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Spring 2016 Virginia Tech Hokies Preview: The Running Game

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Most of Virginia Tech's 2015 running back corps is expected to return for 2016. Without too much doubt, Travon McMillian has earned the #1 slot in the Depth Chart, but there are backs who will challenge him. Let's take a look at the situation, and see if maybe the Running Back Merry-go-round will stop being a regular feature of the offense.

Travon McMillian is the Number 1 back for Virginia Tech's Spring roster.
Travon McMillian is the Number 1 back for Virginia Tech's Spring roster.
Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

If there is any one image that comes to mind regarding the Virginia Tech running game is that small merry-go-round in the school yard where the big kids would get it whipping around really fast, and get thrown off, while other kids would try to jump on.  The problem was that the little thing was to small for everyone and never stable.  Eventually everyone playing the silly game was too beat up and sick to play anymore.  It was good fun until you put a hole in your good "school pants" and Mom was not pleased.  (Just a note of reality for the casual generation; we who grew up in the 1960's attended school in dress pants, leather soled tie shoes, and button down shirts.)

So here we are, bandage on the bloody knee, scolded by Mom, and waiting with some nervousness for Dad to get home.  What are we to expect?  It might be good to take some stock of how we got here.  No not Joey Gordon throwing a shoulder to keep us off the blue section; how'd we get here, in real life?

Virginia Tech's prior big running back mess started with the early departure of David Wilson whose premature bubbling to preeminence started with the early departures of Darren Evans and then Ryan Williams.  It was a head long mad dash to the cash and glory of the pros unbalanced the normally smooth progression.  Then you can add the frustrating injury parade that plagued the squad through the years where few top backs seemed to be able to get a complete season in, even to this day.  It makes you wonder if the carousel approach was more a matter of reactive habit, instead of purpose.

The 2012 through 2015 seasons were marked by inconsistency, injury, and only near the end any sort of real confidence.  During those seasons there was no real "feature back".  The odd exception is the emergence of Sam Rogers at Fullback/H-Back/Emergency Tailback - odd because we haven't been a Fullback's dream of an offensive scheme for the last few decades.

There is also "Thing One" to look at in this and that's the new staff.  The running backs are going to get two new coaches and one old coach, actually new to the position.   Of course we have Coach Fuente taking over the team, and his new offensive direction is going to mean some new things to everyone dangling on the depth chart.  Implementing the new coach's plans will be Coach Brad Cornelsen at OC, and then returning Zohn Burden at Running Backs coach.  (Burden was the Receivers Coach last season, and whether or not he has real quality experience coaching running backs is going to be a revelation in progress.)  Since Coach Fuente has promised us both a new system, and that system being adaptable to the talent, is going to mean that the offensive backfield is going to be a black box for a while.

What we do know is who we have leaving and who is left.  We'll also check on any possible new folks who were recently signed, and eligible to practice for Spring 2016.   JC Coleman graduates from the program this year.  He was one of those misused talents who presented the old offensive staff with a challenge that they just never solved.  Coleman was quick, and often shifty.  He had a good burst of speed, and if out in space could make defensive players miss.  He was not, however, a power feature back.  He was used properly on occasion and did a great job in last season's Military Bowl where he was given plays that allowed him to counter, and run the edges.   JC did what was asked of him to the best of his ability and if what was asked was within his skill set, he did it very well.

Returning to the mix we have Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams both are Juniors and finally healthy.  McKenzie tore an ACL five games into the 2014 season and was only available for two games in 2015.  Williams lasted longer in the 2014 season; but also tore an ACL after playing nine games.  He did not play the 2015 season.  He is listed on the roster and this season will be like a fresh start for him.

Redshirt Senior Trey Edmunds is also expected to be back for his final season of eligibility.  Edmunds is the Hokie's biggest Tailback at 6'2" and 220+ and played in 32 games over his three eligible years.  Edmunds was used only lightly last season.  Understanding how he will fit into the roster for his last year will be interesting.

Of course Travon McMillian will presumably be on the top of the depth chart for Spring.  Travon (#FEEDTRAVON) became the feature Hokie Tailback by sheer force of will combined with performance.   It was a fine performance.  At just a shade over five yards average and over a thousand total for the season (a rarity in Hokie football these past few seasons that needs to be celebrated.)   Travon was also a good quality receiving target with a nice total from the air to supplement his ground game.  Look to the coaching staff to keep McMillian in the position that he earned.  McMillian also returned kickoffs with 5 for an average of a touch over 17 yards.

Trevon McMillian's Running Stat Line:

Season

GP

GS

Att

Yds

Avg

Long

TD

2015

13

7

200

1043

5.2

63

7

McMillian's Receiving Stat Line

No

Yds

Avg

Long

TD

12

64

5.3

19

1

The remainder of the Tailback roster, and Fullbacks below Sam Rogers for that matter, are mostly biographies.  Some were redshirted, some were support players, and all will be in the mix for re-evaluation as the new staff looks at its depth and personnel.  There are some good possibilities in the future mix.

What is interesting is that the current recruiting scoop from 247Sports is showing a very light listing of Running Back targets of any note.  One would hope that number would improve somewhat over the next few months of intensive recruiting.  Though the Hokies have a bit of depth at the Tailback position, there as just no guarantees that everyone will stay healthy, and as we drop down beyond the top three or four positions we are running into redshirt ZERO experience territory, fast.

Here is the current known roster of running backs anticipated for Spring Practice.  Remember this is still speculative, and as information changes the chart will change.  Also, another reminder, this is not a DEPTH CHART.  It is just a theoretical projection from the existing roster from 2015.  Things can, will, and should change.

2015 Spring Running Back Roster

Number

Name

Pos

Height

Weight

Year

14

Trey Edmunds

TB

6' 2"

223

r-Sr.

16

Coleman Fox

TB

5' 11"

192

So.

28

Shai McKenzie

TB

5' 11"

229

Jr.

33

Deshawn McClease

TB

5' 9"

177

So.

34

Travon McMillian

TB

6' 0"

196

r-So.

42

Marshawn Williams

TB

5' 11"

243

Jr.

48

D.J. Reid

TB

6' 1"

226

r-So.

22

Trey Skeens

FB

6' 0"

210

So.

25

Jerome Wright

FB

6' 2"

224

Sr.

32

Steven Peoples

FB

5' 9"

218

So.

45

Sam Rogers

FB

5' 10"

223

Sr.

Where this all leads us is difficult to determine since, other than the known personnel that we have listed for Spring, everything else is "in the wind".  We know that Coach Fuente runs a version of the Bowling Green Spread Option/Read Option-Option Read offense.  That means the power running game will not be a major factor in the offensive mix.  Hokie Nation should look for more influence, counters and zone read sorts of running plays.  Unless something changes there are four experienced running backs in the starting mix, and the potential ‘three deep' is not disappointing.  What's probable is that there will be change.

What is not immediately encouraging is that the current recruiting list is light on running backs.  Williams and McKenzie are Juniors, and Edmunds is in his last year of eligibility.  The Tailback pipeline is currently looking like a "bar sip".   Coach Fuente and staff have lots to do for the 2017 and 2018 seasons that's for sure.

Next Up the very long list of Wide Receivers

Go Hokies!!!!!


Sources:

http://www.hokiesports.com/football/players/?sort=Position,LastName

http://virginiatech.247sports.com