things were not.....crisp....at Saturday's Annual Maroon-White spring game. The totals would have been even nastier had the quarterbacks been live. Instead they mocked the defenders with the yellow jerseys, and dulled the game greatly for those of us ready to see everyone uncorked.

Though it's never a surprise to see the QBs protected, with Brendan Motley and Mark Leal not having distinguished themselves, it seems like this would have been a year to let the QBs play through some adversity. In a bit of what might be deemed favoritism, however, I would have kept the yellow jersey on Andrew Ford though. The young man looks pretty sturdy, and cannot be counted out come August, even though he received only limited duty yesterday.

Mark Leal looks the same as he did spelling Logan Thomas the very first time back in 2010. We just aren't developing quarterbacks over their time in the program. Whatever preternatural athleticism they come with is what they leave with. Along with a mish-mash of concepts that aren't amounting to a full meal. I can't state it enough, there's a reason Beamer stuck with a scuffling Thomas over Leal, and it's not just him being a good ole, loyal ballcoach---it's because Thomas still "gave us the best chance to win" even when he was sailing picks---if Frank had had other options he would have exercised them. Between that and how much he had invested in his Frankenstein project (converting Thomas from a Tight End to likely first day NFL draftee), Leal could never get a leg up. And now that it should be his, he isn't demonstrating the temerity to take what should be his job opening. I had said somewhat facetiously last week that I expect a transfer announcement to come this week following the spring game. And after going 10-18, for 90 yards (a woeful 5 yards per attempt) and a pick, I still expect Leal to pursue options to play elsewhere. I'd always thought that four years in the system would make him heady enough to handle the position for a year, but you can tell that he's not the right caliber weapon for the job.

Brendan Motley looks like he would be erratic if he saw real game action. The consistency that Beamer touts and favors would not be hallmarks of Motley's game. It is difficult when evaluating our offensive players against our defense because the defense can make the best of the best look silly, so it isn't always a fair assessment. Maybe Motley and Leal look fantastic against the French's first team out of Charlotte's Web but you just can't know. If Brendan Motley were to be compared to an equivalent NFL counterpart, I'd go with Tarvaris Jackson. And nobody is clamoring for Tarvaris Jackson to start games at the QB for them. He can make some plays with his feet, and he has better escape-ability than Leal, but his arm is scattershot. If we were disenchanted with Logan's ability to hit tougher, more precise throws, then neither of these young men are going to turn those frowns upside down.

Anybody with two beans rolling around in their head knows Michael Brewer doesn't leave dust bowl country to come to the hills of Virginia just for the ambiance. He has it on good authority that he can be the man right now. Which means if Leal transfers, you have Motley, Andrew Ford, and Chris Durkin as backing up. If Ford is here already just so he could jump-start his career, then it would be foolish not burn the shirt for now, and have him back up Brewer. This in turn would free Motley up to move to the defensive side of the ball where he is rumored to have shown promise. As a bigger, taller safety he could follow the Jimmy Williams, Aaron Rouse, Kam Chancellor model. As is, we should all be able to agree: He isn't the QB of the future, and he wouldn't compare favorably to Brewer based upon the video we've seen of Brewer. Further, if Ford doesn't back up and takes a red-shirt along with Durkin, that means we will not keep both of those kids in the end. One will come out on top, and the other will leave. So keeping Motley as the number two option with Ford there seems like bad personnel management.

As far as the QBs Saturday performance went, the throws were all over the place, some were on the money while  others were not. Neither Motley nor Leal executed the underneath stuff with much success, as they were mostly forced passes to emergency outlets under duress. They would gun the ball in there way too hard, and then there were some drops as well, one from Deon Newsome being particularly egregious.The fact that the QBs weren't live definitely hurt Motley's cause more because he could have evaded defenders more nimbly than Leal, and been better at running through tackles. There were no surprises from the Hokies in the passing game, and it felt like Groundhog Day at the Cheesecake Factory all over again.

Running Backs

All I hear about JC Coleman: What a great kid, he works so hard! All i can do on most Saturdays is pull my hair out when I watch him though. It's not his fault he's not Mike Imoh, but for some reason we insisted upon him getting the bulk of carries yesterday. Isn't the Spring Game's primary purpose to suss out unknown quantities? Isn't it to find diamonds in the rough? Haven't we all seen enough of JC Coleman to know what we have in the event we need to go to him due to an outbreak of flu or fumblitis among the rest of the RB corps? I'm sorry to keep asking you all these questions, dear readers, but I am truly flummoxed. Nine carries for one yard. I'd rather all of his carries gone to Marshawn Williams who got to tote the rock just six times. Their group did carry the ball against Luther Maddy and Dadi Nicolas however, so that in itself was a tough wrinkle to iron out.

