Another week is in the books of Virginia Tech Football Spring Practice as we inch closer and closer to the Spring Game on April 26th. Reiterating from previous posts, we don't know much about this team as a whole yet. No matter how much shuffling goes on or what rumors are spread, I don't think we'll be able to judge these Hokies until they line up and hit players wearing different colored jerseys. Spring ball is kind of a big tease when you think about it: practices with full pads, a few scrimmages, then finally a game type atmosphere with the Spring Game that gives the fans a chance to bust out the grill and crack a few cold ones in the name of Football. But hey, it's all fun and I love the chance to see the Hokies strut their stuff in Lane before fall gets here.
With all that said, Tech's first scrimmage of the spring lacked a certain edge to it. I didn't come away giddy about any aspect of it besides some live action. But over this past week and finally this past Saturday, the Hokies got me riled up with improvements and an impressive showing at the scrimmage.
Talented Secondary. But no depth:
Andy Bitter's piece here about safety Detrick Bonner honestly made me think for a long time about the state of Tech's secondary. The secondary is probably my favorite unit to watch after the Hokies' defensive line. Over the past two seasons we've seen the defense struggling with giving up big plays, but in having both Kyle and Kendall Fuller last season and Brandon Facyson, Tech was able to limit opponent's catching the ball down the field. Not to mention, both Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett have developed into good tacklers and hard hitting safeties.
But with both Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum gone, a lot of senior leadership and experience is taken away. The injuries to Facyson and Jarrett have taken them out of Spring Practice and left only Kendall Fuller and Detrick Bonner. When healthy, this is most likely the best unit for Tech and is probably one of the best in the Atlantic Coast Conference. For now, Desmond Frye steps in at the rover spot and Der'Woun Greene and Donovan Riely are working at corner.
You can look at this two ways: Behind the starters, Tech's secondary is thin and inexperienced and will be a problem if injuries occur during the season (which there's a high probability that they will). Or this gives the back-ups a chance to see the field and gain some sort of experience in the spring to get them ready. For me, I think it's somewhere in the middle. Yes, injuries will happen, and the lack of depth will haunt the Hokies. But Tech needs younger guys like Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson to step up and be leaders along with fifth year senior Detrick Bonner. If they can do this and teach the back-ups along the way, Tech can do great things defensively and back up the DBU nickname.
Bucky Hodges: a slimmer Greg Boone?
I recently talked about Bucky Hodges and how the coaching staff seemed to be using him in the wildcat formation and the possibility of him competing for the starting tight end job. After reading Andy Bitter's piece about Hodges and what the coaches are saying and doing, I love what I'm hearing.
I don't think that he will be the starting tight end based on blocking. Tech always relies heavily on its tight ends to be a big part of run blocking and I think Ryan Malleck and Kalvin Cline will beat Hodges out in that aspect.
The word is that Hodges is seeing time at tight end, quarterback in the wildcat, H-back in motion, and split out as a wide receiver. This reminds me a lot of how Greg Boone was used when he was here. Boone was a versatile player also as he played both quarterback and safety at Oscar Smith high school and wound up playing tight end at Tech but also moved around and was used in a lot of different ways. I love the potential that Hodges has as an offensive weapon because he's not one dimensional. He's big, he's tall, he's got some speed and quickness, and he can be used anywhere. I think Hodges adds an extra element to an offense that is trying to find out who it is.
It all starts up front. Freshman on the offensive line:
As we all know, Tech's running game the past couple of season has been . . . oh who am I kidding? What running game? The frustration about the Hokies' rushing attack is immense. The lack of a consistent and effective run game is something that has to be fixed in order for the program to improve and succeed. But with new recruiting tactics and some feisty freshman, running the ball is seeking some kind of resurgence.
For me, competition among teammates is everything. You've got to have your peers pushing you every step of the way to be great. And hearing about offensive linemen Wyatt Teller and Augie Conte's ongoing competition gets me excited.
Both have been killing it in the weight room and now have raised some eyebrows, as they're both battling for starting jobs. Yes, Tech does have experienced linemen this season, but the results from last season still aren't sitting well with the Hokies. The coaches have made it clear that no one's job is safe and the best players will play. Right now both Teller and Conte are what Tech wants in linemen: big, strong, and athletic. If they continue to impress they will see the field a lot this season. I think if they don't start this season, they'll get some experience and eventually have huge roles on this team in the future.
