Friday, August 15, 2008

season preview: Virginia Tech

Bad news seems to be what people are interested in these days. The two biggest days on this blog, traffic-wise, have been the day Will Barker was arrested and the day it was learned that Kevin Bradley died. I am a shameless whore for hits, hits, hits, but I don't like having to report on the deaths of former 'Hoos, so I present you further bad news in the form of the Virginia Tech Hokies season preview. The bad news: once again, and as always, these guys are good.

8/30: @East Carolina (Charlotte)
9/6: Furman
9/13: Georgia Tech
9/20: @North Carolina
9/27: @Nebraska
10/4: Western Kentucky
10/18: @Boston College
10/25: @Florida State
11/6: Maryland
11/13: @Miami
11/22: Duke
11/29: Virginia

Skip: Clemson, Wake Forest, NC State

Projected starters:

QB: Sean Glennon (5Sr.)
RB: Kenny Lewis (Jr.)
FB: Kenny Jefferson (rJr.)
WR: Ike Whitaker (rJr.)
WR: Ervin Garner (rFr.)
TE: Greg Boone (rJr.)
LT: Ed Wang (rJr.)
LG: Nick Marshman (5Sr.)
C: Ryan Shuman (5Sr.)
RG: Sergio Render (Jr.)
RT: Blake DeChristopher (rFr.)

DE: Jason Worilds (rSo.)
DT: John Graves (rSo.)
DT: Cordarrow Thompson (rJr.)
DE: Orion Martin (5Sr.)
OLB: Cam Martin (rJr.)
ILB: Brett Warren (5Sr.)
OLB: Purnell Sturdivant (5Sr.)
CB: Stephen Virgil (Jr.)
FS: Kam Chancellor (Jr.)
RV: Dorian Porch (rJr.)
CB: Victor Harris (Sr.)

K: Dustin Keys (rJr.)
P: Brent Bowden (rJr.)

Coach: Frank Beamer (22nd season)

(Italics indicate new starters.)

Media prediction: 1st, Coastal Division

All-ACC selections:
2007 1st team: DE Chris Ellis (graduated), LB Xavier Adibi (graduated), CB Victor Harris, KR-PR Eddie Royal (graduated)
2007 2nd team: OT Duane Brown (graduated), DT Barry Booker (graduated), CB Brandon Flowers (graduated)
2007 HM: DT Carlton Powell (graduated), LB Vince Hall (graduated), S D.J. Parker (graduated)
2008 preseason: OG Sergio Render, CB Victor Harris

The Hokies have (unfortunately, in this blogger’s eyes) more or less dominated the ACC since joining up four years ago, already having two championships to their credit. Tech fans understandably bristle at the notion that the ACC doesn’t have any good marquee teams. The problem is, for Tech fans, that this perception is on the rise, and the Hokies right now are not.


To glance at the two I-A teams in the state of Virginia is to instantly realize that all quarterback controversies are not made alike. We’re struggling with finding one good enough; Tech has an embarrassment of riches and is trying to figure out how to keep two players happy. Sean Glennon, the strong-armed pocket passer, has never taken kindly to being replaced, and was a little cheesed off at being replaced by Tyrod Taylor early in last year’s blowout loss to LSU. Still, the Hokies got through last season pretty peacefully. They’ll need to do so again – their quarterbacks plus TE Greg Boone are the only skill-position regulars returning for 2008. Boone is solid and will find himself the target of more Glennon/Taylor passes than he did last year.

The subject of who’s getting the ball when the quarterback throws it could be the toughest question the Hokies are facing. In 2007 they had one of the deepest wide receiver corps in the country with four equally dependable players. They were all seniors, and now Tech is one injury away from putting up one of those notices in dorm hallways that have tear-off strips at the bottom, advertising for someone to line up wide. Tech thought they had a rising star in walk-on spring sensation Brandon Dillard, but this summer he popped his Achilles, which is going to put off that particular debutante party until 2009. So the Hokies will rely on big Zach Luckett, bigger Ike Whitaker (a converted quarterback), and Ervin Garner, who is definitely not big but zooms around the field. The reason Tech is even in this position is that four years ago, a group of four unheralded freshmen stepped up to catch passes from Bryan Randall and help Tech to a surprise championship in their first ACC season. They’ve all graduated; now Tech is hoping for something similar. Garner is the only freshman among those three, but the parallels will be drawn anyway if they can step up and replace Hyman, Royal, Morgan, and Harper.

