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Da Doo Run Run… or Da Don’t Hokies, Which is it?

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The Hokie Offensive Backfield, what might work, and what's continuing to be totally confusing.

Sam Rogers makes a move
Sam Rogers makes a move
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If there was any part of the Hokies football program that has been more frustrating and ineffective than the offensive line someone might point a long bloody finger in the direction of the Running Back Squad.  They might point, and they actually might have one – too, to the lack of size, quickness, strength and decisiveness that has plagued the group since 2011.  Those are certainly issues.  Though the running game is totally tied to, and dependent on the Offensive line’s effectiveness, it is also dependent on the talent of the running backs.

There is one very important link to all of this that also plays into the lack of a running game for 3 seasons, and if I may offer, the 2011 season where the two principal backs were a struggling David Wilson, and Logan Thomas the "quarterback".   The fact remains that the running game remains mostly dependent on the people designing, and implementing the offensive scheme both on the field and off.

Few fans will argue against the reality that after David Wilson packed up and headed for the Giants, Virginia Tech has had an ineffective and almost non-existent ground attack.  Ok, so our passing game has been sort of iffy, too; but the running game has offered little comfort to the Hokie faithful.   If seventies era academic grading standards were in effect, the running game would never make it past the first draft with four letter grades off for spelling, punctuation mistakes, and syntax errors.

So, without jumping into formations and plays we start off with the quick positional definitions from the Fahvaag, This Old School Hasn’t Really Changed chapter of "TMF’s 50 Years of Loving Football":

  1. Halfback – Sometimes some offenses really still call this position a Halfback, though in the current program the position is called the Tailback (which is also standard old school ‘I’ formation terminology) so the names are often interchanged. Suffice it to say, the Halfback is the main running back of most formations. This is a young man who, to succeed, needs to be a healthy 220-230 pound 6’ to 6’2" and run a 40 in the 4.2 to 4.4 range – with the wish list for 4.1 speed coming from the coaches’ collective wish lists. There are some Tailbacks who are smaller in the 5’10 200 range, and some that are larger but that combination of speed and the strength of respectable size are most important.                                                                                      
  2. Fullback – (Ok… I covered Fullbacks in the Receivers tome, why repeat?) As a running position the Fullback is the blocking back position of the base Tee, and ‘I’ formations. In the Tee, the Fullback lines up three to four yards in back of the quarterback when the QB’s under center. He is normally the lead blocker in power running plays, and is the go to guy when trying to punch the ball over the line of scrimmage in critical short yardage situations. A good Fullback is the biggest running back on the field. He should have close to 4.4 speed, though anything in the halfback range is dream state, and anything in the Linebacker range is expected. A quality Fullback will be as big as a Mike linebacker, and hit like one, too. Fullbacks are also often used has a 2nd (or 3rd in a heavy line) Tight End, as an H-Back and are critically important hot read, or "dump off" receivers – lurking under the zone in gaps in coverage for the QB to use to rescue a covered play. In modern offenses, often the Fullback is a forgotten and ill-used position. More college teams would benefit greatly from a two back configuration, since the single setback "Ace" formation requires a level of size and skill that is very rare and difficult to recruit.

Let’s get right to the charts, here.  First, we have the Tailback Depth chart: (I retained the rehabbing Williams for purely emotional reasons.  That emotion nears despair so every nod to Fall helps)

Number

Name

Exp

Position - Depth

Height

Weight

Year

4

J.C. Coleman

3

TB - 1

5' 7"

190

Sr

14

Trey Edmunds

2

TB - 1

6' 1"

225

r-Jr

34

Travon McMillian

-

TB - 2

6' 0"

194

r-Fr

48

D.J. Reid

-

TB - 3

6' 0"

232

r-Fr

42

Marshawn Williams

1

TB - Rehabbing

5' 11"

220

So

Note: Joel Caleb was moved to the other half of the team at Wide Receiver, which is its own special sort of unexplainable.

We have seen the Fullback position, but it bears isolation:

Number

Name

Exp

Position - Depth

Height

Weight

Year

25

Jerome Wright

1

FB - 1

6' 2"

231

Jr

19

Logan Adkins

-

FB - 2

5' 11"

208

r-Fr

32

Steven Peoples

-

FB - 3

5' 9"

214

Fr

21

Dalton Roe

-

FB - 4

6' 1"

235

r-So

45

Sam Rogers

2

FB - Rehabbing

5' 10"

220

Jr

These charts are, quite frankly, painful to see.  If this coaching crew is serious about establishing a real quality running game the Ace/Single setback formation should be rare.  There are very few backs on this roster that even come near the ideal for filling the role of a "feature" back.  All of them would benefit greatly from operating in a two back system.

JC Coleman is fast, but his function and usage in the "whatever serves as an offensive strategy" has been poor to bordering on silly.  Coleman has some parallels over the years (Darren Sproles immediately comes to mind) but successful short backs are a bit stouter than Coleman.  JC acquitted himself well in the Military Bowl, because he was finally used in an edge, influence, speed role that complemented his size and skill set.

