BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech football team opened practice Monday evening, beginning preparations for the 2014 season.
Tech practiced for nearly two and a half hours, splitting the practice between the Steve Johnson Practice Fields and Lane Stadium. The Hokies are using the stadium while construction continues on the new indoor practice facility adjacent to their locker room and the Steve Johnson practice fields. Tech did all of its drills during the first half of practice on the two smaller practice fields (a 60-yard field and a 40-yarder) and did pass skeleton work (7-on-7) and team periods (offense vs. defense) in the stadium.
“It’s a little difficult, but it’s worth it to get this indoor facility,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said of the moving around to different locations during practice. “Once we get that done, I told our donors I won’t ask them for another dime because we’ll have everything we need here.
“It’s an inconvenience, but we managed to handle it pretty well today. We’ll use the stadium some and use the field next to the outdoor track some. We’ll work it out. We’ll get it figured out.”
All eyes centered on the quarterback position, as Tech’s staff continues competition for the starting job. Michael Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, worked with the first-team unit during the first period, but offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler split repetitions among all quarterbacks the rest of the practice.
“I thought Michael Brewer handled himself well for his first practice at Virginia Tech,” Beamer said. “I thought [Brenden] Motley was very consistent out there.
“I thought we had a really good day. It’s hard to come away really happy, but I thought we had a good day offensively and defensively, and we got some things done in the kicking game.”
The list of candidates for the quarterback job is extensive – Brewer, redshirt senior Mark Leal, redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley, and freshmen Andrew Ford, Chris Durkin and Travon McMillian. Of those, only Brewer and Leal have game experience. Brewer played 13 games for Texas Tech during his three years there (one redshirt year).
“We’re not going to be doing that very long,” Beamer said of splitting the reps. “Scot and I have talked and we both agree that we need to make a decision fairly quickly.”
Other notes and observations from the first day of practice:
• In a bit of sad news, Tech announced that offensive lineman Brent Benedict will not play his final year because of undisclosed medical issues. Benedict gave the Hokies some versatility on the line, with an ability to play guard or tackle, and he also gave them some experience. He played in 26 games at Tech, starting 13 of them. He started seven games a year ago and played 569 snaps from scrimmage.
Benedict will take a medical hardship and remain on scholarship for this season. He will not count toward the 85-scholarship limit.
“Brent Benedict has been a great teammate at Virginia Tech, and we will miss his toughness,” Beamer said. “We wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors, and he will always be a Hokie.”
• Tech’s sports medicine staff released a list that included several prominent players with injuries. Defensive tackle Woody Baron’s is the most serious. Baron underwent offseason surgery on his right ankle and is out for August. Since he played as a true freshman, he has the ability to take a redshirt season, if need be.
Others injured included Brandon Facyson (right hip flexor), Demitri Knowles (right ankle), Devin Vandyke (stress fracture in his right leg) and Marshawn Williams (hernia). Vandyke will be out 6-8 weeks, but the others could be back for the opener. Williams is questionable for that game.
• Not on the injury report, but dressed in blue jerseys (limited contact) were offensive linemen David Wang and punter A.J. Hughes. Wang injured his hamstring during an offseason workout, while Hughes has been bothered by a sore back. Both should return full speed at some point in the near future.
• Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray made a subtle move on his depth chart, shuffling Der’Woun Greene to rover. Greene, a redshirt sophomore, played free safety last season and played cornerback this spring because of an injury to Facyson. But Facyson’s pending return and the steady play of Chuck Clark and Donovan Riley led Gray to move Greene behind starter Kyshoen Jarrett at rover.
• In another depth chart move, offensive line coach Stacy Searels switched his tackles, moving Laurence Gibson and Parker Osterloh to left tackle and Mark Shuman and Jonathan McLaughlin to right tackle. Gibson’s athleticism prompted the move.
Coincidentally, Gibson has his weight back up to 297 pounds after dropping to 274 last winter following the 2013 season.
• There was a lot of gushing over freshman receiver Isaiah Ford following practice and for good reason. Ford caught everything that came his way and possesses breakaway ability in the open field. He is light, though, at 178 pounds.
Ford and Carlis Parker were probably the two most impressive receivers in the first practice. Parker made several nice grabs, including a diving grab during a drill early on in practice.
• One player who caught Beamer’s eye was freshman tailback Shai McKenzie, who enrolled at Tech last January, but missed spring practice while recovering from a torn ACL suffered last fall during a high school game. McKenzie showed some burst and an ability to make people miss in the hole. He also has his weight up to a rock solid 220 pounds.
“I was impressed with McKenzie,” Beamer said. “This was the first time I had seen him with a healthy knee. He made a cut there in practice one time, and it was just so natural. To me, that what’s you look at.
“I think that tailback situation will sort itself out pretty quickly. Marshawn, we’ll get him back, and I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of preseason we get out of Joel Caleb. We know we can count on J.C. and Trey, so we’ll get it worked out.”
• Beamer was asked his thoughts on former Tech tailback David Wilson, whom the New York Giants put on injured reserve because he re-injured his neck. Wilson’s future as a football player remains very much in limbo now.
“We have education meetings every night,” Beamer said. “We talk about different things, and one of those things is graduation, and this shows you the importance of that. Here’s a guy who had a great future and was a No. 1 draft choice and how quickly it can change [snapping his fingers].
“What a character he was. What a great guy to have on your team. He was always making you wonder what he could do next. I feel for him. But I think he’s the kind of kid who is going to be OK. Whatever he’s doing, he’s going to be good at it, and people are going to be glad to have him around.”
The team returns to the field Tuesday for its second practice.
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