BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech’s players and coaches met with media outlets throughout the state on Saturday morning at Lane Stadium and addressed an array of topics, as the team continues preparations for the 2014 season.
The Hokies are coming off back-to-back seasons that haven’t meant up to their lofty expectations. Tech went eight straight seasons of winning 10 or more games before going 7-6 and 8-5, respectively, the past two years. The talk of this preseason has been returning to the top of an enlarged – and better – ACC.
“We’ve been one or two wins away, so it’s not like the bottom has fallen out here,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “But our expectations are still the same. Our goals are to win the ACC championship, and when you win that, now you’re definitely a player in the four-man field for the national championship. Now it’s [winning the ACC] a way to get to the national championship. So our deal is let’s win the ACC championship and then go play for the national championship – and win that.”
Tech has won four ACC crowns since joining the league starting with the 2004 season. The Hokies’ last one, though, came in 2010, when a Tyrod Taylor-led squad rolled past Florida State 44-33 in the championship game in Charlotte. Tech last played for an ACC title in 2011, when it lost to Clemson in Charlotte.
Last season, a majority of Tech’s players felt that they let three games slip away – losses to Duke, BC and Maryland. Win two of those games, and Tech fans are talking about another 10-win season and potentially an appearance in ACC title game. Instead, the Hokies played in the Sun Bowl to end the year, and without injured quarterback Logan Thomas for three quarters of the game, fell to UCLA.
That loss has them motivated for this upcoming season.
“It all started this spring,” starting safety Detrick Bonner said. “We lost some good players [from last season], but we began to come together and work hard together. Day by day, everyone was working together in practice. Then we carried that into the summer. We had seven-on-seven [passing drills] three times a week. We’ve been working together and getting that tight bond that the old teams had, stuff like that. We’re trying to bring back the tradition.”
For Tech to get back to that tradition, it first must address some troublesome areas – namely, the running game. The Hokies averaged just 119.8 rushing yards per game last season. Tailback Trey Edmunds led the team with 675 yards rushing.
Edmunds, who is close to 100 percent recovered from a broken leg suffered against UVa in the second half of last year’s rivalry game, expects that number to increase exponentially. The Hokies do return a veteran offensive line, and a group of explosive running backs.
“We definitely see what we have to do,” Edmunds said. “We have expectations that we have to live up to, and we’re going to do our best to do that. We’re going to go hard in practice, and we’re going to try and protect our craft. We’re going to do all we can as a running back group – and as an offense.”
“That’s definitely a priority,” Beamer said. “I think we’re closer on the offensive line. I think we’re closer with our tight ends that can be a factor. I think we’ve got three guys [Ryan Malleck, Bucky Hodges and Kalvin Cline] there that block and you can also get them outside because they’re athletic in space and you can get mismatches. That’s an element we haven’t had a lot of in the past, and those are elements we haven’t had. All those things help your running game.
“Our running backs are a year older. Edmunds has looked good, and J.C. Coleman has looked better than ever. I feel like we’re going to be better at tailback. Those two freshmen [Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips] are going to make us explosive outside, and [Josh] Stanford is an improved receiver and Demitri [Knowles] has been hurt, but his speed is always a factor. We have more explosive ability on the outside, and that helps your running game. So we plan to run the ball better.”
For more coming out of Tech’s media day, please read the following notes:
• Everyone – Beamer, the staff and the players – have been impressed with the play of freshman receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips. The two have shown tremendous hands and the ability to make plays in the open field.
“They’re really impressive,” receiver Willie Byrn said. “The thing that is good about them is that they’re big-time guys, highly touted and everything, and yet they’re still willing to take criticism and advice from everyone. They left their egos at the door when they came in, and that’s good to see.
“They certainly deserve to have some egos. They make some plays. They can stretch the field. They’re advanced route runners. We’re excited to have them.”
The question will be can they pick up Scot Loeffler’s complicated scheme in time to help the Hokies this fall.
“It is a lot to learn, but I know I can handle it,” Ford said. “The toughest part is the tempo. Everything is full speed. In high school, everything doesn’t go as fast. In college, you’ve got to be on your P’s and Q’s. You got to know what you’re doing and you’ve got to fly around.”
At the least, those two get better going against a talented and experienced secondary.
“If you don’t have your mindset ready, you will get embarrassed when you go out there,” Ford said.
• Tech’s staff has moved freshman Travon McMillian from quarterback to tailback, reducing the depth chart at quarterback to six. McMillian, from Woodbridge, Virginia, brings what Beamer called “real speed” to the position.
McMillian adds to the logjam at tailback, a position that already includes guys like Edmunds, Coleman, Joel Caleb, Marshawn Williams, Jerome Wright and Shai McKenzie. Whether McMillian plays this season – or whether any freshmen play this season – remains uncertain.
“The hardest part is projecting where a guy will be about three weeks into the season,” Beamer said. “You don’t want to use a redshirt year and then not play that guy very much. You want to be fair and do what’s best for the kid, and sometimes you have to project. That’s the hard part.”
• Speaking of Williams, he is targeting Aug. 21 as his return date following hernia surgery a couple of weeks ago. He is listed as questionable for the season opener.
He also said that he weighed 227 pounds – only two pounds short of where the coaches want him to be.
• Another injured guy who hopes to be back soon is defensive tackle Woody Baron, who underwent ankle surgery a few months ago. Baron played last season as a true freshman, and he can take a redshirt year if needed. But he hopes to get back on the field soon.
“I’m feeling good,” Baron said. “I meet with them [Tech’s trainers] on Monday. Hopefully, next week, we can start getting into some minimal contact stuff. We’ll see on Monday. Redshirting is plan B. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. It’s a nice backup plan to have.”
• Beamer had one of the best quotes of Media Day when discussing the play of redshirt freshman linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka, who has been impressive this first week of practice.
“He’s played well enough that I’ve had to learn how to say his name – or working at it anyhow,” Beamer joked. “He’s playing fast. He’s a better player than he was in the spring. He’s lost some weight. He’s getting after it out there.”
• A young man who answered a lot of questions at Media Day was Bucky Hodges, whom many expect to be in for a big season. Hodges is a 6-foot-6, 243-pound redshirt freshman with an ability to make plays in the open field.
“I’m getting a lot more comfortable with the playbook and getting a feeling of the steps I need to do,” Hodges said. “Everything is starting to come together, and I’m feeling good about it.”
Tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring has been getting Hodges plenty of reps to get him ready for the opener.
“He’s hard on me,” Hodges said. “It’s nothing but coaching. You take it and listen to everything he says. I don’t have a problem with being coached hard. My high school coach coached me hard. It’s nothing but listening to coaching.”
Hodges is sporting a new look this fall. He wears a Mohawk that has been died blond, and he also is sporting a beard. The look certainly has caught the attention of his teammates, who have been giving him some grief.“They did at first,” Hodges said. “But I’m 6-6. Some of them know better.”
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