Tech To Open Spring Practice
Hokies searching for consistency
... Continued from the Introduction

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The Offense
Offensive Line
Tight Ends
Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
The Defense
Defensive Line
Linebackers
The Secondary

Special Teams
 
Depth Chart
THE OFFENSE
The loss of seven starters from last year's team - including All-Americans Kevin Jones and Jake Grove, along with Tech's all-time leading receiver in Ernest Wilford - can't take away from the excitement in the offensive huddle heading into spring practice.

The cupboard may not be as full, but it certainly isn't empty. Tech's coaching staff is looking forward to the challenge of starting anew, and that starts with spring practice.

Among the goals for offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring are finding an explosive playmaker at the wide receiver spot, replacing Jones and a talented fullback, and molding an experienced and talented offensive line.

One area that only needs light work is the quarterback spot as Tech's top two signal callers return, including two-year starter Bryan Randall. Randall spent the winter moonlighting with the Tech basketball team, but is back and ready to add on to his impressive numbers.

Three starters return on the offensive line, led by Jon Dunn and Jimmy Martin. This group will experiment with different lineups and positions this spring in an effort to make everyone more versatile in case changes need to be made in the fall.

The big areas of need are at the receiver and running back spots. Leading the way at tailback are Cedric Humes and Mike Imoh, who although talented, haven't had to be the workhorse in Tech's offense yet. The receiving positions are wide open, and position coach Tony Ball will use the spring to evaluate and position his players for fall practice.

Offensive Line
Returning four players with valuable starting experience from 2003, and a plethora of young guys, line coach Stinespring will spend the majority of this spring getting the offensive line to work together, while finding replacements for three-year starter and Rimington Award winner Jake Grove and versatile Jacob Gibson.

At the center spot, Robert Ramsey, Tripp Carroll, Mike Parham and Danny McGrath will contend for the job Grove dominated for the past two years. None have extensive game experience, so the battle for reps this spring could swing in the favor of any of the four.

Ramsey, after backing up Grove for the past three years, will have an edge over the other guys, having played in six games in 2003. At 6-2, 307 pounds, Ramsey has the size to be successful, but must take himself from a back-up role to a starting role mentally.

"Robert needs to start thinking like a starter," Stinespring says. "He has been so used to backing up Jake that we will have to wait and see if he can mentally think of himself as a first-team type of player. He has the experience, he just needs the confidence."

Carroll, Parham and McGrath are inexperienced, but have shown promise and will battle with one another for reps.

"Tripp, Mike and Danny have a chance to get in there," Stinespring says. "Tripp has the size (6-4, 325 pounds) and the work ethic to be a hugely successful player for us. A big spring would be huge for these guys, because we're replacing an All-American at this spot."

At the guard positions, Stinespring has the services of two experienced players along with the help of younger players who could challenge for playing time.

At left guard, former walk-on Will Montgomery will go into the spring with the most experience, having started 10 games for the Hokies in 2003. The 6-3, 296-pound junior is a hard worker who can play a variety of positions, but will start off at guard for spring practice. He will also get a serious look at the center spot.

"Will is a guy who is never selfish," Stinespring says. "He is an extremely hard worker and a guy who you can always count on. I look for him to keep improving this spring, and then take that right into the fall."

Behind Montgomery, Stinespring will look at a large group of guys, including Brandon Gore, Matt Welsh, and Rashad Ferebee, to battle for time.

"These guys are young," Stinespring says. "But at the same time, they have been in the program for a few years and should add valuable talent and depth to this position."

At the other guard spot, James Miller will look to build on his experience, having started six games in 2003. The 6-6, 299-pound senior has the size and experience to lock down the position in the spring, over Jason Murphy.

"Miller hasn't consistently started for us, but he has consistently played," Stinespring says. "But Jason Murphy has really improved since coming to the offensive line [from the defense], so I'm excited to see what he can do, too."

At the tackle positions, Stinespring is lucky enough to return two full-time starters at the left and right spots. Jimmy Martin started 13 games at left tackle in 2003, while Jon Dunn started 12 at right tackle.

