The fact that Virginia Tech, despite playing in its 20th straight bowl game and finishing last season with a winning record, was labeled one of the nation’s most disappointing teams in 2012 tells you just how far this program has come. The reality for Frank Beamer and his Hokies is that last season was just that, a disappointment. After all, Beamer’s bunch was expected to be a top-25 mainstay, win the ACC Coastal Division once again and contend for another conference championship in 2012, yet none of that materialized as the Hokies managed just enough wins to maintain its bowl streak and finish .500 in the conference. Despite last season’s shortcomings, the expectations haven’t changed in Blacksburg, so the onus will be on the coaching staff, featuring several new faces on the offensive side, and the players to put in the work this spring if the Hokies hope to get back to where everyone expects them to be – atop the ACC and among the nation’s best teams. The schedule-makers did their part, as Virginia Tech will not face either Clemson or Florida State, the top two projected teams from the Atlantic Division, in the regular season.
Virginia Tech Hokies 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 7-6 (4-4)
Spring practice dates: March 27-April 20
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 9
Passing: Logan Thomas, 220-of-429, 2,976 yards, 18 TDs, 16 INTs
Rushing: Logan Thomas, 174 att., 524 yards, 9 TDs
Receiving: Demitri Knowles, 19 rec., 240 yards, 1 TD
Tackles: Jack Tyler, 119
Sacks: James Gayle, 5
Interceptions: Antone Exum, 5
Redshirts to watch: WR Joel Caleb, LB Deon Clarke, DE Ken Ekanem, RB Trey Edmunds, WR Joshua Stanford, CB Der’Woun Greene, RB Chris Mangus, WR Mark Irick
Early Enrollees to watch: CB Brandon Facyson, QB Carlis Parker, OT Jonathan McLaughlin, OT Parker Osterloh
vs. Alabama (Atlanta, Ga.)
at East Carolina
at Georgia Tech (Thurs.)
at Boston College
Offensive Strength: Quarterback. Senior Logan Thomas will be entering his third year as the starter under center. Despite his struggles (51.2 completion percentage, 16 INTs) last season, Thomas broke his own single-season school record for total offense. The talent is clearly there; it’s just a matter of Thomas getting the most out of it on the field.
Offensive Weakness: Playmakers. Thomas is the team’s leading returning rusher, as the running back who gained the most yards rushing last season was J.C. Coleman with 492. Coleman (21 rec.) also is the leading returning receiver, as the departure of the Hokies’ top three wide receivers leaves sophomore Demitri Knowles’ 19 receptions as the most among the remaining pass catchers.
Defensive Strength: Experience. Nine starters are projected to return on a defense that ranked among the top 32 teams in the nation in total, scoring, rushing and pass defense.
Defensive Weakness: Linebacker. Jack Tyler, who is the ACC’s leading returning tackler, is the lone starting linebacker who is back. Tariq Edwards, Ronny Vandyke and Chase Williams, all of whom started at least one game at linebacker last season, also return and should get a chance to state their case for a starting job this spring.
Spring Storylines Facing the Hokies
1. Learn a new offense. After going from 35th in total offense in 2011 to 81st last season, Frank Beamer decided to shake up his coaching staff on that side of the ball. Beamer hired former Auburn offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler to overhaul the offense. While the vast majority of Hokies fans were more than ready for a change, Loeffler’s one season at Auburn doesn’t exactly give the fan base a reason to stand up and cheer. The Tigers ranked near the bottom of FBS schools in total (115th of 120), scoring (112th) and passing (112th) offense, and fared just slightly better than the Hokies did in rushing (148.4 ypg compared to 145.9 ypg) the ball. Loeffler has a talented quarterback to work with in Logan Thomas, but plenty of other question marks after that. As last season showed, the defense can only be expected to carry this team so far. The offense needs to do its part too, so this spring is critical as Thomas and company work with the new coaches.