Joel Caleb did have a nice scamper through a very large hole for the only TD of the day. In this crazy numbers game the Hokies are playing at RB, with at least five viable ball carriers in Coleman, Trey Edmunds, Chris Mangus, Marshawn Williams, and Jerome Wright (he's a TB, not a FB if the Sun Bowl didn't deceive me) you'd think Caleb would be looking to stay at the WR spot where there was a lot of transition and too little production. While Caleb's TD was nice and his day overall a good one, you have to think that the running back corps this year is already fairly well-decided.

If you twisted my arm I see it as: Edmunds, Williams, and sadly, Coleman. I'm not sure if it's just because we need to keep some kind of foothold in the 757 and Oscar Smith needs to be kept happy, but I'm not sure what this infatuation with slamming an undersized running back with suspect vision into the offensive line for entire series' at a time.Coleman did have two nice catches out of the backfield, and if used properly he looks capable of giving the team that speed dimension outside the hashes. Inside the tackle box though, it's just a nightmare.

Not only was the utilization of carries a little perplexing with regards to the RB spot, but why is it that Beamer loves to show multiple razzle-dazzle trick plays each Spring? Knowing full-well that when the games come around that his "boys" will tighten up and he won't use them at all. Four end-arounds in 34 designed run plays (I'm not counting Motley or Leal's runs as designed) is a lot of gimmickry. If in fact we are going to go to these plays strategically, should we really give the world four of them on film? I know it'll get the oohs and aahs, but In terms of using time constructively, one would have been sufficient. Outside of that, our defense didn't handle them too well did they? Yikes! That was actually 96 yards of the 191 yards we totaled on the ground. On just four carries. Alas, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Good defense/Bad offense or vice-versa. It's the one true question the spring game really never answers.

Wide Receivers and TIght Ends

South Park #5 pulled up lame. That's my take-away. Please hurry back Joshua Stanford. Or actually, since it's the hammy, take your time. The wide receivers had a very blah day. The QBs were 19-34 for 179 yards. About 5.5 yards per attempt, they were taking checkdowns, and WRs weren't getting open against the defensive backs. With the pass rush looking to be even stronger than last year, the QBs and WRs never really got on the same page. Willie Bryn had the catch of the day, but he had to work too hard for it.

I really have very little to say about this group. It wasn't a very cohesive effort, but with no live QBs, and the offensive play-calling a bit wonky you have issues that weren't going to be rectified in one afternoon of football. We need some of the young players to come aboard and give us a size dimension. The corps is undersized right now, with no big targets to throw at. We've been a bit spoiled that past decade with the two excellent classes of WRs that rolled through, many of whom managed to earn paychecks for playing on Sundays. It's always a tall order selling the Hokie passing game to recruits, considering the mixed success and lack of a 1,000 yard season from any single WR in VT history (even in the 14 game campaigns). Somewhere in this mix of talent we have, we need someone to step forward and claim the "GO-TO" mantle. The Spring Game proved insufficient to our needs in that area.

One situation that could use a little clarity got even murkier. What are we going to do with all of these Tight Ends? Kalvin Cline was very good in replacing Ryan Malleck, who everyone was raving about going into last season. Now we have Bucky Hodges, who stood out to me during virtually every rep. I began to wonder if we could split him wide some in trips sets, and get him isolated in the right fashion on the wrong linebackers. Though he doesn't look like much of a blocker, he strikes me as a scoring tight end. If used properly, he could be part of the solution to the red zone futility the team has struggled through in recent decades.

Offensive Line

They do the best they can. They looked fairly cohesive on a lot of plays, and were vastly improved by the looks of things over last weekend's scrimmage. They took it personally and actually looked aggressive in punching holes in the defensive line. After such a great camp, I had wanted to see Augie Conte, but he was banged up and didn't suit up. Big Jon McLaughlin is still Big Jon and he had his hands full on the day with Nicolas. Caleb Farris looked strong in the middle of the line, and it definitely looks like coach Stacy Searels is teaching them that they have to take what they want out there. I don't know about you but I like my line a little bit dirty, a little bit mean. I want them to want each yard like the greedy "glory boy" running back they're blocking for. I'm looking forward to this unit, and for VT to optimize the talent the program has amassed, this unit needs to drive the bus. It is a deep unit, and if the coaches can simplify the game plan some and match the correct personnel, the group can play with confidence and avoid playing so much on its' heels.

Overall

We need Brewer. We need all our talent in front of us, and we need one of these freshmen Wideouts to pan out and play this year. We need to stop giving JC Coleman the ball in the red zone. We need a shorter playbook. This was the list going into the Spring, and none of that was able to get worked out. I tend to think this situation is tantamount to the dreaded Incomplete grade some of you (never me, not in a million years) might have received on your report cards. We got out of the house after a long, bleak winter and we shook some of the rust off, and broke up the off-season monotony. I'm very happy spring practice ended so late this season, it means less time until September!


If you couldn't be there, you missed a beautiful day, and for most of us that's what weighed most heavily. I'll be back with a unit-by-unit look at Defense and Special Teams tomorrow.

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