Martin, a 6-5, 289-pound junior, graded out at 85.3 percent with 24 knockdown blocks in 2003, and has a firm grasp on the starting job. He will be backed up by Reggie Butler, a 6-6, 339-pound junior.

"Martin is a guy I have a lot of confidence in," Stinespring says. "He's been out there, he's played and he knows what he's doing. Reggie Butler has improved dramatically, and he's a guy we can count on for depth there, too."

At right tackle, Dunn, a 6-7, 341-pound senior, will provide the most experience, after starting 12 games in 2003 and seven in 2002. He has become more physical with his imposing size and has worked to improve his concentration on the field.

"Jon really improved last year, as far as concentration is concerned," Stinespring says. "He came a long way, but that is still something we will focus on with him in the spring, because if he concentrates and plays physically, he could be a great player for us. We want him to keep up what he's been doing."

Behind Dunn, Stinespring says that junior Chris Pannell shows a lot of promise and will try to work his way into the rotation.

"I have confidence in Chris," Stinespring says. "He's worked hard to improve, and he is a guy I can see really challenging for some reps and playing time."

While Stinespring will have a big challenge in replacing Grove, he is excited about the returning players, and the young players in the program.

"We have a lot of guys who are almost getting it," Stinespring says. "With a good spring, some of these guys are capable of going and getting themselves some real playing time. This is a hard working group, and I expect a productive spring."

Tight Ends
At the tight end position, Coach Danny Pearman loses a veteran in Keith Willis, but has four quality athletes to battle for playing time. Junior Jeff King and senior Jared Mazzetta have both seen significant game experience, while freshmen Duane Brown and Matt Roane had the chance to redshirt last season to learn the offense while getting stronger.

"We're lucky to have two guys who aren't strangers to being on the field," Pearman says. "Jeff and Jared are going to be able to capitalize on that experience in the spring, but the two young guys will be able to benefit from their knowledge as well."

King, who split time between the tight end and fullback position in 2003, will see the majority of his reps come at the tight end spot. King is a hard worker who, at 6-5 and 256 pounds, played in all 13 games last season, while starting one. He contributed six receptions for 109 yards and one touchdown, averaging 18 yards per catch.

"Jeff is a guy who always works hard and plays unselfishly," Pearman says. "I'm really looking for him to have a great spring, especially since he will be focusing all of his time at tight end."

Mazzetta, after battling injuries for much of his career, played in all 13 games in 2003, contributing three catches for 44 yards. Also offering great size, at 6-4 and 259 pounds, he will contend with King for first-team reps.

"Mazzetta got a lot more reps last year when Jeff was playing fullback," Pearman says. "He and Jeff are going to be back and forth, and I look forward to seeing them push each other a lot."

Brown and Roane both redshirted in 2003, but offer size and athleticism to the tight end spot. Pearman says that with experience, the two players will show a lot of promise at the position.

"Duane is a big guy (6-5, 264 pounds), and he's a smart player," Pearman says. "He just needs to get in there and get some quality repetitions and he's going to be a good one. Also, Matt Roane has had a year to get bigger and stronger. Both of these guys are going to be good ones for us, and I'll give them as many reps as I can in the spring.

"This is going to be a good spring for the tight ends," Pearman says. "I have two veterans and two young guys who are a good size for the position and know a lot about the game. They are hard workers, and we'll get a lot accomplished during spring practice."

Quarterbacks
Quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers has the luxury of returning two gifted athletes who each saw significant playing time in 2003. Senior Bryan Randall and redshirt sophomore Marcus Vick will battle it out for the starting spot, with a little competition from newcomer Cory Holt.

Randall started all 13 games in 2003, amassing nearly 2,000 passing yards, including 398 against California in the Insight Bowl. The Williamsburg, Va., native also ran for 404 yards and five touchdowns over the season, giving him more than 5,000 total yards in his three seasons at Virginia Tech. The team will count on Randall to provide experience and leadership during the spring.