2. Find a running game. Virginia Tech went from No. 28 in the nation in rushing offense (186.9 ypg) in 2011 to No. 79 (145.9 ypg) last season. Quarterback Logan Thomas was the team’s leading returning rusher in 2012 with 524 yards, marking the first time in two decades (1992) that the Hokies’ top rusher had less than 600 yards. A big part of “Beamer Ball” is running the football, so one of Loeffler’s priorities this spring is to sort out the backfield rotation and find a way to run the ball effectively. There’s no shortage of candidates at running back with senior Tony Gregory and sophomores J.C. Coleman and Michael Holmes all back. The problem is those three combined to average 4.4 yards per carry and seven rushing touchdowns last fall. Coleman, who led all backs with 492 yards on the ground, figures to get the first shot at lead-back duties. Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds also will enter the mix this spring. The offensive line also will need a fair share of attention with three starters gone from a group that helped the running game manage a measly 3.7 yards per carry. New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has his work cut out for him this spring as he sorts all of his options and figures out his depth chart.
3. Find Logan Thomas more help in the passing attack. Fair or not, a lot of the blame for Virginia Tech’s offensive struggles last season has been placed on the performance of Thomas. While the quarterback struggled at times with his accuracy (51.2 completion percentage, 16 INTs), he led the team in rushing and broke his own school record for total offense in a single season. The reality is Thomas needs more help from both the running game and his own pass catchers. The top three receivers from last season – Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts – are all gone, but the trio also was inconsistent at times throughout last fall so perhaps change at wideout won’t be a bad thing. New wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead does have the benefit of getting D.J. Coles back. The senior sustained a knee injury in last season’s opener against Georgia Tech and ended up missing the entire season. Coles should be one of Thomas’ main targets, if he can stay healthy. Sophomore Demitri Knowles came on as last season progressed and his 19 catches are the most among the returning wideouts and tight ends. If he continues to improve, he could pair with Coles to give Thomas two trusted targets. The Hokies also need young players like Joel Caleb, widely regarded as the top prospect in the 2012 signing class, redshirt freshman Joshua Stanford and others to step up and make an impression this spring. Thomas’ breakout 2011 campaign came when Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale were finishing out their collegiate careers. If Thomas wants to finish his Hokies’ career on a high note, he will need help from those on the receiving end of his throws.
4. Identify Jack Tyler’s running mates. Tyler, an All-ACC linebacker and the conference’s leading returning tackler, is back to man his starting linebacker spot. With Bruce Taylor, who led the team with 5.5 sacks, and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow both gone, linebacker is the most unsettled spot on the Hokies’ defense. Tariq Edwards, who played in just seven games because of a leg injury, should get the chance to start alongside Tyler provided he’s able to show he’s fully recovered and hasn’t lost a step. Sophomore Ronny Vandyke, who started two games last season, also figures to get a chance to lay claim to the other starting linebacker spot. Junior Chase Williams and redshirt freshman Deon Clarke will get plenty of looks this spring as well as defensive coordinator Bud Foster looks to develop a healthy and productive two-deep at this critical position.
5. Filling Antone Exum’s spot. The good news for Foster is that his defense is expected to return nine starters this fall, including a deep defensive line corps. The bad news is that one of those starters, second-team All-ACC cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in January. To his credit, Exum is aiming to be ready for the season opener on Aug. 31 against two-time defending national champion Alabama, but the reality is Foster probably should plan on not having his best cover corner (5 INTs, 16 PBU in 2012) and one of his senior leaders to start the season. The secondary still has plenty of experience coming back in fellow senior corner Kyle Fuller as well as starting safety Detrick Bonner and rover/safety Kyshoen Jarrett. What remains to be seen is if sophomores Donaldven Manning or Donovan Riley are ready to step up if Exum isn’t ready to play. The Hokies also will welcome Fuller’s younger brother, Kendall, one of the top cornerback recruits in the nation, into the fold this summer.
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