The tailback battle got a lot of attention after the Hokies’ first scrimmage this week, and for all the wrong reasons. The most experienced players are juniors Kenny Lewis and Jahre Cheeseman, who are listed on the depth chart as co-starters. Both got a share of the carries last year behind Ore. RB coach Billy Hite was furious with his charges after the Wednesday scrimmage, in which there were fumbles galore and nobody ran in the direction that Hite wanted, which was supposed to be toward the end zone. One of the stars of Tech’s ’08 recruiting class is Ryan Williams, who “looked lost” during the scrimmage. Williams was expected to make a major push for playing time and still might if nobody can separate themselves from the pack, but he's taken criticism from Hite for the cardinal sin of not knowing the plays so well.

So with the mess at the skill positions, why is there any optimism around the VT offense? The line. Only one starter was lost to graduation, and though it was a biggie (2nd team All-ACC LT Duane Brown), that spot will be filled by junior Ed Wang, who moves from a starting slot at right tackle. These guys are big and they are experienced. And big. The starting linemen average almost 320 lbs apiece. The smallest is redshirt freshman Blake DeChristopher at 293 lbs, who was a highly touted member of Tech’s ’07 class. All-ACC preseason pick RG Sergio Render weighs in at 324 pounds and his counterpart, LG Nick Marshman, is a whopping 357. These guys are going to plow some holes in front sevens and make life a lot easier for whoever is throwing, catching, or running the ball.


The unquestioned star of the defense is CB Victor Harris. Harris thought about joining the mass exodus of VT defenders to the NFL draft; four of his compatriots were selected, and Harris projected as a third round pick himself. Harris changed his mind, though, and returns to lead a defense that needs the leadership as they break in seven new starters.

On the line, the only returner is DE Orion Martin. He’s a fifth-year senior and a terror; by far the leading returning player in sacks and TFL. The other one to really watch out for is on the other end of the line: sophomore Jason Worilds played all 14 games as a reserve in 2007 but the truly impressive number is the 4.5 TFL – more than 1 out of every four of his tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. Worilds is replacing all-ACCer Chris Ellis, and might make people forget about him sooner rather than later.

Replacing a couple of departed all-conference linebackers should prove pretty simple too. Purnell Sturdivant and Brett Warren are both fifth-year seniors with plenty of experience in reserve duty; Warren was even a starter for four games when Vince Hall went down with injury last season.

Obviously, the story in the secondary is Harris. But this is also where most of the starting experience resides, as FS Kam Chancellor joins Harris as a returning starter. Dorian Porch is listed as the starter alongside Chancellor as the rover, though his official bio says he “will have to defend his job” in August practice; the staff rather likes Davon Morgan as well and there could be a more even division of playing time than a typical starter-reserve split.

The personnel is all well and good, but it’s worth mentioning that the big reason the Hokie defense will be scary despite the loss of loads of NFL talent is the man that molds these guys into NFL talent in the first place. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is the guy behind it all and he’s worked with Frank Beamer since the Triassic era. Somebody needs to hurry up and offer Foster scads of money to be a head coach somewhere. Anywhere. Before Beamer retires, preferably, so that “anywhere” is not Blacksburg. Any Hokie defense coached by Foster will be good; bank on it.


Dustin Keys will be the guy who trots onto the field whenever Tech attempts their first field goal this year; it’s not a lock that it’ll be that way forever, though, as Keys will be in his first season as a starter after the departure of the solid Jud Dunlevy. Keys had a solid spring, booting a 53-yarder in the spring scrimmage, but has zero game experience, so the coaches will keep half an eye on him for a while. Brent Bowden (no relation to the coaching clan) returns as the punter. Tech has to find someone to replace first team all-conference return man Eddie Royal; with Brandon Dillard hurt, Victor Harris or Ervin Garner could get the call.


I think Tech exists to piss me off. How else do you explain the unfairness of it all? A team that has to replace 12 of 22 starters, including most of the defense and most offensive skill positions, doesn’t normally end up the pick to win the division. Especially not one that lost so many receivers and whose running backs are irritating their coach by mistaking the sideline for a good direction to run. Tech’s schedule is fairly challenging though; before October begins they have to go to Chapel Hill to face a dangerous sleeper team, and follow it up with a journey to Lincoln, Nebraska. Both Florida teams are road games as well. Still, they won’t play Clemson unless it’s in Tampa for the championship. This is supposed to be Tech’s down year, but their defense and O-line are too good to let that happen. Watch for trouble if they slip up against UNC and Nebraska, but if not, don’t expect them to easily relinquish their hold on the Coastal Division.

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