"Bryan is a very calm, poised player," Rogers says. "He is a leader by nature, and I think we will see him become the prototypical senior quarterback - one who provides leadership and focus to the rest of the team. Aside from continuing to improve on his skills as a player, I want to see him really develop the leader in himself this spring."

Vick, in addition to his back-up duties at quarterback, also saw time at wide receiver during 2003 in an effort to utilize his natural athletic ability. With blazing speed and a head for the quarterback position, Rogers expects Vick to challenge for the starting role.

"Marcus is about as athletic as anyone I've ever seen, and he's done a terrific job of learning the game," Rogers says. "He certainly has the ability to become a great player, and I expect him to come out this spring and give maximum effort."

In addition to the veterans, freshman Cory Holt enrolled at Tech for the spring semester and will get a jump start on his development.

"This spring, we will be focusing on getting Cory functional enough to play in the event of injuries occurring," Rogers says. "Last year, we were two injuries away from major problems, so it's very important that we get Cory comfortable with the offense and plays, because you never know when we may have to call on him.

"Overall I think we have an excellent group. I'm excited that for the first time in a while, we have more than two guys out there working. They'll all push each other and give us more depth at the position than we've had in a while."

Running Backs
The past few seasons, spring practice has been just a formality for running backs coach Billy Hite. He's had Shyrone Stith, Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones, along with talented and tough fullbacks.

This year won't be so easy. He has to replace both his starting tailback and starting fullback. Jones, a consensus All-American last year at the tailback spot, opted to leave Tech one year early for the National Football League, while three-year starting fullback Doug Easlick was lost to graduation.

Despite losing these two impact players, Hite is confident that he has players who will step up and fill these roles nicely during the spring.

"The cupboard is not bare," Hite says. "We are losing two tremendous players in Jones and Easlick, but we also have players who have been in the program and are ready to step up to the challenge of replacing them."

At tailback, 230-pound junior Cedric Humes will enter the spring with the most game experience under his belt. He played in all 13 games in 2003, rushing for 380 yards and five touchdowns. He brings size and speed to the tailback position, but must work on his concentration this spring after bouts with fumbling problems during the season.

"Cedric offers more size than our past few tailbacks have," Hite says. "He's a big back who can run well, and I'm looking for big things from him this spring."

Battling Humes for the starting spot will be Mike Imoh, a junior from Fairfax, Va. Imoh, while rushing only 22 times for 86 yards in his back-up tailback role last year, gobbled up the ground on kickoff returns, amassing 549 yards in 18 attempts, including a 91-yard return for a touchdown against Connecticut. He also added three touchdown receptions as he became an offensive jack of all trades for the Hokies.

"Mike is more of a scat back," Hite says. "Sometimes, he can just scurry past big defensive linemen because they can't see him until its too late. He is a guy who can really help our offense in a lot of ways, and this will be a big spring for him."

Also seeing time at tailback will be walk-on junior John Candelas from Blacksburg, Va. Candelas, who saw action in four games last season and scored a touchdown against James Madison, will try to work himself into the tailback rotation this spring.

"Candelas has gotten better and better since he's been here," Hite says. "I think he'll work hard this spring and might earn himself some more playing time."

At the fullback position, Hite will have his work cut out for him, as none of the candidates for the job have any game experience. Junior Jeff King, who backed up Easlick last year in addition to his role as a tight end, will see very limited reps at fullback this spring.

"Jeff will be my ace in the hole," Hite said. "He already knows the position so he doesn't need to practice it. I'm going to see what these other guys can do before I bring him in for reps."

Competing for the fullback spot during the spring will be freshman John Kinzer, sophomore Jesse Allen and junior Jason Myers, who have all been in the system for several years. Also thrown into the mix will be highly touted newcomer George Bell, who graduated high school early in order to join the Hokies in the spring.

"Kinzer has all the tools on paper," Hite says. "He just has to concentrate on learning the game and his assignments. We need to get him reps to see how he'll handle the mental part of the game."

Battling Kinzer will be Allen and Myers, both of whom have had the benefits of being in Tech's strength and conditioning program. Both need to work on the mental aspect of the game as well, and will battle one another for quality reps.

