After eight straight seasons of at least 10 wins or more and dominating the ACC since entering the league, Frank Beamer has stubbed his toe over the last two campaigns.
At least, relatively speaking.
Virginia Tech is accustomed to competing for conference titles and playing in BCS bowls so 11 combined losses in the last two years doesn’t sit well with the passionate fans of VPI. Yes, Beamer hasn’t missed a bowl game since Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, but his offense, in particular, has grown stagnant over the last two seasons.
After changes on the staff a year ago — and one massive departure under center this year — Beamer is hoping to return to the ACC title picture in 2014.
And finding a replacement for the turnover-prone and oft-embattled yet record-setting quarterback Logan Thomas will be his first order of business this spring.
Virginia Tech Hokies 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 8-5 (5-3 ACC)
Spring Practice Opens: March 27
Spring Game: April 26
Three Things to Watch in Virginia Tech's 2014 Spring Practice
Is Mark Leal the answer?
Leal, a rising redshirt senior, is the most experienced quarterback on the roster and he threw just four passes during the regular season a year ago. The most action he saw was in the Sun Bowl blowout against UCLA when Thomas was hurt. He completed 11-of-24 passes for 128 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. His performance in that one game isn’t indicative of his potential success or failure in 2014 but it certainly looked like he was in over his head. This means that rising junior Brenden Motley and sophomore-to-be Andrew Ford should get plenty of chances this spring to prove themselves. All three need to make waves this spring before talented Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arrives this summer. Leal is the frontrunner but will have to play very well to hold off the more pro-style Brewer once fall camp opens. A great spring for Leal would go a long way to settling the QB debate in Blacksburg.
Fill holes along the defensive line
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is as proven a coaching commodity as there is in college football and fans can bet his unit won’t take a big step back in 2014. That doesn’t mean, however, that he doesn’t have his work cut out for him on the D-line this spring. Luther Maddy, the team’s leading sack artist (6.5) returns but James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins and J.R. Collins are all gone from the rotation. That trio posted 149 tackles, 30.5 tackles for loss and 16.0 sacks a year ago. The return of Corey Marshall, who missed all of last year with an injury, will help replace Hopkins at tackle. Otherwise, Dadi Nicolas, Ken Ekanem, Seth Dooley and Dewayne Alford will all compete for playing time up front. Maddy is a solid pass rusher but this group needs to be developed around him if Tech wants to stop the budding offensive rushing attacks in the ACC.
Find leadership at linebacker
Foster must replace Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum at the back end of his defense, but since his roster is so loaded (SEE Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson), the linebacker position is of much greater importance this spring. Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards are gone after a combined 174 tackles a year ago and Tyler’s leadership, in particular, will be missed. Josh Trimble isn’t going to be a superstar but he has the most experience and the inside track on a starting spot. Ronny Vandyke is back after missing all of last year with a shoulder injury but will be moving slowly (and carefully) in spring camp. Otherwise, it’s a lot of unknowns competing for time at one of the most prestigious defensive positions in the ACC. Playing linebacker for Foster is an honor and names like Chase Williams, Deon Clarke, Dahman McKinnon, Derek DiNardo and Drew Burns are all vying for snaps this spring. Beamer has always had elite linebackers at Tech and he will need to find his heir apparent after losing both Tyler and Edwards this offseason.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 7-9
Nationally, some are wondering what the future of the Hokies' program is after two “down” years in Blacksburg. The ACC has gotten a lot better around Tech over the last few years and that makes it tougher on everyone. Beamer and Foster are proven winners and will have another salty defense this year. But coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense needs to improve in short order without a proven signal-caller if Virginia Tech wants to win the Coastal Division. The good news is the schedule. There is no Clemson, no Florida State and no Louisville on the slate in crossover play and games with Georgia Tech and Miami take place in Blacksburg.