Focus, Focus, Focus... It was Hard
So, we parked at Litton-Reeves in the Commuter Lot which basically netted us about a half-mile uphill walk to Lane Stadium. Funny, but it really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things because everywhere is walking uphill or up the stairs in Blacksburg. It’s just a state of being, anymore.
After scanning our tickets and settling in just on the even side of Portal 8 in the West stands, the team was warming up, and the atmosphere was different than the six or seven prior Spring games that I have attended. It was busy on the field. The first thing that we noticed was the huge pile of old Hokie stars hanging with the crowd on the sidelines. The Edmunds brothers, Chuck Clark, Kam Chancellor, D’Angelo Hall, Tyrod Taylor, someone saw Shayne Graham, there were more and with them were lines and clumps of recruits and high school coaches. There were always recruiting events for the Spring Game, but this was particularly huge. It might have also been because the weather was so wonderful. Who wants to trek all the way to Blacksburg to visit in a cold mountain drizzle? But having the NFL stars, both present and retired was a real treat and a touch of where you could be from here.
The concession stands were open, and the food was not particularly limited. There were even smoked turkey legs being sold in the Southwest corner. I usually spend a good deal of time looking at the player warmups but this time the crowd was just so much more interesting. It nearly seemed like a real Game Day.
Before the start of the game, there was a moment of silence to remember the fallen Hokies who lost their lives on this day, April 16, 2007. They are forever in our hearts and thoughts.
Okay, Now Concentrate, Grasshopper, Concentrate - Offense First
Look, the primary reason for a good portion of the people showing up in the stands was seeing the overall picture of the Brent Pry iteration of the Virginia Tech Hokie Football team. How did it conduct itself? The West Stands were really filling early as people looked at who was coaching. Where was Pry? Who else was running drills? The big question was who were wearing the orange jerseys? For those who do not know, the orange shirt is the no-contact flag that keeps your big deal QB’s out of the target zone. Hitting the guy with an orange shirt might get you so deep in the stuff that you’d likely get out sometime before the first kickoff of the season.
There were exactly two orange jerseys out on the field today. #1 (Jason Brown) and #6 (Grant Wells). Connor Blumrick wasn’t even lining up with the QB’s. He was running patterns with the wide receivers and tight ends. The other QB’s on the roster were wearing either white or maroon which meant that we A) weren’t going to see them in the first half, and B) they were in full contact mode. Meaning, for now, they are not on the starting depth chart at QB.
The Maroon team got the ball first, and any doubts about Grant Wells started to fade. Wells was smooth. He ran the line of scrimmage without hesitating or checking back to the sideline much. He had a good rhythm and pace in his body language.
The first play from scrimmage wasn’t a pass, though. Jalen Holston was in at running back, and Malachi Thomas was on the sideline (I didn’t see if he was suited up, but I don’t think so.) all six starting pass plays were intermediate routes of no more than 12 yards. The start of the 2022 effort was a 3-2 Dive Play (half-back ISO) off of something culturally unfamiliar to us, here in Blacksburg... drive blocking. We saw more of that in this Spring Game, than I think we saw the entire 2021 season.
On the Quarterback Question the Answer is...
Pry ain’t sayin’. Overall the grades (Effectiveness/Skill Level) between the two starting QB prospects are a B+/A- for Wells and a B/B for Brown. So, the reality is that Wells is looking like the leader of the QB room, for now. I did not get the impression from Pry at his presser after the game that anything in particular was settled, though. If it is, he isn’t going to let on.
Wells had much better pass play opportunities. Some of that might have been patterns, but some of it was also directly attributable to the fact that the White team O-Line was having a bit of a tough time with the Maroon Team D-Line. Wells hit two really beautiful deep balls both delivered in stride and on a dime like a rifle shot. He also looked pretty confident out on the field, he was decisive, and quick. He looked like he had a good idea of what he wanted to do with the ball BEFORE it was snapped. That’s exactly what every offensive coach wants to see, and inures to his favor on the depth chart shuffle game.
