— By Mark Ross
The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
Virginia Tech Hokies 2012 Spring Preview
2011 Record: 11-3, 7-1 ACC
Spring practice: March 28-April 21
Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 8
Passing: Logan Thomas: 234 of 391, 3,013 yards, 19 TDs, 10 INTs
Rushing: Logan Thomas: 153 car., 469 yds., 11 TDs
Receiving: D.J. Coles: 36 rec., 480 yds., 3 TDs
Tackles: Antone Exum, 89
Sacks: James Gayle, 7
Interceptions: Tariq Edwards and Kyle Fuller, 2
Redshirts to watch: DT Kris Harley, LB Griffin Hite, RB Michael Holmes, WR Demitri Knowles, DE Dadi Nicholas, TE Darius Redman, DE Matt Roth, DE Justin Taylor
Early Enrollees: DE Dewayne Alford, RB J.C. Coleman, DB Donaldven Manning
Sept. 3 Georgia Tech
Sept. 8 Austin Peay
Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 Bowling Green
Sept. 29 vs. Cincinnati (Landover, Md.)
Oct. 6 at North Carolina
Oct. 13 Duke
Oct. 20 at Clemson
Nov. 1 at Miami
Nov. 8 Florida State
Nov. 17 at Boston College
Nov. 24 Virginia
Offensive Strength: Logan Thomas is one of the ACC’s top Logan Thomas is one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks and is a legitimate dual threat with both his arm and legs. Virginia Tech’s offense is in good hands with Thomas, who should continue to improve entering his second season as the Hokies’ starting quarterback.
Offensive Weakness: The offense returns just three starters and Virginia Tech faces the daunting task of replacing running back David Wilson, the ACC Player and Offensive Player of the Year in 2011. The offensive line must be rebuilt as well with center Andrew Miller the only starter returning. The returning wide receivers also must take the next step in their development to help Thomas and the passing game.
Defensive Strength: Virginia Tech returns eight starters from a unit that finished second in the ACC and top 10 in the nation in both total and scoring defense last season. The defensive line is fairly deep and the linebacking corps will get back its leader, Bruce Taylor, who missed the final six games of the 2011 season because of a foot injury. The Hokies also have two of the ACC’s top defensive backs in Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller.
Defensive Weakness: Although Taylor returns to bolster the linebacking corps, the unit is relatively young and will be without Tariq Edwards this spring. Edwards, who was the team’s third-leading tackler in 2011, will be out the next four months as he recovers from leg surgery. Outside of Exum and Fuller, the secondary is inexperienced and will be a focus of the coaching staff during spring practice.
Spring Storylines Facing the Hokies
1. All David Wilson did last season was rush for a school-record 1,709 yards, accounting for 65 percent of the ACC’s second-best rushing attack all by his lonesome. With Wilson off to the NFL, the opportunity is there for someone to take advantage of the opportunity and become the next in a long line of productive Virginia Tech running backs. The question is who? Daniel Dyer and Tony Gregory are the returning running backs with the most experience, but they combined for a grand total of 57 yards last season. Thomas is the team’s leading returning rusher, but the quarterback can’t expected to do it all, so the Hokies are really hoping someone stands out during spring practice. That someone could be either redshirt freshman Michael Holmes or early enrollee J.C. Coleman.
2. Virginia Tech’s offensive line was one of the best in the ACC last season, as it gave up the second-fewest sacks per game in the conference and ranked 22nd in the nation. Four starters, including three who received All-ACC recognition, are gone with center Andrew Miller the lone returning starter. It’s no secret that the Hokies have big shoes to fill when it comes to replacing the departed Wilson in their backfield, but the work the coaching staff will need to do along the offensive line should not go unnoticed. The good news is it appears the staff does have some potential building blocks to work with including senior Nick Becton, junior David Wang and Georgia transfer Brent Benedict. If Virginia Tech is unable to find the right mix along the offensive line, it may not matter if a new running back emerges or not.
3. Virginia Tech returns eight starters on defense, which is good, but some of those starters will be acclimating themselves to new positions this spring and depth will be a point of emphasis at linebacker and in the secondary. The return of Bruce Taylor to lead the linebacking corps is huge, but the loss of Tariq Edwards to injury and the dismissal of Telvion Clark are the latest blows to the unit’s depth and experience. In the secondary, cornerbacks Exum and Fuller should contend for all-conference and maybe even some All-America honors, but the makeup of the rest of the unit is unknown at this point. Sophomores Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett will get first crack at earning the starting safety jobs and will need to make the most of their opportunities this spring. The secondary is one of the key components to defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s schemes and game plans, as evidenced by the number of former Hokie defensive backs who went on to play in the NFL.
4. With the uncertainty at both running back and offensive line, the success of Virginia Tech’s offense in 2012 will depend largely on Logan Thomas. One of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, Thomas will need several wide receivers to step up to replace the production of Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Together, the duo combined for 121 receptions, 1,665 yards and eight TDs in 2011. The talent is there in D.J. Coles and Marcus Davis, along with Dyrell Roberts, who missed most of last season with a broken arm, but they lack the experience and chemistry Thomas had with Boykin and Coale. Spring practice will be a great opportunity for the receivers and Thomas to get on the same page, as the passing game will probably play a bigger role in the Hokies’ offense in 2012 due to the questions surrounding the backfield.
5. Virginia Tech has won 10 or more games in eight straight seasons and in 11 of the last 13 overall. The Hokies have won four of the last eight ACC titles and played in five BCS bowls in that same span. Under Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech has established itself among the premiere programs in college football. The Hokies have come so far that fans have started to take the team’s year-in year-out success for granted and raised the level of their expectations. Anything short of a spot in the ACC Championship game and a BCS bowl bid is labeled a disappointment. Even though Beamer and his coaching staff are having to replace eight starters on offense, including the ACC’s top player in 2011 and rebuild one of the conference’s best offensive lines, the fans’ expectations for 2012 remain the same. Championships may not be won or lost during the spring, but these next three weeks will be critical to laying the groundwork for the fall. After all, “rebuilding” is not a word Virginia Tech fans are used to hearing.
Related College Football Content
Ranking the ACC's Head Coaches
Grading College Football's New Coaching Hires for 2012
College Football's Top Spring QB Battles to Watch
Top Transfers to Watch in 2012
Early Top 25 for 2012
College Football's Top Spring Storylines for 2012
College Football's Coaches on the Hot Seat
2012 ACC Schedule Analysis