The days are counting down to the start of "Fall Practice" - no one who ever played football thought grinding in the dirt, dread grass, bugs, and sweltering heat of the practice field ever once called it "Fall Practice”, thank you.
We are about to get into the last two squad reviews, Defensive Line and Special Teams, but the mind wants to race ahead, and the excitement is building. It doesn't help that the chance to use that brand new telephoto lens for the camera is calling from the sideline of Lane Stadium.
It might be time to jump into some of the changes and challenges that are ahead for Hokie football in 2017. We know that we have a "Quarterback Situation" (it's not a controversy, yet) that Coaches Fuente and Cornelsen have to face. This season, there are three distinctly different physical talents on the practice field. Jackson, Bush, and Hooker are all completely different playing style and play calling challenges.
Jackson remains the odds on favorite to start, but his size, arm strength, and presence put him very much in the Tyrod Taylor and Michael Brewer mold. I would shade his skill set a bit closer to Brewer's. That's not bad, at all. It does, however, change the play calling selection and game planning from last season. No one is going to see Joshua Jackson doing the one read and then plunge into the line. He'd be smashed into a bruised pulp. The play book for Jackson will probably favor more Runningback involvement. Pocket movement is going to be designed to buy time for better throwing lanes and targets, not looking to rip off 100 yards on the ground.
Bush may be a bit more experienced, but his limited exposure just hints at a one read and go sort of situation. He may get in an occasional second or third check-down. I am not convinced of his throwing accuracy and that is a concern given the nature of the receiver corps. Bush did run the offense with enough purpose to move the ball and generate yards. But my guess is A.J. Bush's playbook pages and game plan won't be similar to Jackson's. We’d see more Jerod Evans sorts of play calling.
Then there is the wild-card in the mix. Hendon Hooker is all the rage. Is he going to redshirt? Is he good enough to swallow hard and get him on the field? He's tall, and ran a bunch in high school, but he's not excessively large. He's listed at a shade short of 200 at 6'4". Though not qualifying as "bean pole" that's a lot of tall for the weight. A.J. Bush is in that height range and hovering in the 220 range. Even Jackson's 6'1" is pushing 15 or so more pounds of muscle. Hooker's got a nice arm, and a crisp delivery. I'd just like to see him put on 25 pounds of well-toned muscle so he better fits a Fuente type QB profile. (at least with Paxton Lynch and Jerod Evans as models)
So the Quarterback is the first change and challenge combination, the second is nearly as important and that's the receiving corps. Josh and I have talked about it more than a few times. It just does not look like there is going to be a "normal" depth and playing chart for the receiver position. We have Cam Phillips at X. Then it's your guess. One thing that does look to be an interesting possibility is that we might have a Quarterback and offense with over 3,000 yards in the air, but only one receiver who even approaches 1,000. That might not be great for receiver stats and brownie points for the potential future of glory and money in the NFL, but it's going to mean that opposing defenses are going to have to figure out how to cover a swirling list of Y and Z players. I cannot see any possibility of Caleb Farley NOT being used. He's just too fast, and has too many possibilities for running under a few downfield bombs. If he's healthy C.J. Carroll lining up in a slot to drive the coverage nuts under the zone and in the creases while Cam runs a “sluggo”, and Farley flies on a post or flag could be nightmares for opposing DCs. Then there is Eric Kumah who matched with Cam Phillips might be a classic one-two downfield punch. The possibilities are, interesting; and we'll leave it at that before the cliché bat clobbers me.
The Offensive line, while much better than the last five years of Hokie O-Lines is still an inscrutable puzzle on the right side. The Left is silver... if not gold. Nijman, Teller, and Gallo can pass block. They were showing signs of getting the influence run blocking game right last season. Drive blocking is still an issue, but the left side will keep the QB on his feet long enough to connect with something. It's that right side that is the complete wildcard. West Virginia isn't like starting against Ohio State, but it's no pushover, and Big XII football is all about scoring lots and lots of points. That formula starts on the Offensive line. We'll see if Coach Vice is happy or angry on my drive home from NOVA on Labor Day.
The Runningback situation has become a mix of odd, and potentially disturbing. We all saw what happened to Travon McMillian last season. He struggled in the early games. There were ball control issues, and then the fact that Fuente’s offense is designed around passing the ball. Travon has not been known or advertised as a receiver. You have to wonder about how much more amazing David Wilson would have been with Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen designing an offense around his skill set. Travon started figuring out things through the season; and showed marked improvement over the last few games in 2016. Hopefully those lessons stuck. We are likely to see Steven Peoples play a “Sam Rogers” sort of “flex-back” roll. Flex-Back is what I am leaning to calling the hybrid H-Back/Tight End/Fullback/Runningback function that evolved out of last season’s offense.
Any way you slice it, the offense is going to be challenged with changes on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage this season.
What is Tech’s biggest offensive challenge this season?
This poll is closed
Solving the Quarterback Equation
Finding a Right Side to the Offensive Line
Fielding three reliable starting receivers
Making the running game work