"These guys are hard workers in the weight room," Hite says. "Now they just need to put it together on the field and get some quality experience this spring."

Bell, a 5-10, 226-pound freshman, from Fayetteville, N.C., will move from his high school tailback position for spring practice, working exclusively at the fullback spot. Coming off of a knee injury and playing the position for the first time, Bell will work on learning the ins and outs of the position in hopes of battling for the starting job in the fall.

"George is a big, sturdy guy, but he's never played fullback before," Hite says. "But I think that when he is fully recovered from his injury, he has all the physical tools to be a success at the position. So we're going to teach him the ropes during the spring."

Hite also says that walk-on freshman Carlton Weatherford shows great promise at the fullback spot. Weatherford sustained an ACL injury during 2003 bowl practices and had surgery to repair it. He may also factor in as a contender when the knee is fully healed.

"Carlton was really showing a lot of promise," Hite says. "When he recovers, he has a bright future ahead of him at fullback."

Overall, Hite is excited about his new stable of "Stallions." "Some of these guys at tailback have been waiting for their chance, and here it is," Hite says. "And the guys I have at fullback are getting the opportunity to show their stuff, because they will all be going at it head-to-head for playing time."

Wide Receivers
At the wide receiver position, Coach Tony Ball knows that he has a lot to accomplish with his group of young, inexperienced receivers. Losing Ernest Wilford, a 13-game starter from 2003 and Chris Shreve, a dependable starter of four games, took a toll on the receiving corps, but Ball is fortunate to have a large group of young players to help fill the void.

At the flanker position, despite having just one senior, Ball has several players with game and starting experience. Justin Hamilton, Richard Johnson and David Clowney will battle each other for the top spot, with competition from Robert Parker and newcomers Justin Harper and Josh Morgan.

Hamilton, a junior from Clintwood, Va., started five games and played in all 13 last year. He was the team's second-leading receiver after Wilford, accounting for 282 yards and a touchdown on 23 receptions.

"Justin is a hard worker, and might be the only guy I have who could play either the flanker or split end position," Ball says. "He needs to work on his blocking on running plays, but he is a guy who we can depend on, and I look for him to have a huge spring."

Johnson also started three games for Tech last season, while Clowney was the only true freshman to earn playing time a year ago. Johnson, battling injuries for much of his career, is a speedy receiver who finished with 141 yards and a touchdown on just 13 receptions in 2003. Clowney came out with a bang, catching a touchdown pass in his first collegiate game, but saw his playing time dwindle as the season progressed. Both will challenge Hamilton for first-team reps this spring.

"Richard is a senior, so he knows what he's doing out there," Ball says. "He's been here for four years, and his comfort level on the field might be higher than the other guys. David Clowney is still very young and very raw, but when he understands the fundamentals of the position, he will be very good."

Parker, Harper and Morgan are young players with a ways to go in learning the collegiate receiver position, but reps at spring practice will be invaluable for creating depth at flanker.

Parker was hampered by injury for most of the 2003 season, but has the good size and good work ethic to be successful if he stays healthy. Harper and Morgan are newcomers, just joining the Hokies for spring practice, and look to have promising futures ahead of them.

"These young guys still have a lot to learn," Ball says. "They need to get used to the expectations of being a collegiate receiver and learn how things are done. Being here for spring practice will give them an advantage going into the fall, but I will be concentrating on teaching them the basics and fundamentals of being a receiver at the college level."

The split end position is wide open, and any one of four players - Chris Clifton, Michael Malone, Josh Hyman or Brenden Hill - could fill the spot.

Clifton, a 6-4, 205-pound junior from Chesapeake, Va., has the size and speed necessary for the position, but, after moving from quarterback, still needs to play consistently. The same can be said for Malone, who has the size, but lacks playing experience.

Hyman, who joined the Hokies last fall from Fork Union Military Academy, redshirted and worked with the scout team but showed promise at split end.

"These guys are untested," Ball says. "Any one of Clifton, Malone and Hyman could step up and become a great receiver, but they lack valuable playing experience. This spring they all need to work on the fundamentals of the game and becoming consistent in everything they do. Execution and learning the game backwards and forwards will be what we do this spring."

