On Nov. 26, 2011, Virginia Tech thumped rival Virginia to go to 11-1 on the season and they were rewarded with a No. 5 ranking in the AP Top 25. It was the eighth straight season – and the 13th time in 17 years – that the Hokies won at least 10 games. And from that point on, things haven’t been the same with a record of 73-58 and just one double-digit-win campaign.
The end of the Frank Beamer era gave way to Justin Fuente’s time in Blacksburg and after a promising start to his Hokie tenure, Fuente's teams went south both on and off the field. Now it’s Brent Pry's turn to right the ship and the former Penn State defensive coordinator has brought in a lot of excitement and hope for the future.
The future is now as the Hokies kick off spring practice this week. These are five items to monitor during the upcoming sessions.
5 Storylines to Watch During Virginia Tech’s Spring Practice
It’s been a frustrating experience for Hokie fans when it comes to the quarterback position. The last true playmaker at the position was probably Jerod Evans for his one season in 2016 and Hendon Hooker's ascension at Tennessee has to give everyone around the program nightmares. So this spring the most important order of business is to find the right signal-caller to replace Braxton Burmeister. Connor Blumrick started one game last season and he joins Tahj Bullock as holdovers from 2021. Joining the battle will be early enrollee Devin Farrell, South Carolina transfer Jason Brown, and Grant Wells, who was a two-year starter at Marshall.
2. Finding receivers for that quarterback
Gone are Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner as well as James Mitchell, who had a fine career at tight end before missing most of last season with an injury. Plus, running back Raheem Blackshear caught 25 passes and he has moved on as well. So new pass catchers will have to emerge. The leading returning receiver is Kaleb Smith, who had 20 grabs as a redshirt sophomore last fall. There are several other young contenders like Da'Wain Lofton, Dallan Wright, and early entry tight end Benji Gosnell, but Temple graduate transfer Jadan Blue is someone the coaching staff expects to provide production and leadership.
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3. Generating more defensive pressure
The Hokies have a fine linebacking corps led by Alan Tisdale and Dax Hollifield, but this defense needs more havoc creators. Last fall, Virginia Tech finished 10th in the ACC in both sacks and tackles for lost yardage and they will no longer have the services of end Amare Barno. TyJuan Garbutt is a solid player, but there needs to be more off the edge on both the first and second levels of the defense. Eli Adams will get the first crack at the end spot opposite Garbutt, but redshirt freshman Mattheau Carroll has an opportunity to earn some time if he shows that he can get into the backfield.
4. Replacing Jermaine Waller
The good news is that Virginia Tech returns an experienced defensive backfield group. Chamarri Conner has played in 40 games during his career with 247 tackles. Nasir Peoples was second on the team with 88 tackles last season. And Dorian Strong has been a key contributor for two seasons. But there is no one coming back like Waller. It will have to be a group effort and guys like Brion Murray, Ny'Quee Hawkins, and redshirt freshman D.J. Harvey will have to make major strides over the next few weeks.
5. Putting Pry's system in place
This is without question the most important aspect of the spring sessions. The Hokies can have players that make dramatic athletic improvements at each position, but if the team does not buy into what Pry and his staff are selling, then improvement will be slow to develop. Moreover, the two new coordinators – Tyler Bowen on offense and Chris Marve on defense – will have to develop a bond with their units to develop trust on both sides of the ball. The player-coach relationships began when Pry was hired, but it will go to a different level once the team puts on the pads.
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– 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.