Here are five observations from Thursday’s practice:
• Tech’s coaching staff made some moves on the defensive side of the ball, mostly involving younger guys. Freshman Dahman McKinnon was moved from free safety to whip linebacker. With senior Wiley Brown currently not with the team because of family issues and with his future in question, the Hokies had just three whips on the first two days of practice. McKinnon, from Hope Mills, N.C., was pegged as a whip when Tech’s staff recruited him, so the move makes sense.
Additionally, redshirt freshman Michael Cole was moved from rover to free safety and ran with the No. 2 defense today. Freshman Greg Jones, a walk-on from Lorton, Va., who had an interception during the pass skeleton drill yesterday, has been moved from free safety to rover, while freshman Davion Tookes, from Fairburn, Ga., was moved from the boundary corner to the field corner and redshirt sophomore Carl Jackson went from field corner to the boundary corner.
Jackson has been in Tech’s system for two years now, so he possesses a better grasp of the defense and figures to be able to better challenge Tech’s receivers until the young guys get caught up. Competition makes everyone better.
• It was interesting to see that defensive end J.R. Collins worked with the second-team defense, while Corey Marshall worked with the first-team unit. This could be the case for any number of reasons. Perhaps defensive line coach Charley Wiles wanted to reward Marshall’s effort the past couple of days, or perhaps he wanted to send a message to Collins. We’ll keep an eye on this in the coming days.
Regardless, the Hokies possess a lot of depth on the defensive line and lose little with Marshall at end. Zack McCray, also an end, got a lot of reps at tackle during the team period (offensive vs. defense) next to Kris Harley on the second-team unit. His versatility is going to come in handy down the road.
• Freshman Brooks Abbott won the day’s kicking competition, which was held inside Lane Stadium instead of on the practice field. Abbott possesses a strong leg and was highly sought after, having kicked in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl earlier this year.
Cody Journell disputed the results good-naturedly, saying Coach Beamer robbed him of a kick he thought had gotten in just inside the right upright. Beamer told him that if it was too close to call, then it was no good. So the miss eliminated Journell from the competition.
• It was a bit of a long practice for backup long snapper Eddie D'Antuono, a freshman from Alexandria, Va., who serves as Joe St. Germain’s backup. During Tech’s special teams period, D’Antuono struggled with several snaps and that threw the punters off. So we’re not critiquing the punters today.
Beamer, though, evidently thinks a lot of D’Antuono. Right after that period, he pulled D’Antuono to the side and worked with him for about 15 minutes on his snapping. It says something when the Big Whistle takes the time to do that, and it’ll be interesting to see how D’Antuono fares going forward.
By the way, D’Antuono may be the biggest long snapper in the country. He’s 6-foot-6 and weighs 256 pounds.
• Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray was a bit exasperated with his defensive backs, but not for poor play. The Hokies’ DB’s had several opportunities for interceptions during the team and pass skeleton drills and couldn’t quite come down with the ball.
But we took their play overall today as a positive. His young guys are breaking hard on the ball and getting their hands on it. It’s hard to know what Tech is doing schematically, but the defensive backs are making strides.
• BONUS: Former Tech receiver Steve Sanders made an appearance at practice today. Sanders, who caught 62 passes in his career, played for the Hokies in the early 1990s and works in the medical device sales industry in Charlotte.
It’s always good to see former players. He’s taken care of himself, too, by the way. The guy looks like he could still play!
For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_Football).