After a 7–6 record, Virginia Tech’s worst in 20 years, coach Frank Beamer finally made radical changes on the offensive side of the ball, hiring Scot Loeffler as coordinator, Jeff Grimes as line coach and Aaron Moorehead as receivers coach. The goal was to inject new life into an offense whose production traditionally has lagged behind the defense.
Getting quarterback Logan Thomas back for his senior season helps. Although he struggled as a junior, throwing for 2,976 yards and 18 touchdowns but also 16 interceptions, Thomas remains the Hokies’ best offensive weapon. Loeffler, who has worked with six future NFL quarterbacks as a coach — including Tom Brady as a graduate assistant at Michigan — was hard at work during the spring fixing Thomas’ faulty mechanics.
The rest of the offense has question marks. The line, which struggled to open holes for the running game, has to replace two tackles, although senior center Andrew Miller returns to solidify the interior. J.C. Coleman led the running backs last year with 492 yards, hardly the featured back Tech enjoyed for years. Expect redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds, who has drawn some Kevin Jones comparisons, to vie for carries.
After losing its top three receivers from last year, Tech will lean heavily in the passing game on senior D.J. Coles, who is coming off a lost season because of a knee injury.
Bud Foster’s crew appeared to turn a corner in the second half of last season, playing like the unit many expected at the start of the year. There should be some carryover, with the defense returning nine starters.
Two-time second-team All-ACC defensive end James Gayle and the tackle duo of Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy headline a deep defensive line that came into its own late in the year. The Hokies had 27 sacks in the final seven games, an average of 3.86 per game.
Jack Tyler, who had a team-high 119 tackles, returns at linebacker, joined by senior Tariq Edwards, an emerging player at the end of 2011 who missed significant time in 2012 with a knee/leg injury.
It’s the secondary that has the biggest question mark. All-ACC cornerback Antone Exum tore an ACL playing pickup basketball in January, an injury that puts his return anywhere from the beginning of August to mid-October. With cornerback Kyle Fuller and safeties Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett returning as starters, there’s plenty of experience on the back end, but Tech will need to plan to be without Exum. Sophomores Donovan Riley and Donaldven Manning got the majority of spring reps in his place, although 5-star cornerback signee Kendall Fuller (Kyle’s brother) and fellow incoming freshman Brandon Facyson could compete for playing time.
The Hokies have some talent here if they can avoid the gaffes that have plagued them in recent years. Kicker Cody Journell made 80 percent of his field goals last year, including three game-winners. Sophomore punter A.J. Hughes (40.6-yard average) brought some relief to Tech’s long-standing punting problems. Demitri Knowles and Jarrett are threats in the return game.
Virginia Tech made changes to its staff in hopes that the shuffling gets the offense closer to the decades-long success of Foster’s defense. The reality is that with completely new offensive tackles, a revamped receiving corps and question marks at running back, it might be more of the same until the new coaches can get a few recruiting classes under their belts.
Virginia Tech still has Thomas and a defense that returns nine starters from a group that finished 18th nationally last year. An ACC title isn’t out of the question.