Wednesday, August 22, 2012

season preview: Virginia Tech Hokies


9/3: Georgia Tech (Mon.)
9/8: Austin Peay
9/15: @ Pittsburgh
9/22: Bowling Green
9/29: @ Cincinnati
10/6: @ North Carolina
10/13: Duke
10/20: @ Clemson
10/27: BYE
11/1: @ Miami (Thu.)
11/8: Florida State (Thu.)
11/17: @ Boston College
11/24: Virginia

Skip: Maryland, NC State, Wake Forest

Projected starters:

QB: Logan Thomas (rJr.)
RB: Michael Holmes (rFr.)
FB: Joey Phillips (5Sr.)
WR: Dyrell Roberts (5Sr.)
WR: Marcus Davis (5Sr.)
TE: Eric Martin (Sr.)
LT: Nick Becton (5Sr.)
LG: David Wang (rJr.)
C: Andrew Miller (rJr.)
RG: Brent Benedict (rSo.)
RT: Vinston Painter (5Sr.)

DE: J.R. Collins (rJr.)
DT: Derrick Hopkins (Jr.)
DT: Antoine Hopkins (5Sr.)
DE: James Gayle (rJr.)
WHLB: Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (5Sr.)
LB: Tariq Edwards (rJr.)
LB: Bruce Taylor (5Sr.)
CB: Antone Exum (rJr.)
CB: Kyle Fuller (Jr.)
R: Kyshoen Jarrett (So.)
FS: Detrick Bonner (rSo.)

K: Cody Journell (rJr.)
P: A.J. Hughes (Fr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Frank Beamer (26th season)

Media prediction: 1st, Coastal Division; ACC runners-up


2011 1st team: RB David Wilson, OT Blake DeChristopher
2011 2nd team: QB Logan Thomas, G Jaymes Brooks, DE James Gayle, CB Jayron Hosley, CB Kyle Fuller, S Eddie Whitley
2011 HM: DE J.R. Collins, S Antone Exum, G Greg Nosal, LB Bruce Taylor
2012 preseason: DE James Gayle, LB Bruce Taylor, CB Kyle Fuller

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Yeah yeah.  The Hokies were good last year - good enough to earn a very rare at-large BCS berth for the ACC, although not quite good enough to win it - and will probably be good this year.  Great.


Offensively, Hokie fans are pinning their hopes on Logan Thomas at quarterback.  It makes sense: Thomas is legit.  He's a big, mobile quarterback with a good arm, and adds just enough of a running dimension to be dangerous.  The other reason it makes sense: he's one of the few familiar faces on the offensive side of the ball.

Thomas's two primary targets have moved on this year, but the Hokies aren't hurting too badly at receiver.  Marcus Davis is a speedy deep threat, who tied for the team lead in receiving TDs last year with five, even though he was only fourth on the team in receptions.  Dyrell Roberts started out his career very promisingly as a true freshman, but never could break through to be the primary target, and got derailed the past two years with injuries.  With Danny Coale (finally) graduated, and Jarrett Boykin as well, Roberts is finally getting his shot to feature in the offense, and probably won't disappoint.  He and Davis make a solid combo.  (Much to my chagrin, however, fifth-year senior tight end George George III remains buried on the depth chart.)

Replacing David Wilson, though, won't be as easy.  The Hokies return hardly anybody with game experience at running back, although this is a position that doesn't really require it to succeed.  They'll put the ball in the hands of redshirt freshman Michael Holmes, but there's very little chance Holmes gets all of Wilson's 290 carries.  They have some quality true freshman options as well, and will probably at least take a look at J.C. Coleman.