Trey Edmunds, as he is listed, is hovering right in the zone in both size and speed, he has had flashes of being an interesting choice at lead running back. He the one cut power to get through a hole, should one develop.  (Unfortunately holes when referring to our Offensive line means holes in the depth chart.)

Marshawn Williams is currently on rehab status, and not participating in the heavy hitting of Spring practice.  We will have to wait for his appearance and capabilities to show themselves in Fall (late Summer for those of us with normal Gregorian Calendars) practice sessions and scrimmages.  He is on the smaller, lighter side of the charts, and keeping him healthy in heavy traffic is going to be an issue.

Sam Rogers is also on the bench for the Spring.  He’s listed as a Fullback, but has also filled in at Halfback/Single Setback (to avoid the Tailback comparisons).  He’s also performed a credible impression of an extra Tight End when running pass patterns into the near flats.  He’s got good hands, and though not blazingly fast, keeps his head up and runs "smart" after he gets his hands on the ball.  It would be better for him to be a bit bigger, but he’s more than kept up his end of the bargain within the very limited role of the current Tech offensive scheme (ugh.. such as it is or isn’t).  Unfortunately Sam’s not in for Spring so I am wondering if there is going to be much in the way of Fullback exposure at all.  We’ll see as the game progresses on the 25th.

The fact remains that the combined offensive unit hinges on one additional factor, and it is the critical piece that the following chart will both illustrate, and provide for head scratching confusion:

2015 Hokie Quarterback Roster and Depth

Number

Name

Exp

Position - Depth

Height

Weight

Year

12

Michael Brewer

1

QB - 1

6' 0"

200

r-Sr

9

Brenden Motley

1

QB - 1

6' 4"

228

r-Jr

17

Andrew Ford

-

QB - 2

6' 3"

198

r-Fr

13

Chris Durkin

-

QB - 3

6' 4"

242

r-Fr

16

Jack Click

-

QB - 4

6' 4"

207

Fr

I chose to add the quarterback roster analysis to the mix of running backs if only because there is still some vague impression that the Hokies may, one day, field a true Spread Option system for its offense.  The current mish-mash of confused and half-in half-out formations and play calling doesn’t really lend itself to isolating the Quarterbacks into their own essay length narrative.

There are some encouraging things going on for this particular roster, however.  I really need to re-read the practice scouting reports, now that Michael Brewer is back into full participation mode after a lower back strain.  I am still scratching my head at Motley being on this roster, at all.  My fear is that he’s likely to be this season’s permanent untouched backup, and therefore robbed of any opportunity for meaningful playing time.  Given the really worrisome depth and experience concerns at the defensive back positions, it should have been an easy call to get him moved over there last season, and ready to do a full Spring and Fall practice group under the tutelage of coaches Foster and Gray.  That would have given him two full years of eligibility at a Strong Safety/Rover position that he was built to play.

Frankly, I am going to skip over Motley in the analysis because unless Brewer goes down to some huge injury, Motley’s number on the depth chart is for push and Spring parity purposes.  By Fall it wouldn’t surprise me to see him drop from 2, to 3 or 4 if Ford and Durkin look to be coming around.  There might be some serious downward pressure as the new hot Freshman prospect coming in, Dwayne Lawson at 6’ 6" and 215 pounds of four stars, comes to camp in August.  I am doubtful that the young Mr. Lawson will assume any roster positions not involving a Red Shirt for his first season as a Hokie, but Ford and Durkin might be advised to step up their game a bit.  I am not sure of what Durkin can do to get out from under an avalanche of bodies above him on the roster, since he was lured away from Sparty.   He might be more than a bit miffed at being jumped.

For now, and probably well into the season, I will stick with my prediction that the starting QB for the OSU sacrificial slaughter will be Michael Brewer.   There is just no one on the roster with the experience and skill to get more than an injury replacement shot at it.

Of course, the "Lawson Reality" boldly illustrates my frustration with this team’s offensive theory, and its overall strategy.   We have what amounts to a silly offensive skill position roster with more quarterbacks than Tailbacks, and or Fullbacks.  It is stark evidence of an offense lacking a coherent recruiting and retention strategy.  The move of sending Caleb to Wide Receiver is confusing on its face.  The lack of receiver depth mentioned in several news articles, and the reason for the move is puzzling, given the fact that there are 12 players listed for the three wide out slots available on any one passing formation.  Either Zohn Burden is unimpressed with his huge squad, or something else is occurring that we just aren’t seeing yet.  There were rumors that the move could be temporary and Caleb could end up right back in the TB depth chart by the OSU kickoff, but that would put him seriously behind the power curve.

So, with that in mind, before we jump into the position analysis of what has become an area of serious concern, the Defensive Backs, the next piece in this series is going to be an attempt at pulling some "Offensive Teeth" and trying to figure out just what this organization is trying to do with what it has, and whether or not it’s going to continue to wish and hope itself into what it would love to be, if fate and happenstance would only smile upon us.

Next up:  Offense?  Offense? I don’t see no steenking offense!