For football fans, Christmas is here. Fall camp is set to open in the next few days for most programs around the country. That means the season is just a short time away. For the Virginia Tech Hokies, the 2017 season opens in approximately 34 days when Tech travels to Landover, Maryland, to face West Virginia.
It’s a big test for Virginia Tech as the Hokies will have lots of questions to answer by the time the season begins.
Will Joshua Jackson start the opener? Is Travon McMillian the leader in the clubhouse at running back? These are important questions for head coach Justin Fuente to answer. However, he has the next several weeks to assess his squad and here are three storylines to watch as fall camp opens in Blacksburg.
Redshirt freshman Joshua Jackson is the leader in the clubhouse. However, Fuente will not hand him the job. As a true freshman in 2016, Jackson pushed eventual starter Jerod Evans until the final days of camp. He impressed coaches with his poise, decision-making, and knowledge of the offense. Now, he’s been here for over a year and his grasp of the offense is even better.
Competing with Jackson will be junior-college transfer A.J. Bush and true freshman Herndon Hooker. Hooker is someone fans are excited about and rightfully so. He enrolled in January and had some impressive moments in VT’s spring game. But will Fuente roll with a true freshman QB in the season opener?
Hooker certainly has every opportunity to win this job, as does Bush. Bush isn’t known as the most accurate passer of the group, but he is an excellent runner. He will carve out a role before this season ends.
The Hokies had one of their better-recruiting classes in recent memory. Some players enrolled early, like tight end Dalton Keene, receiver Kalil Pimpleton, athlete Caleb Farley along with Hooker. High-profile signees like Devon Hunter and Dylan Rivers enrolled in June and are looking to make an impact as true freshmen in 2017.
For Hunter, there is a clear path to playing time. Chuck Clark’s departure opens up a hole in the secondary. Hunter is primed to show the coaching staff he’s the right guy to plug in immediately.
Meanwhile, Rivers looks to add depth to the linebacking unit. While much of the hype surrounds Hunter and Hooker, Farley is perhaps VT’s most exciting recruit. Signed as an athlete, Farley was expected to play defensive back first. Once coaches saw him with the ball in his hands, plans changed. Farley will play as a true freshman. The biggest question is can he force his way into the starting lineup?
The Hokies had tons of depth along the defensive line in 2016. However, the loss of players like Ken Ekanem, Woody Baron and Nigel Williams will test that depth this fall. Tech is in good shape with starters Trevon Hill and Vinny Mihota at defensive end, with Tim Settle and Ricky Walker at defensive tackle. But one injury could change things dramatically.
Coaches need players like Houshun Gaines, Jimmie Taylor, Darius Fullwood, Emmanuel Belmar and Jarrod Hewitt to step and give defensive coordinator Bud Foster some depth in the trenches. Freshmen Robert Porcher, Zion Debose, J’Bril Glaze and Nathan Proctor will all challenge for playing time.
If Foster can get four to six more contributors from this group outside of the starters, Tech’s defense will be just fine in 2017. But first, this group must get through fall camp healthy. Mihota and Hill both had offseason surgeries.