Justin Fuente will be without several key players as the Hokies enter a critical spring following a disappointing 2018 campaign
Routines are very important for coaches. Anything that disrupts the normal flow of activities is not something that is welcomed.
So for Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente to postpone spring practice for a couple of weeks so that injured players could heal a little more tells you that there was a real problem. Even with the extra time, the Hokies will still be without several key players including offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw and defensive end Houshon Gaines.
But on Wednesday, the healthy Hokies will get after each other once again and there are plenty of aspects of the team that bear watching.
5 Storylines to Watch During Virginia Tech's Spring Practices
1. Quincy Patterson
Barring a strange occurrence, Ryan Willis will be the starting quarterback coming out of the spring. And in all likelihood, he will take the first snap of the season when the Hokies play Boston College on Aug. 31. But there will be a lot of eyes on Patterson over the next month. The redshirt freshman from Chicago is expected to be Virginia Tech’s quarterback in 2020 and his play over the next few weeks should give an indication of whether or not he will be ready if needed this coming fall.
2. Developing a running back rotation
DeShawn McClease entered his name into the transfer portal, but then pulled it back out and returned to Blacksburg. That is nice because the Hokies are very thin at running back and lost leading rusher Stephen Peoples to graduation. Though McClease is not an every-down back, he provides some experience to the position group. The question becomes, can someone step forward as the primary ball carrier this spring? Junior Jalen Holston saw his workload — and productivity — increase at the end of the season and he will get his chance to step into the lead role. Part of the spring depth issues are the result of an injury to Terius Wheatley, but the numbers will bolstered this summer when Keshawn King and Tahj Gary enroll.
3. Finding the right mix on the offensive line
With Christian Darrisaw out, there will be more opportunity for other Hokie linemen to show their worth. That's important because all the other spots on the line are essentially up for grabs. Many expect sophomore Silas Dzansi to lock down the right tackle spot due to his starts late last season, but he will have competition from several challengers. The interior — with the departures of Kyle Chung and Braxton Pfaff — is even more uncertain. Zachariah Hoyt and Lecitus Smith started 12 games between them, but John Harris will be looking to earn a prominent role after a redshirt season.
4. Defensive tackle
The biggest loss defensively — both literally and figuratively — is that of Ricky Walker. The massive interior presence will be hard to replicate and at this point in time, the depth chart inside is as small as it is at running back. Two projected contributors for 2019 — Robert Porcher and Xavier Burke — are among the wounded Hokies that won't participate this spring. As a result, there are only three scholarship defensive tackles that will suit up when practice starts on Wednesday. One of those, Aiden Brown, was an offensive guard last year. Jerrod Hewitt and his 15 tackles is the leading returner at the position and junior college transfer Dashawn Crawford will have to make a mark right away.
5. Can the young corners improve?
Tech had problems in coverage last year and they hope that better things are ahead for two cornerbacks that gained valuable experience in 2018. This should be the year we see development in Caleb Farley. He's bounced back and forth from the secondary to receiver and had an ACL tear in between. Now he is healthy and knows that he's a corner. He has good size and athleticism; he just has to learn more about playing the position. On the other side should be Bryce Watts, a junior that saw his role expand last season. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster also wants competition at both corner spots and junior college transfer and early enrollee Brion Murray may give Farley and Watts a run for their money.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.