Let's face it guys, defensive end Dadi Nicolas is a beast. His speed and quickness are something to be feared. But now he's trying to get bigger! He started spring out at 218 pounds and is now around 225 which is impressive. Have you tired to gain seven pounds of muscle? It's hard. But the word is Nicolas wants to get up to 240 pounds by the start of the season. If he does this, look out opposing quarterbacks. He'll have amazing size and strength to go along with his shiftiness. He's committed to being strong and retaining his speed. Nicolas is the carrier of the lunch pail around practice this spring and you have to love hearing about a guy who wants to be a force to be reckoned with. I believe he'll be exactly that this season and be a great presence along with defensive tackle Luther Maddy.
Ken Ekanem: Man of the Spring:
Anything Tech football related I've read lately, defensive end Ken Ekanem's name has been in it. He's having an amazing spring and is finally returning to his old self after suffering from various injuries. He's six-foot-three and weighs 245 pounds. If Dadi Nicolas can reach his goal weight then that'll be a heck of a defensive end tandem. Success stories are cool, and as Ekanem seems to be returning to a high level of play, you can't help but cheer him on. He's playing lights out in practice and scrimmages and is wowing coaches and fans. It makes me more confident in the Hokie defense this season and in the future because of the willingness of players to overcome challenges and setbacks and also the teamwork of others to help people along the way.
Last but not least: The Second Spring Scrimmage:
The question on everyone's mind: How did the quarterbacks do?
Well, projected front runner Mark Leal sat out the scrimmage with a (knee/hamstring) injury. That left the first string duties in the hands of Brenden Motley of which he took full advantage of, throwing for an impressive 163 yards and completing 12 of his 20 passes. The highlight of Motley's day was a 56 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demitiri Knowles. Meanwhile, freshman quarterback Andrew Ford saw some decent playing time and threw a 17 yard touchdown to tight end Dakota Jackson.
For me, the quarterback position is a cluster(fill-in-the-word-of-your-choice-i-won't-judge) and I can wrap my head around what will happen. Motley had a great day and performed well, maybe even better than Leal would've done. It's evident that this race will not be won until transfer Michael Brewer and freshman Chris Durkin arrive. Hopefully, by then we'll see a clear cut favorite.
Now on to the running game. Marshawn Lynch . . . excuse me, Marshawn Williams is just great. He ran the ball for 66 yards, but the way he gets those yards is flat out nasty. He runs with a purpose, shedding defenders, and can carry them on his back. He can move a pile, folks. I am truly so excited to have this kid on the team. He's the running back of the future and maybe the answer the running game has been needing. Meanwhile, J.C. Coleman ran for 27 yards on 11 carries. (Ed. Note: 11 carries? #whatdothecoachesseethatidon't?--Flyers13)
He'll get after ya:
Leading the receivers was Demitiri Knowles with four catches, 107 yards, and a touchdown. Then Deon Newsome caught four passes for 83 yards.
Defensively, Tech had 13 total sacks on the day with Ken Ekanem leading the way with three and Luther Maddy with two and a half. Tech also had two forced fumbles, one each by Desmond Frye and Dahman McKinnon and an intercepted pass by Donovan Riley who also led the team with 8 tackles.
Because it's the position Frank Beamer is most focused on right now....
Kicker Michael Branthover made his attempts from 33, 37, and 42 yards out and is said to be the early leader for the staring job. His projected back-up Eric Kristensen made both of his attempts from 37 and 33 yards. Consistency with the kickers is a much have and seeing these stats makes me happy. If the Hokies want to win close games, the kickers must be in the zone at all times.
It was a great day overall for all areas. The offense is seeing some improvement and finding guys that can make plays. Meanwhile, the defense is looking fairly stout as expected. Finally, there is some consistency with the kickers! But of course we'll have to wait and see what happens on game day with that.
The coaches were very pleased with what they saw, and I'd said the same for Hokie Nation. If one thing is true it's that this is a new Virginia Tech football team. Its lost a lot to the draft and graduation and is in the midst of finding an identity. The defense will be as it has been: hard nosed and blue collar. But the offense is still in the on going process of finding stability. Can they do it? Well have to wait and see, but the Hokies are working hard to be better.