Also at split end, Hill, a sophomore, has potential, but still has a way to go before being ready to play.

Ball has a group of developing but inexperienced players at both receiver positions this spring, and a good spring practice will be essential to their development.

"We have our work cut out for us," Ball says. "We need these guys who have experience to step it up a notch, but we also need these young guys to pick up their games. Building consistency and depth at these positions will be critical coming out of this spring and going into the fall."

DEFENSE
After going through a late-season defensive slump the past two seasons, the Hokies may look at a couple of wrinkles to tweak their scheme, but going into the spring their main focus will simply be to improve.

"We want to improve each player so he understands his role and understands his position," defensive coordinator Bud Foster points out. "Then we want every guy going out there improving every practice. That is what we are looking for this spring. We want to find out who our playmakers are going to be."

The defense lost six starters from last year's squad, including both defensive ends and three players in the secondary. Their replacements will come from a mix of returning players who played on a part-time basis and talented young players who are hungry to prove themselves. That pool of players could also put some pressure on the returning starters.

"We have some young players in the program who are going to create competition that will push some of the older guys to improve or be passed by," Foster says. "But that is healthy for the situation to have competition ... and there should be a lot of that this spring."

Foster feels good about the defensive end positions despite the loss of both starters. He wants more from the defensive tackle positions, which return all five players who saw action last season, plus three redshirt freshmen.

"I think with Darryl Tapp and Noland Burchette back we have two good young prospects at end who have shown playmaking ability," Foster notes. "Chris Ellis is an up-and-coming guy who has really made strides physically. And, you have Jim Davis back after missing a season and Jordan Trott moving over from linebacker."

Davis is a proven playmaker who missed the entire 2003 season with a torn pectoral muscle. He has 23 career tackles behind the line, has caused two fumbles that were returned for touchdowns and has returned an interception for a TD. He will help bring stability to the end position.

The tackle positions already have stability, but Foster is looking for more.

"We need some difference makers in there," Foster says. "We've got a lot of people at defensive tackle, but we need some guys who are going to control the line of scrimmage and rush the passer. I hope the older guys have enough experience under their belts that they are ready to move forward. We have some young guys who are going to push them. Are those young guys ready to play? I don't know."

What Foster does know is some teams have been able to run the ball on the Hokies the previous two seasons.

"We have to be able to come off blocks and make plays," he says. "That is the area where we have got to get better."

The linebacker positions return senior starters Brandon Manning at the whip position and Mikal Baaqee at the mike position. Redshirt junior Blake Warren, who was the top backup at the backer position last season, returns and is expected to battle highly touted redshirt freshman Xavier Adibi for the stating job. Manning and Baaqee can also expect competition from a young group of challengers that includes redshirt freshman Vince Hall, redshirt sophomore Aaron Rouse and redshirt junior James Anderson.

Jimmy Williams, who will move to cornerback this spring after starting at free safety in 2003, is the lone returning starter in the secondary. Seniors Eric Green, Vincent Fuller, Mike Daniels and James Griffin all have experience and should play a major role in filling the positions. As at the other defensive positions, there is also a skilled group of newcomers poised to make an impact.

"We want to become a better tackling team," says Foster. "We want to be sound fundamentally and carry out our assignments on a consistent basis.

"We are looking for the guys who want to do things the right way and are going to do things the right way consistently. It's been that way this winter, it's been that way during spring conditioning and it's going to be that way during spring practice. We are going to commit to doing things the right way and be consistent at doing it. That has been the key to our success in the past and it is going to be the key to our success in the future."

Defensive Line
Starting defensive ends Nathaniel Adibi and Cols Colas will be the only players missing from last year's defensive line when spring practice opens. Their loss, however, may be overshadowed by the arrival of three new defensive tackles who should provide some much needed depth and competition inside.

