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A Sideways Look at Virginia Tech Hokies’ Spring Football Session

While Bryan is going through the roster, let’s take a look at the coaching wrinkles and what we might be looking at for Spring Practice and the Spring game.

Hokie Bird is talking about “thing one” are we?
John Schneider - SB Nation

While Bryan is pounding away at the different position previews, I thought that it might be a good time to take a look at the entire picture for the Hokies. One of our ever dreary commenters (who was right about last season, BTW, so we give him slack) was predicting a 7-5 season, at best. Err Ummm well… no… not because he’s wrong or right, but no it’s not time to predict anything at all.

Right now the Virginia Tech Hokie Football program is in mid-transition. We have new assistant coaches and some of those are faces that we have seen but now have new roles. The first big notice on the coaches’ page is that Adam Lechtenberg has been promoted to Assistant Head Coach level, and is the Executive Director of Player Development. This promotion sort of happened under the 2018 radar. It was certainly announced but given the currents of activities some folks might not have noticed. Lechtenberg is a pull from Coach Fuente’s Memphis run. What is significant, here is that he’s the guy running recruiting (hence the Assistant Head Coach role). We are seeing quite a bit of the fruits of his work, and frankly he’s probably the most critical assistant to the long term health and success of the program.

We all know that Coach Wiggens has departed for Tuscaloosa and a “you don’t refuse this” coaching opportunity at Alabama. That means the filling of the Wide Receivers coaching position was going to be a serious challenge. The first one was keeping Wiggens’s recruits intact, but the second was to continue building what has become one of the deepest and most talented depth charts on the team. After some weeding out and some normal departures, the receivers really needed a coach that they could count on and relate to. Jafar Williams comes from Coach Fuente’s Illinois State/Denver Johnson connections tree. So he fits right into Coach Cornelsen and Coach Vice’s philosophies and methods. He has a reputation as a solid recruiter and he is used to coaching in 1A ball due to his experience at Maryland. Since Maryland and Virginia Tech territories overlap, his contacts and presence are serious pluses.

It’s really exciting to see some insider ball, when that insider is as good a player and coach as Justin Hamilton. Since there was a gaping opening at Softies coach what better way to nod to Bud Foster and prior Virginia Tech defensive assistants than to recognize a serious coaching talent when you see it. Hamilton was brought in from VMI, last season. He served as an assistant and did what quality Hokies do. He formed firm bonds with the defensive backs on the 2018 squad, and obviously Coaches Fuente and Foster where more than happy to promote him to full time Assistant Coaching status. Look for some new energy in the secondary.

So, those were the major staff changes for 2019. There aren’t any hot rumors or even slightly tender grapes on the vine to be had beyond this. Spring practice started in earnest, and it looks like there are going to be some serious challenges in areas that we really need to see some stability and consistency.

I continue to warn the fan base that Spring Football is NOT about picking a Quarterback. Though all three of the QBs from the end of last season are back, I do not anticipate that we will be seeing anything super definitive at all from that position. Regardless of the stage setting by the coaching staff, the odds on favorite is still a Ryan Willis start in August. All coach talk aside, the analyticals and the realities all point in that direction. The “open competition” seems to be a Fuente thing signaling that he wants maximum effort and concentration, and more of that old saw that no one has the #1 written in anything more than light pencil on the depth chart. It’s a real “old school” approach to coaching, that’s for sure.

What’s plain is that Fuente and staff have little use for carping, griping, and malingering. Their way of getting player attention is to challenge their status in the depth chart, and follow through when the response is less than optimal.

This Spring, I expect to see lots of solidification within the 1’s and 2’s on the offensive line. I also look to see some different legs and arms dealing with the defensive line’s smallish stature and very limited experience. The move of Aiden Brown from the interior offensive line to the interior of the defensive line is an interesting twist on the Yoshua Nijman and Wyatt Teller moves to the OL from the DL. Brown shows some serious promise at Nose Tackle. HOWEVER! (There is always a ‘but’ in there somewhere) the concentration for Spring will be on getting the entire defense better, not just one unit. There aren’t any sugar pills to make the medicine any easier to swallow, the defense struggled mightily last season, and even when doing well could not often sustain the effort through an entire game. I fully expect the coaching staff to be pushing the whole defense really hard in this session.

The Offense is just not going to get the sort of work that it might really need within the confines of the Beamer Barn. The “O” was “this close” last season. I expect that the kind of work that will go on for the Offense is building the depth and strength on the growing O-Line. I’d like to see them pushing the next level on run blocking, and working on drive techniques to go with their normal passing work. Tech was just not able to reliably gain 2-3 yards in ultrashort yardage situations last season. We lost too many points and too many first downs to failed 1 and 2 yard 3rd down runs that were stuff or tripped up behind the line. Spring needs to be for fixing that and getting 2 full offensive lines in sync with each other and ready to get into the trenches for the long haul in the Fall.

I am not really sure that much else will be “cured” over the Spring. Really, the Lines are the units that need most of the heavy work, with the defensive backs right behind. The D-Backs can get good practice with 7 on 7 sorts of drill activities, but there is no substitute for buckling up and grinding for the guys in the trenches. You can run shuttles and lift weights all day. That does nothing to get you working as a team, learning the right audible calls and communicating them efficiently. And techniques executed against inflatable canvas bags look really good in form, but when the bag counters your perfect move, gets up under your pads, and drives you into the hole… well that’s a different sort of learning.

The truth is that I don’t think that we’ll hear much more than coach talk. We are unlikely to see much more than vanilla blah formations and plays. Actually, that’s what I want to see. I want to see routine. I want to watch as players get up to the ball and get set for the play smoothly with no mistakes and no miscommunications. I want to see good blocking techniques against live players.

John’s Rule #1 of Offense: The Offensive Line is 85% of the running game.

John’s Rule #2 of Offense: The Offensive Line is 65% of the passing game.

John’s Rule #1 of Football: Poor Defense Loses games, and good Defense wins championships.

So, I really think that is what this Spring should be about; getting the #LPD and the real #DBU back in gear. The second mission should be getting the men in the trenches to the next level. All else will fall into place once those things are working.