I’d planned to run some more stuff from interviews last week, but my laptop seems to have eaten all my notes. I’ll have more when I transcribe it again. In the meantime, I asked writers who cover the teams on Tech’s schedule for breakdowns of those teams. We’ll start with Virginia Tech and Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times and Virginian Pilot. You can check out his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.
1. In a nutshell, what are Virginia Tech’s strengths and weaknesses?
The defense, as usual, is the strength of the team. The Hokies return nine starters from a group that was riddled with injuries last year yet still finished the season ranked No. 10 nationally in total defense. The entire front seven is back, buoyed by the return of linebacker Bruce Taylor, who was having an All-ACC season before suffering a Lisfranc foot injury in Week 8. The defensive line has the potential to be one of the best the school has had in the last decade. On offense, quarterback Logan Thomas is emerging as one of the nation’s best. In his first year as a starter, he threw for 3,000 yards, accounted for 30 touchdowns and broke the school’s single-season yardage mark.
While the defense is stout, the secondary is not particularly deep. Beyond starters Kyle Fuller, Antone Exum, Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett, there aren’t a whole lot of players who are ready for primetime. An injury on the back end could be a serious blow. Offensively, the Hokies are pretty much replacing everybody but Thomas. Four fifth-year starters are gone from the offensive line, as are receiver Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, who ranked 1-2 on the school’s all-time receiving list, and running back and ACC Player of the Year David Wilson, who went pro early. The line has the biggest question marks. It will need to come together. Virginia Tech has capable players at the other spots, although they’ll need to prove it on the field.
2. What kind of impact can be expected out of wide receivers Marcus Davis and D.J. Coles, the replacements for Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale?
They certainly have the potential. Davis is a physical freak. He’s 6-4, 228, runs a 4.37 time in the 40 and has a 44-inch vertical leap. Consistency has always been his issue. He’ll need to prove he’s capable of being an every-down threat if he wants to advance his game to the next level.
Coles is another big-bodied receiver (6-3, 216) who is a good target for Thomas. He’s coming off PCL surgery this offseason and has been slow in his recovery. The trainer recently said he was “dicey” for the Georgia Tech opener, so that will be something to watch. Don’t forget about Dyrell Roberts, who was given another shot at a senior season after breaking his arm in Week 3 last year. He’s a veteran who has good speed and skills, particularly in the slot. Those three might not be as prolific as Boykin and Coale, but they have enough skills to give Thomas plenty of options in the receiving game.
3. How much of an answer is Michael Holmes at running back (or anyone else) to fill David Wilson’s shoes?
Holmes seems like he’s the frontrunner. He’s kind of the anti-Wilson. Whereas Wilson was a home run hitter, a guy who could amaze on any play and loved the spotlight (I’m sure you’ve seen videos of his backflips), Holmes is a quieter, go-about-his-business back. He’s not flashy, but he produces (he had 2,877 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior in high school).
Oddly, that’s kind of what Virginia Tech’s offense needs. Holmes hits the right hole, runs north and south, has enough speed and enough physicality for the defense to worry about it. Will he make as many eye-popping runs as Wilson did last year? No.
But he also probably won’t run for negative 22 yards on first-and-goal, as Wilson did in the Sugar Bowl, trying to make something out of nothing. Thomas is enough of a star player on offense for the Hokies. If Holmes is a reliable rushing threat, that’ll be good enough.
4. Could Logan Thomas be even better than when Georgia Tech saw him last year?
He could, although that was one of his best games last season. He spent the offseason with quarterbacks guru George Whitfield, who had previously worked with Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. I covered Newton at Auburn, and I, like many who have made the same comparison, see some similarities there.
Although I’d say Cam was a more natural runner, at this point in their careers, Logan seems like a more polished passer. What’ll be key for Thomas this year is how he’ll handle being The Guy on offense. Last year, it was Wilson’s turn (at least early in the season). And Thomas had the benefit of a veteran line and receivers to help him out. That support system isn’t as great this year. So while I think he could be improved as a player, it wouldn’t shock me to see him put up numbers not too different from last year. Honestly, I think Virginia Tech would take that, though.
5. What were one or two of the biggest developments out of spring practice?
The offensive line had some noticeable problems early on. The defense, using plenty of blitzes in an early scrimmage, was in the backfield all day long. Now, that might be a statement about how porous the offensive line is or how good the defensive line is (more likely, it’s both). But it was enough to send die-hard Tech fans into an early panic. The o-line got better as spring went on — particularly the first group — and began to hold its own a bit more by the end, but it’ll still be an area of concern this fall.
Holmes established himself as the top guy for the running back job. At one scrimmage, he raced down the sideline 60 yards for a score, out-running the defense and at least somewhat alleviating concerns about his speed. In goal line drills, he showed a physicality the coaches liked and a nose for the end zone. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t the leading rusher this year.
Defensively. Bonner emerged as a guy who could be pretty good at free safety. He was a backup corner last year, filling in on occasion for an injured Jayron Hosley. The coaches like his instincts, range and cover skills at safety, though. Given the opportunity, he could be a breakthrough player on that side of the ball.
6. Georgia Tech players are pretty locked in on the opener. Do you get the same sense from Virginia Tech?
I’d say so, but it’s always tough to tell. They obviously understand the importance of the Georgia Tech game. The winner has always represented the Coastal Division in the ACC title game. And the defense has always put plenty of its focus into the Yellow Jackets and their option offense. Then again, you would have said Virginia Tech was locked in heading into past season openers that it has lost (Alabama and Boise State recently).
I think the Hokies are generally a team you can peg to be pretty good by the end of the season. You don’t win 10 or more games in eight straight seasons without being consistent in that sense. But season openers are always dicey, and the Hokies have had their share of flops to start the year recently. I’m expecting a close game come Labor Day (provided there’s no lightning in the area).