Well, now that Men’s Basketball is on to the tournament, it’s time to get ready for spring practice here in a week or so. Pro-Day will be on the 15th, but after that, it’s all about the 2017 season but for the draft. The Hokies find themselves in quite the odd situation in Justin Fuente’s second year as head coach. While conceivably the Hokies could have brought back an all-time offense, it lost two of its top three receivers and its single-season-wonder quarterback. But they don’t, and match it up with an offensive line that is losing two players and an inefficient backfield rotation that loses two as well, there are a lot of questions on the offensive side of the ball. The defense isn’t immune to it, either- replacing three defensive line starters and a longtime safety is also a lingering question that the Hokies need to start sorting out. It’s only spring practice, so we’re still talking about an incomplete team- the rest of the recruiting class and many walk-ons or any other miscellaneous transfers will probably join in the fall. This is more about positioning and injury rehab and prevention. But it’s still important, and so these are the major questions that spring practice might be able to solve…
Which of the receivers are going to distinguish themselves headed to fall?
After losing Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges to the NFL, the Hokies need to find warm bodies to actually catch the ball. Cam Phillips and CJ Carroll are still here, but both are mostly slot-receiver types- though Cam can play outside, CJ sure isn’t built for it. We also know that Coach Fuente likes having many different sized weapons out on the field at once. That means that we’re looking at Eric Kumah, Phil Patterson, Caleb Farley, Divine Deablo (though that’s a question mark, as I’ve heard they’re looking at making him a safety), or Jaylen Bradshaw needs to come out of the pack to at least get himself to the top of the depth chart. This one will likely last into fall, and include the new recruits. For Fuente’s true offense, he needs at least 4 wide receivers. That means that we need at least two people to grab playing time by the time the season rolls around.
How serious is this competition for quarterback?
Look, I highly doubt that we’re going to get the answer in spring. Last year it took almost until the week of the Liberty game to come out with Evans as the starter. He proved that was the correct decision with his play, but it allowed us a valuable redshirt year for Josh Jackson. Now, Jackson, JC transfer AJ Bush, and early enrollee quarterback Hendon Hooker will be duking it out for the starting job. Handicapping the race? I’d guess Jackson has a slight developmental lead, but that might not mean much if Bush or Hooker shows out- Jackson wasn’t even particularly recruited by Fuente and Cornelsen, so they don’t owe much to him. But I have a feeling that even after the spring game, there’s not going to be much in the way of clarification on the matter.
Who’s going to emerge at the right side of the OL?
Is this Parker Osterloh’s year, finally? He’s always been on the cusp of playing time, but each year he seems to have a setback or an injury, and unfortunately for him he was also blocked behind McLaughlin after Yosuah Nijman took over the left tackle spot. Does Kyle Chung finally supplant Eric Gallo in both of their senior years? Will someone like D’Andre Plantin or Demetri Moore going to take the guard spot? Since the left side is completely anchored by Teller and Nijman, the offensive line has to replace 2 starters, sort another, and still somehow manage to be better at run-blocking and at least as good at pass-blocking as the line was last year, if not better.
Any clarity coming on that running back rotation thing?
So when your best returning runner is Travon McMillian, you’d think the Hokies would be fine. But nope. McMillian had an inconsistent 2016, and his three main understudies/backfield teammates in Sam Rogers, Shai McKinzie, and Marshawn Williams are all gone for one reason or another. Can Deshawn McClease look better after a shoulder injury held him out the vast majority of the year? Will someone like Coleman Fox or Terius Wheatley step up? Will it all not matter when Jalen Holston arrives in the summer? Either way, the running game has to get better to support who is likely a freshman quarterback. It starts with this spring.
Can we keep our ‘defensive line’ healthy?
I assume we’re bubble wrapping most of our defensive line this spring, because it is THIIIIN. Vinny Mihota? Out. Trevon Hill? Out. Tim Settle and Ricky Walker? The presumptive starters in front of Darius Fullwood and Jarrod Hewitt. That’s pretty much who we have, plus redshirt freshman Jimmie Taylor. Reinforcements along the line will come in the summer, but right now, the team needs to escape spring without someone rolling up an ankle or twisting a knee.
Can someone take over the safety spot before Devon Hunter gets here?
The last major question is how the defensive back rotation will shake out. Bud’s always been keen to rotate positions or players, but with (in theory), Terrell Edmunds, Brandon Facyson, and Adonis Alexander entrenched, how will everything shuffle? Mook to safety with a new whip? Floyd or Quillen taking over at free? Moving Terrell to Free and having a new Rover? Who knows, but Bud and Coaches Scott and Mitchell will have to at least piece the best 4 together with the three best already on the field. The question is with those three best PLAYERS, will their POSITIONS remain the same? It’s not as big a musical chairs situation as the offensive line, but it’s close.
Tune in to Gobbler Country in the next couple weeks for more about spring practice.