"We lost two players who have played a lot of football for us over the last four years," defensive line coach Charley Wiles says. "But we do add Jim Davis back into the mix, and I think Darryl Tapp will become a better, more consistent player. We are excited about Noland Burchette, who really improved as the year went on, and we have moved Jordan Trott over from linebacker. Between them and freshman Chris Ellis, who redshirted, I'm confident that we will have five or six ends who can play."

Davis tore a pectoral muscle shortly before 2003 spring practice opened and had to sit out the entire year. He starts this spring much bigger at 6-3, 276-pounds, but the coaches are confident in his ability to remain a playmaker. Tapp (6-1, 264, Jr.) and Burchette (6-2, 245, r-So.) have the talent to bolster the end positions and will be looked to for increased productivity. Tapp was second on the team in quarterback hurries last fall with 17. He had 58 tackles and three sacks. Burchette had 41 tackles, a sack and nine hurries.

Trott played in all 13 games and got one start at the mike linebacker position in 2003. The 6-4, 238-pound redshirt junior posted 48 tackles, including five behind the line.

"Now is the time to evaluate if Jordan can play defensive end for us," Wiles says. "I'm anxious to see how physical he will be at the point of attack."

Ellis is a promising freshman who redshirted during the fall. He was slowed part of the time by a shoulder injury that required surgery, but he has been cleared to participate in spring practice. He brings excellent size to the position at 6-4, 257 pounds, and turned in the top 40-yard dash time among the ends during spring testing at 4.56 seconds.

The years the Hokies have been really good on defense, they have had productive defensive ends. Wiles is hopeful this year's group can develop into one of those units.

That leaves the tackle position, where Wiles finally has the numbers.

"We've often had the depth at end," he says. "But the last two or three years we've had five kids at tackle going into the fall and we would get one or two of them hurt and end up shorthanded."

That shouldn't be an issue this spring. Wiles has eight players to work with and another - senior Jason Lallis - who will sit out due to an injury. Leading the returnees are brothers Kevin and Jonathan Lewis who handled the bulk of the starting duties last season. Kevin, a 6-1, 288-pound senior, posted 43 tackles, four quarterback sacks and eight hurries. Younger brother Jonathan, a 6-1, 300-pound junior, had 69 tackles, four sacks, six hurries and a pass interception.

Also returning are redshirt junior Tim Sandidge, who has seen some starting time during the past two seasons, and senior Isaac Montgomery, who saw action in a reserve role last year after transferring from North Carolina. Sandidge (6-1, 304) played in every game last season, registering 47 tackles, a sack and eight hurries. Montgomery, who is 6-4, 284 pounds, contributed 14 tackles in eight games. Lallis, who had 25 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown last season, underwent shoulder surgery in January and is expected to return to full strength for preseason practice.

The competition for spots will increase with the addition of redshirt freshmen Carlton Powell, Kory Robertson and Barry Booker. Sophomore walk-on Josh DeMaury will also be working at the tackle positions. Powell is perhaps the most advanced of the newcomers. He impressed the coaches with his work during the fall and off-season. The 6-2, 287-pounder bench press 415 pounds during spring testing and ran 4.85 in the 40. Robertson (6-2, 317) was sidelined much of the fall by a shoulder injury, but has attracted attention with his athletic ability. Booker, who reported at 266 pounds, is now 6-3, 295.

"Competition always makes you better," Wiles says. "And we have some competition this spring. I'm excited about that. We would like to develop the young guys to the point that they can advance up the depth chart and help this football team next fall.

"I'd like to see the defensive line become more consistent," he adds. "Inconsistency killed us down the stretch last year. Good players' performances should not vary that much."

Linebackers
Two-year starters Mikal Baaqee and Brandon Manning return at the mike and whip linebacker positions, respectively, but an infusion of young talent will make the competition for the linebacker spots among the most interesting stories of the spring.

Baaqee has started 25 of Tech's last 27 games at mike linebacker. He led the team in tackles in 2002 with 112 and finished third on the team last season with 109. He has trimmed down to 225 pounds for spring practice. Manning, who has also started 25 of the Hokies' last 27 outings, finished third on the team in tackles with 75 in 2002 and was fourth last fall with 104. Both players are Super Iron Hokies in the strength and conditioning program.

