Well, I head to Northern Virginia on Saturday morning. It’s a roughly four hour drive from Blacksburg to Manassas where my boys reside. Funny in Beltway terms that’s just a day’s commute time. But we won’t talk too much about unpleasant living and working conditions. Sunday afternoon, Joshua and I will be finding a parking space in the assigned lot, and trying to figure out what to do with those four hours. We will do some pictures, get some shots up of the preparations, and maybe give you a flavor of what the Press Box at FedEx Field is like. There’ll be lots of time for that. I do have some observations and, yes; expectations before the season gets started.
First, I have absolutely no feeling for how the season is going to go this this year, none, zippy, naddah. The coaching staff is completely inscrutable. Foster reels off assignments, adjustments, technique issues, and other details that just go zipping by most mortals. There isn’t much of anything to chew on, at all. Justin Fuente has to run one of the tightest controlled information shops in any Athletic Department of any major university. The man is nearly a clam. And when he does say something he is capable of only the most banal opaque “coach speak” possible. Most coaches by this time are full of stuff, strutting, making promises, posing for the cameras, making photo ops with the big media. Justin Fuente does basic interviews with Jon Laaser and gives just a few of the players some face time (Andrew M looked like he was about to be hit by a truck, and win. Cam Phillips was styling and smiling) but all the occasions were marked by nice steady “rah rah” carefully and thoughtfully delivered. I loved every minute of it because all you, as a media type, are going to ask are questions that none of the players are going to want to answer, and none of the coaches really want answered. Cam and Andrew did a great job at being completely non-controversial but representing the Hokies with a good deal of dignified fun.
We do know that the starting running backs will be pretty much as we predicted in the previews, Steven Peoples and Travon McMillian will be carrying the rock. It’s not surprising Peoples began to impress Coach Fuente last season, and by the final few games he was looking much more like a pass catching halfback than a fullback. Travon had a long road last season. He wasn’t the primary or the secondary back, those being Jerod Evans and Sam Rogers (in that order). That makes it tough for a hard runner like McMillian. He needs touches and repetition in order to get into a rhythm. He was doing much better by season’s end, and so his name is up in the top two of the RB box.
Oh? The quarterback “thing”; remember mid-August of 2016? Remember the contest between true Freshman Joshua Jackson and transfer Junior Jerod Evans? We had no real idea about Evans other than there was promise, and some good play on a community college team. He had no real Division 1A snaps, and Jackson still almost made it over the line. Ultimately there are some differences, though. Jackson will have to play a more traditional quarterback role. He’s not huge and powerful like Evans (who was the team’s leading rusher). He’s going to have to actually play quarterback. He’ll need to move around in the pocket, but that movement should be more for finding an open receiver or salvaging some yards out of a failed checkdown series of a number greater than two.
The offensive line looks like it’s bigger, a bit better on its feet, and the word is that Coach Vice has been moving the players around from position to position. This sort of flipping folks around to unexpected spots does have the advantage of getting the players 100% involved in playing the entire offensive line. Doing that might sound sort of counter intuitive. You want your left Tackle to be expert at playing that position; so why confuse the issue? Besides being backups to each other, an offensive line needs ‘interpersonnel ‘ understanding. That’s a made up word that sounds a bunch like a pun; but think about it for a minute. A line needs to have a common mental concept of what the blocking pattern is, where the blocks are likely to make a difference, and how to work together to advance the ball or protect the quarterback. Understanding the Center’s job and seeing the protection schemes from his eyes can help a Tackle get an idea of where to move and what he might do to assist his teammate. This is really true when a player is overmatched, and some double teaming is necessary. Those audibles need to be cagy and subtle in order to keep the opposing lineman from picking up on the protection scheme. Knowing what the “other” guy on your squad needs to do, allow a player to form a mental conception of how to play, without needing major external communication. Vice is promoting that sort of knowledge and comradery by mixing things up.
The receivers are looking very much like most of the backups from last season needing to step it up a notch. Eric Kumah has taken snaps in all 13 games last season. He should be low in the jittery scale. Cam Phillips has been, and looks to continue to be the “go to” receiver. C.J. Carroll is well aware of how to operate in the slot. We might see that connection being made, especially if Jackson is good at reading his progressions and can see through the traffic. As Roy mentioned, earlier, Dalton Keane earning a starting spot is pretty special. Having two true dual purpose tight ends in the offense is a good thing.
So, I don’t know how the Offense is going to look this season. There just isn’t enough to go on, given the limited nature of the Spring Game and any Summer practice scrimmages. Those are all behind us. We have a largely new offense, with a couple of offensive gurus in charge of the game plan. Last season we started the Fuente era with a newbie QB with no real experience. Let’s hope we come out of the blocks with sticky fingers, solid execution, and most of all fired up to win. What I do suspect is that the starting lineup for Sunday’s game might be different for next Saturday’s.
There is a quiet excitement building, but opening with an away game is not the same as having a ‘home’ Game Day to launch a season. I would have preferred that this game have been scheduled for Lane Stadium. We have gotten too much of the short end of the stick at FedEx. We broke the Big Ketchup Curse, guess we need to burn the FedEx Field Whammy, too.
As to my expectations; well, we have to take it one game at a time, don’t we. We’re 0-0 let’s go to 1-0 on Sunday.