There are changes aplenty in Blacksburg, Va. After 29 seasons as head coach of the Hokies, Frank Beamer will no longer be roaming the sidelines. With a new head coach comes a predominantly new staff and a different offensive style, something that also will be an adjustment for players and fans alike.
And the Hokies' depth chart won't look the same either. Key departures will impact both sides of the ball with the defense getting hit the hardest. So there will be a lot to focus on at Virginia Tech this spring and here are five special things to keep an eye on.
5 Storylines to Watch in Virginia Tech’s Spring Practice
1. The Justin Fuente Era Commences
Most everyone around the Virginia Tech program knew it was time for Beamer to step down. In luring Fuente away from Memphis, the Hokies have seemingly found a coach that will be able to perfectly blend the past history of the program with changes necessary to jumpstart the team going forward. Though he brought much of his Memphis staff with him and retained only three Beamer assistants, making sure defensive coordinator Bud Foster remained was important for the offensive-minded Fuente. Seeing how the team responds to the new voice may be the most important part of the spring workouts.
2. The Quarterback Position
If there is one thing that Fuente really knows, it’s quarterbacks. As an assistant at TCU, he helped develop Andy Dalton and he has spent the last three years tutoring Paxton Lynch. Brenden Motley filled in for an injured Michael Brewer last season and had some nice moments. But Motley is not a lock to be the starter now that Brewer is gone. Far from it in fact. Jerod Evans is on campus and most experts expect the nation’s top-rated junior college dual-threat quarterback to win the job. Motley won’t give up without a fight and rising sophomore Dwayne Lawson will get some looks as well.
3. Developing the Offensive Line
The offensive line had three returning starters in 2015 and with that came some optimism. But once again, there were problems. Tech quarterbacks were sacked 34 times and though some of those can be traced to Brewer and Motley holding the ball too long, the line has to shoulder their share of the blame. The Hokies also ranked 82nd in rushing offense and again the line is at least partially responsible. Four starters return up front for 2016 but new offensive line coach Vance Vice — the fourth line coach in five years — wants that experience to lead to production.
4. Revamping the Defensive Line
Foster and his line coach Charley Wiles have been together a long time and over the years have put together some disruptive fronts. This year’s challenge will be to replace three quarters of the starting defensive line. Tackles Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall along with end Dadi Nicolas have exhausted their eligibility leaving some large holes along the front. Though Ken Ekanem returns at end, that position is just as concerning. At tackle, players like Woody Baron and Nigel Williams have some experience. Mix in a little of highly touted redshirt freshman Tim Settle and they have options inside. After Ekanem, there is a lot of inexperience at end.
5. Secondary Progression
Injuries limited star Kendall Fuller to just three games in 2015 and now the Baltimore native has declared for the NFL Draft. Brandon Facyson,who played in all 13 games after missing all of 2014 with a leg injury, will miss this spring with a knee injury. As a result, the development of the younger players will be key. Mook Reynolds and Adonis Alexander both saw considerable action as true freshmen last fall and Terrell Edmunds found his way into the starting unit as a redshirt freshman. Fortunately, the youngsters have veteran Chuck Clark at safety to get everyone in the right spot.
Pre-Spring Virginia Tech Outlook in the ACC
The Hokies needed a shot in the arm and they will get it in the young, aggressive Fuente. Fuente teaming with Foster looks like an outstanding long-term combination at Tech. But there will be some bumps next fall. The offense has some good skill position parts in Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, Bucky Hodges and Travon McMillan. Assuming that Fuente is again able to work his magic at quarterback, it once again comes down to the offensive line. Defensively, a team cannot lose as many key components as Virginia Tech has and stay the same, Bud Foster or no Bud Foster. Basically, from the front to the back the Virginia Tech defense will go through an adjustment period. We will begin to see this spring how both sides of the ball come together.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.