That leaves the backer position where inside linebacker coach Bud Foster has to find a replacement for Vegas Robinson. Robinson was a physical player who finished fifth on the team in tackles with 101 and also contributed 11 quarterback hurries, eight tackles for losses and two pass interceptions.

The leading candidates for Robinson's spot are redshirt junior Blake Warren and redshirt freshman Xavier Adibi, with senior Chad Cooper and redshirt freshman walk-on Stevie Ray Lloyd also in the mix. Warren picked up some valuable experience as the top backup at the position last season. He contributed 43 tackles and intercepted a pass. Adibi drew rave reviews while working on the scout team as a redshirt. During off-season workouts, he led the inside linebackers with a 365-pound bench press and a 4.51 clocking in the 40.

"I'm really excited about Xavier Adibi," Foster says. "He could have played for us last year, but he was going to be undersized. Now, he weighs 229 pounds. He is an intelligent player who has an attitude when he's on the football field."

Another redshirt freshman who has attracted attention could push Baaqee at the mike position. Vince Hall joined Adibi as prep All-Americans in Tech's 2003 recruiting class. Hall, who is 6-0, 237, is a natural at the position. Blake Warren's younger brother Brett, who joined the team in January, will also work at the mike position.

Manning will get strong competition from redshirt sophomore Aaron Rouse and redshirt junior James Anderson. Sophomore walk-on Chad Grimm, who played on special teams last fall, will also get a look. Rouse has turned plenty of heads with his size, speed and athletic ability, but still has some work to do. He played in all l3 games in 2003 and got a start against James Madison. He finished the season with 46 tackles and broke up a pair of passes. Anderson, another outstanding athlete, was Tech's top tackler on special teams last year and has made strides at the whip position. Anderson, like Manning, is a Super Iron Hokie in the weight room.

Coach Jim Cavanaugh, who works with the whips and rovers, plans to use the spring to find out who will sink and who will swim.

"At whip, all the kids have played," says Cavanaugh. "Hopefully, they will be better ... more mature. I want to find out who has the potential to make plays."

The Secondary
Despite the loss of three starters, there is still plenty of potential in Tech's secondary. The key will be getting that potential transferred to the playing field.

"We have some young players who have what it takes ability-wise, agility-wise and speed-wise," secondary coach Lorenzo Ward says. "Now, they have to transfer that to the field. We are looking for the guys who have played and have experience to bring those younger guys along and try to help them get better."

Gone from last year are starting cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Garnell Wilds. The Hokies also lost rover Michael Crawford, who led the team in tackles with 131. Hall was a first-team All-BIG EAST selection and Crawford was a second-team pick. Wilds, who missed the last half of the season with a knee injury, was Tech's most consistent performer.

The only returning starter is junior free safety Jimmy Williams, and he is scheduled for a move to cornerback when spring practice opens. Williams started every game in 2003 and was second on the team in tackles with 114. At 6-3, 213 pounds, he could become a force at the boundary corner position if he adjusts to the change.

With Williams' move to corner, senior Vincent Fuller will return to the free safety spot where he served as the No. 2 man in 2001. Fuller has seen the majority of his playing time at cornerback the past two seasons, earning eight starts and intercepting five passes.

"What we are trying to do is get the best players in the best position for them to be successful," Ward says. "The boundary corner is a tougher position to play than safety, but we think Jimmy can get it done there. Vinnie will fit right in at safety because he already has a good understanding of what we are doing."

The leader at the field corner position will be senior Eric Green. Green saw plenty of action last fall after missing the entire 2002 season with a torn ACL. He started five games and led the team in interceptions with three. Green returned two of those picks for touchdowns, including a key 51-yard TD return during Tech's 31-7 win against No. 2 Miami. He has the experience and ability to be a leader in the secondary.

At rover, senior James Griffin enters the spring as the leading candidate, but Coach Jim Cavanaugh expects to have an open competition to find Crawford's replacement. Griffin, a junior college transfer, played in every game last year and contributed 27 tackles, a quarterback sack and two pass breakups.

