As the long thaw continues across the east coast, Virginia Tech's spring football practice keeps rolling.
The biggest concern the last few seasons has been how to fix Tech's deteriorating run game. A combination of factors culminated in last season being the worst rushing season in Frank Beamer's tenure. Still, there remains optimism on offense.
The Hokies' receiving corps returns Joshua Stanford, Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles and Carlis Parker (who flashed his speed on a few reverses in the Sun Bowl) are the top four with a handful of others looking to get involved in the rotation.
Redshirt sophomore Charley Meyer will look to get on the field more this season. Meyer was expected to have a bigger role in 2013 before an injury and the emergence of Willie Byrn.
Second-year wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead told reporters earlier this week that he hopes to have a 6-man rotation this season, so there's plenty of opportunity for the young guys.
While the receivers improved overall last season, the biggest change may have been in the blocking aspect. Tech was much more physical on the outside and tended to hold blocks for longer giving outside runs a chance to develop.
Receivers aren't the only young players looking to see time on offense. Both the offensive line and running back groups have several underclassmen making strides or looking to make them soon.
New offensive line coach Stacy Searels has been shuffling the line, using this spring to figure out the most likely candidates for the starting five.
Center David Wang has already gotten banged up with an ankle injury, so Caleb Farris moved from left guard to center for the time being. That slid Brent Benedict from right guard to left and moved redshirt freshman Wyatt Teller into the starting slot at right guard. Redshirt sophomore Augie Conte is at starting right tackle for the time being with redshirt senior Laurence Gibson still in the mix.
It's the young guys in Conte, Teller and another former defensive line redshirt sophomore Alston Smith that have people buzzing.
"I think those kids are going to play and are going to play a lot this year,' Searels told the media Tuesday.
While the lineup is far from certain at this point. one thing is clear, Tech's lineman will have to be versatile.
As for the running backs, the Hokies now have lots of options.
Presumptive starter Trey Edmunds and true freshman Shai McKenzie are both out for the spring with injuries, but that still leaves five scholarships tailbacks battling for time on the field.
J.C. Coleman sits atop the depth chart at the moment. Coleman hasn't quite lit the world on fire, but he's still an intriguing prospect and arguably the top contender for the No. 2 tailback spot. Last season, Coleman finished with 284 yards rushing (3.4 YPC) and a touchdown along with 79 yards receiving
492 yards rushing (4.5 YPC) and 132 yards receiving along with three total touchdowns.
Despite his diminutive size, J.C. is a workout warrior and one of the strongest players on the team pound-for-pound. He's tough to bring down in the open field, the trick is getting him there.
True freshman Marshawn Williams is the polar opposite of Coleman. At present, Williams says he's 230 pounds (though HokieSports lists him at 5'11", 224 which is about where he wants to be). Tech has sorely missed having a larger tailback to compliment the smaller speed oriented backs, especially at the goal line.
Williams enrolled early at Tech back in January, but had to wait for the NCAA Clearinghouse to deal with a minor issue regarding his high school transcripts. That kept Marshawn from participating in team meetings and formal team workouts.
That hasn't slowed him much. Williams has impressed his teammates and coaches both with his physical ability, and how quickly he's picked up schemes.
"I’ve been blown away with how he’s picked up things from an intelligence standpoint and getting lined up," running backs coach Shane Beamer said. "He’s as far along as any backs that have been here. I’ve really been surprised from that standpoint."
Virginia Tech will host its first open scrimmage Saturday April 5 at 3 p.m. in Lane Stadium.
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