BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech football squad kicked off its spring practice Thursday evening with a two-hour session on the Steve Johnson Practice Fields, as the Hokies begin preparations for the 2014 season.
Tech goes into this spring with more questions than answers at the moment, with the Hokies looking to replace standout players at quarterback, defensive line and linebacker.
According to head coach Frank Beamer on a 20-minute teleconference Thursday afternoon, finding a replacement for quarterback Logan Thomas is at the top of the to-do list. Thomas accounted for 70 percent of the Hokies’ total yards a year ago and 20 of the team’s 33 touchdowns.
“Quarterback and getting a good evaluation,” Beamer said of the team’s top priority. “We’ll see where that goes. We’ve got to be steady and solid at that position. That’s going to receive a lot of attention.”
Beamer reiterated that Mark Leal, a redshirt senior, is the frontrunner. Leal struggled in the Sun Bowl in place of an injured Thomas, completing just 12 of 25 for 130 yards and throwing two interceptions. He will be challenged this spring by redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley and true freshman Andrew Ford, who enrolled this January.
The list of challengers will swell this summer when Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and true freshman Chris Durkin arrive.
“Competition is good,” Leal said. “It keeps the pressure on you at all times. It brings out the best in you. The more competition we have, the better. It’s just going to bring out the best as a whole group of quarterbacks. Every day counts. Every rep counts. Nothing is set in stone, and all of us are trying to go out and make statements and try to separate ourselves from everyone else.”
“The ones that are here, you evaluate and see if they’re the guy that’s going to lead you,” Beamer said. “If not, you go to the next ones that are coming in and give them every opportunity. It’s an important time for the guys here this spring and for us, and we’ll see if anyone comes out of that group. Mark Leal is the frontrunner. I firmly believe he’s a better quarterback than he showed in the bowl game.”
Leal worked with the first team for much of Thursday’s practice and was anxious to put the Sun Bowl performance behind him.
“I think about that every day when I wake up,” he said. “That’s what drives me to work harder and get better to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Something like that is going to linger until your next game, so I’m going to try and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Perhaps the bigger issues are on the defensive side of the ball. Tech lost three defensive linemen off last year’s squad and two linebackers. All five were all-conference caliber players.
Luther Maddy, a senior, is the lone holdover on the defensive line, though Dadi Nicolas, a redshirt junior, saw extensive time as a reserve as defensive end a year ago. Tech defensive line coach Charley Wiles will be working a lot of inexperienced linemen this spring, including guys like ends Ken Ekanem, Seth Dooley and Dewayne Alford and tackles Nigel Williams and Wade Hansen.
At two linebacker positions, defensive coordinator Bud Foster begins the unenviable task of trying to find replacements for starters Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards. Chase Williams, the most experienced of the group, headlines the contingent at mike linebacker, with Deon Clarke and Dahman McKinnon vying for Edwards’ old job at backer.
“I think we’ve got good players,” Beamer said. “I think when you look at the caliber of players, we’ve got that. It’s just a matter of getting them some experience. If you didn’t have the first part, if you didn’t have good players, I think you’d be really concerned. Now it’s just a matter of how fast we can get them to perform on a consistent basis. We’re racing time a little bit right now.”
Tech conducts its second practice of the spring on Friday. The Hokies plan on practicing in full pads for the first time on Saturday.
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