"James Griffin got a lot of practice time and work at rover last fall," Cavanaugh points out. "Hopefully, he will have matured some because of that experience. But, everything is open. It's open practice to practice. The players will be evaluated after every practice."

The competition at all the positions will come from young players with the exception of senior Mike Daniels who figures into the mix at free safety. Daniels saw action at safety as a backup last season after spending his first two seasons as a contributor at the whip linebacker position. Daniels played in 12 games in 2003 contributing 27 tackles.

The coaches are anxious to get a closer look at an athletic group of redshirt freshmen who all have good size. That group includes free safety Corey Gordon (6-2, 212), cornerback Roland Minor (6-0, 196) and rover Mike Hinton (6-2, 202). True freshman D.J. Parker, who entered school in January and went through the winter program, will also get a good look at cornerback.

Hinton spent his redshirt season working at corner, but will join Cary Wade and D.J. Walton in the competition at rover this spring. Wade was redshirted in 2003 after seeing some playing time on special teams and at cornerback as a freshman in 2002. Walton also began as a cornerback before moving to rover during the final games of the 2002 season. He did not play last season. Walk-ons Ashley Rambo, Chris Albright and Jeff Brill will round out the candidates at rover.

Minor will join returning backup Brian McPherson at the boundary corner. McPherson has shown flashes of potential, but has seen only limited playing time on defense and special teams. Parker will get a look at the field cornerback spot along with walk-on Ryan Hash.

Two players who worked at wide receiver during the fall - redshirt sophomore Chris Ceasar and redshirt freshman Cory Price - will get a try at cornerback, too. Ceasar is expected to work at field corner, while Price tries his hand at the boundary spot.

Gordon, who will be going through his second spring practice after entering school in January 2003, will join Daniels in pushing Fuller at free safety. Walk-ons Jake Patten and Maurice Sharpe will also join in the competition.

"Our goals for this spring are to become better tacklers, to eliminate mental mistakes and to give top effort," Ward says. "When we go back to last season, mental errors were probably the biggest reason that we gave up big plays. That is what we have got to eliminate."

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Hokies will be looking for consistency in their special teams, too. Last season, Tech had its share of ups and downs in the kicking game, but had one of the national leaders in both punt and kickoff returns.

With four-year letterman Carter Warley gone, the Hokies will have a wide-open competition for the place-kicking duties during the spring. Another point of emphasis will be finding a dependable kickoff man. The leading candidates will be redshirt sophomore Brandon Pace, along with redshirt freshmen John Hedge and Jon Dunlevy and redshirt junior Jeff Scudder. Pace saw some action in 2003, making all four of his extra-point kicks and working part of the season as the kickoff man. Scudder also got a brief try on kickoffs.

"I think there is really going to be great competition to see who our field goal guy is going to be next season," Beamer says. "I'm also going to put heavy emphasis on who our kickoff guy is going to be. That is something we spent a lot of time on this past season and changed two or three times. But, we never really kicked the ball well as consistently as we needed to on kickoffs."

Redshirt sophomore Nic Schmitt, who could eventually be used as a kickoff man, will begin the spring concentrating his efforts on punting. Schmitt will provide competition for senior Vinnie Burns who has averaged 39.4 yards over his three seasons as a starter.

Snappers Travis Conway and Nick Leeson both return. Conway handled all the snaps for punts during the 2003 season, while Leeson took care of most of the snaps for extra points and field goals. Redshirt freshman walk-on Bart McMillin and redshirt junior James Anderson could also get some work during the spring. When not working on their snapping, Leeson and McMillin will spend some time working with the inside linebackers.

The Hokies must find a new holder to replace four-year starter Robert Peaslee. Among the candidates will be Schmitt and senior Lance Goff.

DeAngelo Hall, who ranked eighth nationally in punt returns, is gone, but junior Mike Imoh, who finished fifth in kickoff returns, is back. The candidates for the punt return duties will include Imoh, along with senior Richard Johnson, junior Jimmy Williams and freshman D.J. Parker, who entered school in January.