Tech To Open Spring Practice
Hokies searching for consistency
March 26, 2004

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The departure of a productive senior class, combined with the early exit of junior stars Kevin Jones and DeAngelo Hall, leaves Virginia Tech with a lot of holes to fill when 2004 spring football practice opens March 27. And that's only part of the challenge ahead for Coach Frank Beamer and his staff this off-season.

Following a disappointing finish in 2003, Beamer and company must also get the Hokies focused for a new beginning in what the Tech coach calls the best collegiate football league in the nation - the Atlantic Coast Conference. One of the keys will be getting consistent play as a team.

"There will be a heavy emphasis on sacrifice for the football team this spring," Beamer says. "It's not so much offense, and it's not so much defense and it's not so much special teams. It's all three of those working together, supporting each other and working hard to become a better football team.

"There are some talented players here," he says. "There are some kids who really want their football team to be good. I think springtime is a great time to show that."

Tech returns just nine starters from last year's team that went 8-5, including a 52-49 loss to California in the Insight Bowl - the Hokies' 11th straight bowl. There are some big shoes to fill, including those of Rimington Award winner and unanimous All-America center Jake Grove, consensus All-America tailback Kevin Jones, All-BIG EAST cornerback and return man DeAngelo Hall and Tech career pass reception leader Ernest Wilford. The departure of fullback Doug Easlick and linebacker Vegas Robinson also leaves important holes to fill.

On offense, much of Tech's attention will be focused on the wide receiver positions.

"Going into spring practice, wide receiver is a critical position for us," Beamer says. "We have a lot of wide receivers, but what we are looking for are productive wide receivers. Consistency is an issue, and then explosiveness - taking a simple play and making it a long play - is an issue.

"Two people who probably did that about as well as anyone for us last year were Marcus Vick and Mike Imoh. We are looking for some other people at the wide receiver positions to step up and do that."

Quarterback Bryan Randall will be joined in the backfield by a new supporting cast, but some of the roles, especially at fullback, may not be filled until August. Up front, returning starters Jon Dunn, Jimmy Martin and Will Montgomery will form the nucleus for an offensive line that has good potential.

Defensively, the talent is present for another fast, athletic unit, but there is work to be done. The Hokies will keep their basic plan in place, but look to utilize some personnel a little differently and scheme-wise put themselves in good matchups. Again, consistency will be a key factor.

"Up front defensively, we want to work on getting a good pass rush with four men," Beamer says. "We need to improve the play at our linebacker positions. In the secondary, we have to work on not giving up the big play. That got us at the end of last season."

The defense should benefit from the return of end Jim Davis, who missed the entire 2003 season. Beamer is also excited about Tech's redshirt freshmen on defense. By the end of April, he will know if that excitement is warranted.

"I'm really high on our redshirt freshmen, especially on defense," Beamer says. "We are keeping an eye on Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall at linebacker and hoping the young defensive tackles we have can help us from a pass rush standpoint. In the secondary, we're bigger than we've probably ever been when you talk about Roland Minor, Corey Gordon and Mike Hinton. Those are big kids. Getting them into the equation is going to be interesting."

Tech returns punter Vinnie Burns, but there will be plenty of competition for the place-kicking duties vacated by four-year starter Carter Warley. Sophomore Brandon Pace and redshirt freshmen John Hedge and Jud Dunlevy will be among the candidates. Nic Schmitt, who was redshirted last season, will pressure Burns for the punting duties.

The biggest position change will come in the secondary where starting free safety Jimmy Williams will move to the boundary cornerback position. Senior Vincent Fuller, who has played at both positions, will concentrate on the safety spot during the spring.

Eight players who enrolled in January will get the benefit of participating in spring workouts. Several, including running back George Bell, cornerback D.J. Parker, receivers Josh Morgan and Justin Harper and offensive linemen Matt Welsh and Nick Marshman, are expected to get plenty of attention during the spring.

"This is a young, inexperienced football team that has a number of question marks," Beamer says. "There are some proven performers, just not as many as in some years. To me, it's a real exciting time. I think some of our young talent is very, very good. I am probably looking forward to spring practice more so than ever, because I think it's a key time for this football program to find out who's who."

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