Brown’s footwork and throwing lanes were disrupted by the blocking issues. We’ll see where it goes, but for now the honest impression is that Grant Wells is the number 1 QB in the depth chart, but bear in mind that depth chart is written in pencil.
The Running Back Situation that Was or Wasn’t
Overall, it was nice to seen both Holston and King handle the ball. Holston was a bit more successful, but that, again is attributable to blocking and pedestrian plays that are relatively easy to dope out. I really don’t think that Pry’s primary mission was finding a starting running back for 2022. The top three backs will remain Malachi Thomas, Jalen Holson, and Keshawn King. We’ll probably see some other runners bubble up, but they will have to really push it hard to get past those three.
Receivers Plus Blummie Equals ...
Connor Blumrick won the Beamer Spring Camp Overall Performance thing-a-mabob. It wasn’t for playing quarterback, though. It looks as if we are going to see Connor Blumrick on the field, quite a bit, for 2022; but not at quarterback. From the sketchs that we saw when he appeared on the field with the Maroon Offense, Blumrick is going to be something of a Dalton Keene player. He’s going to be a “Slash Back” a Swiss Army Knife player that the offensive coordinator uses to mix things up and make it difficult for the opposition to figure out what your offense might do. It’s wonderful that Blumrick has made such an impression on the new coaching staff. After last season few people expected to see much of him in 2022. Somehow, with the new look and the hints of an intermediate passing game. It’s going to be interesting to see how he get played.
Defense... Remember the Defense Wins Big Football Games
I am not going to go too deeply into the defense. I saw basically two formations that made me think a bit. There was a classic 4-2-5 base defense with Dax Hollifield lining up as a sole middle linebacker and the Will linebacker Alan Tisdale lining up in the boundary with either a safety or speed linebacker on the field side. This defense isn’t much different than Foster’s base defense - with the exception of the terminology. There was also a 4-2-5 that moved the Mike and Will into the edges of the A-gap, and brought a 3rd linebacker down toward the box. I’d have to have game films or a series of pictures to really see how it deployed just before and after the snap, but if Pry sticks with these two base configurations, he’s got a solid foundation for working a quality defense into the 2022 mix.
What we saw with the Maroon D, was that the defensive line was messing up the White O-Line and the interior guys are were getting to the QB. That’s a big problem that Joe Rudolph is going to need to get cleaned up in a hurry. The #2’s cannot be that far of a drop off in talent and skill. Twos always play. They may not start, but they are always going to play during the season, and the O-Line needs to have depth. There are just no two ways about it.
The Spring Game is not A Special Teams Venue...
It is worth mentioning the kicker, though. Brian Johnson is off doing pro things. There was an imperative for replacing him with a new kicker, and three players are going to compete for the job. Freshman John Love looks like he’s going to put some serious pressure on Redshirt Sophomores William Ross and Zach Hoban as the Brits say, this won’t be ‘sorted’ anytime soon. There will be heavy pressure put on them through the Fall practice, because someone is going to have to consistently score 1’s and 3’s.
Wrapping it Up and Waiting
So, it was a nice day. There were some really good things to see, and some stuff that concerns me. The 2nd and 3rd string in the O-Line needs lots of work and needs to play together better. The defense is going to look limited in Spring, but what we did see looks encouraging because the Maroon team might have won, but they had fits with the White team defense in places. Look for Norell Pollard, Josh Fuga, and TyJuan Garbutt to begin to stand out as the core three guys on the D-Line. Dax will be better off as a classic Mike, and both Keshon Artis and Alan Tisdale will be competing for the Will position throughout the season. Both of them are fast enough to be a Sam (Field side Linebacker) in heavy run situations like goal line stands so I expect that they will both play a lot.
It’s going to be a long Summer for us. Brent Pry got a little taste of Enter Sandman today. Wait until his teeth hurt when Lane is full and everyone is jumping.
We pick up the Where College Football is Going Series with a run through the blenders that are some of the mid-majors. First will talk about the Sun Belt and it’s massive raids on other conferences, and Conference-USA and how those raids are challenging it.