As spring practice draws near, there are many questions abound for the 2014 Virginia Tech Hokies football team. The question we are addressing today: Who among the players will step up and assume the leadership roles during this transition period.
The Hokies lost a slew of senior leaders on both sides of the ball starting with former fifth year senior quarterback Logan Thomas. Despite his up and down play throughout his career, you could count on Thomas to be there to provide leadership and continuity. On the opposite end the of the spectrum, there's Andrew Miller who provided the tough guy attributes that everyone admired and respected, even if he wasn't that vocal. Sometimes you need a guy who can also lead by example to balance it out, and Miller provided just that.
Losing only two senior leaders on offense seems like a victory of sorts, but when your quarterback was assigned so much (sometimes too much) responsibility, all bets are off. That's a huge void to fill for any team, let alone the sputtering Tech offense. But wait, we have fifth year senior in Mark Leal waiting in the wings! Oh yeah, about that...
Leal didn't get such a ringing endorsement from Head Coach Frank Beamer after his horrible performance relieving the injured Thomas during the Sun Bowl versus UCLA, and with former Texas Tech QB Michael Brewer set to enter the fray this summer, we probably won't know until late summer who is going to step forward as signal-caller.
WHO'S GOING TO STEP UP AND LEAD THE OFFENSE?
If Leal is up for the challenge, elevates his game and wins the job, I think it would do wonders not only for the offense but for the teams confidence. Leal is entering his fifth year in the program, he's been in Blacksburg through the good and bad times. His experience and familiarity with the offense cannot be duplicated by any other QB on the roster. The big question is, can he regain the coaches confidence?
Looking up and down the offensive depth chart, the skill positions are littered with underclassmen while returning only one senior in wide receiver Willie Byrn. Byrn, who may lack the prototypical size for D-1, more than makes up for it with his toughness and all out effort. He led the Hokies in receptions last season and will serve as a great leader and mentor to the four incoming freshman receivers who are expected to contribute and make an early impact.
The much maligned offensive line will tout six seniors for the 2014 season. This is exactly a third of our total offensive lineman who are on scholarship. This group hasn't had much success throughout their careers, but they have one final shot here to anchor the offense and exit on a positive note. This group includes David Wang, Caleb Farris, Brent Benedict, Laurence Gibson, Matt Arkema and Mark Shuman.
Most of these guys were highly rated coming out of high school and it's fair to say that they have not lived up to their prior reputations. They have an opportunity to be leaders not only on the field with great play, but to take the younger guys under their wings and help them prepare for the 2015 season and beyond. Tech has five true freshman, three r-freshman, three r-sophomores and one true sophomore in starting left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin.
WHO'S GOING TO LEAD COACH BUD FOSTER'S LUNCH PAIL DEFENSE?
Gone are seniors James Gayle, JR Collins, Tyrell Wilson, Derrick Hopkins, Tariq Edwards, Jack Tyler, Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller. That group led the VT defense to a #3 overall ranking in total defense. Expecting similar production from the new set of guys would be foolhardy.
The Hokies will have only three defensive starters who return as seniors. Defense tackle Luther Mady, Safety Detrick Bonner and Rover Kyshoen Jarrett will be counted on heavily this coming year to provide leadership to a relatively young defense.
The three soon to be seniors have played a lot during their careers as true and red shirt freshman respectively. I'm hoping that these guys proactively take hold of the leadership torch and aren't asked to, as has happened in the past by Coach Foster.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO HAVE LEADERS? AREN'T COACHES ENOUGH?
Coaches can only do so much, they can prepare you for your opponent, give you the necessary tools to succeed. Once the whistle blows, the coaches aren't on the field, they can't be in the huddle and they can't execute game plans.
Starting next week the Hokies will begin it's dreaded 6 am conditioning workouts. These brutal workouts will show us who has been training hard in the off-season and who has been slacking off. It is this kind of boot camp atmosphere that will unveil who the mentally tough guys are, an essential component to being a leader.
Tech will have to replace ten seniors, nine of whom were starters. Finding out who the next group of leaders are will be one of the top priorities coming into spring practice. If you don't have a leader to provide direction and to uphold team morale, your goals will most likely not come to fruition. And Blacksburg is not a fun place to be in the fall when goals aren't met.