The all-consuming question for the VT offense, though, is whether the almost totally brand-new offensive line will be up to the task.  Except for center Andrew Miller, all the line positions must be replaced.  That flips the script from last year, when Tech had a line full of fifth-year seniors and only Miller as the new guy.  They've taken a few different routes to fill in the replacements, but of them, only LT Nick Becton has much game experience.  Becton averaged 30+ snaps a game last year, so he should move into the lineup fairly seamlessly.  The other side of the spectrum is RG Brent Benedict, who redshirted a year at Georgia and then sat out last year as a transfer, so he's never played a single snap.  Neither RT Vinston Painter or LG David Wang have ever been a full member of the rotation, so there's a lot more inexperience than experience here.  Miller should be a steadying influence, but this unit has to prove itself.

Until the O-line comes together, Hokie fans probably won't rest easy.  Thomas is difficult to take down, and that will cover up for some potential pass protection deficiencies, but a new set of running backs running behind a new offensive line means the running game has work to do before it can approach last year's productivity.  The best case is pretty good, but the worst case could turn ugly against the more experienced D-lines.


Fortunately for Tech (and unfortunately for all good and decent God-fearing people) the defense will be a real strength.  It's absolutely loaded with upperclassmen, and the defensive line in particular is going to wreak some havoc.  There isn't one especial big name on the line, although DE James Gayle comes close in that regard with seven sacks in 2011.  He and J.R. Collins, on the other side, both earned some type of all-ACC recognition last year.  On the inside, Derrick Hopkins registered 51 tackles last year, an excellent number for a DT.  The Hokies will rotate in Luther Maddy to complete the three-man rotation - Maddy started seven games last year as a true freshman - and they'll throw some different looks at offensive lines by subbing in Corey Marshall and Zack McCray at both end and tackle.

The depth and skill at linebacker will take a hit if Tariq Edwards can't return from a stress fracture suffered earlier this year; it's been a tricky injury for him.  Edwards is a solid player who can play both the run and the pass - he racked up 11.5 TFL last season and added two interceptions.  Bruce Taylor is considered the Hokies' top linebacker, and indeed was on pace for a team-leading 93 tackles last year before a foot injury ended his season, but he's not the pass defender Edwards is.  Jack Tyler will take over if Edwards misses the start of the season, but he's clearly a step down from Taylor and Edwards.  Whip linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow remains an enigma.  He was wildly inconsistent in 2010, and then, just when he was finding his footing in 2011, he too ended his season with a foot injury.

Probably the only place on defense where the Hokies find a thin spot is at cornerback.  Kyle Fuller is one of the better ones in the league, and was a surprise team leader in tackles for loss with 14.5.  However, Tech moved Antone Exum over from safety to fill the other cornerback spot - the rest of the depth chart is filled mostly with freshmen of all varieties.  Exum, too, is a very good player, but the remainder of the cornerback depth chart is full of potential and no experience.  The Hokies were able to shift Exum because it does appear that sophomore Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner are prepared to handle the job at safety.

Most of the Hokie defense is proven and talented, and well-coached as ever.  The secondary bears some watching, but there's plenty of talent there even if it's not entirely game-proven yet.  The best bet is that there won't be too many growing pains for the new safeties, and the corners of course will be just fine.  Overall, this remains one of the toughest defenses in the league - if not the country - to score on.


Cody Journell turned out to be one of the league's better kickers last year, hitting on 14-of-17, so Tech is set there.  Punting is another story.  The regular punters were godawful to the point where Danny Coale ended up doing all the punting by season's end - and averaged 43.5 yards doing it.  True freshman A.J. Hughes currently sits atop the depth chart, and he might as well; he can't be much worse than the rest of this gang.


The upshot here is that Tech has a championship-caliber defense, a championship-caliber quarterback, and a big ol' question mark on the offensive line.  If they don't win the ACC title, you already know why.  If they do, it's because the O-line was good enough.  Don't get me wrong - they're not gonna suddenly find Boston College terrifying the offensive backfield.  The O-line is good enough for nine wins, easy - it just remains to be seen whether it's good enough to put the Hokies back in the ACCCG.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So you're saying these guys are pretty good? Sigh...