McMillian using additional work to become a better back

Virginia Tech Football News Conference (April 18)

Head coach Justin Fuente quotes

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster quotes

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech’s offense ranked 55th nationally in rushing offense in 2016, and Tech’s staff has spent a portion of this spring evaluating schemes and players in an effort to improve that number this upcoming season.

Travon McMillian hopes to be a big part of the solution.

“I feel like I can be effective in the running or the passing game the way that they’re utilizing me,” he said. “I’m just excited for the fall and for this team.”

McMillian finished second on the team in rushing last season behind quarterback Jerod Evans, carrying the ball 145 times for 671 yards and seven touchdowns. His rushing total was a 372-yard decrease from his redshirt freshman season when he broke the 1,000-yard mark.

Some of that stemmed from the staff’s philosophy to spread the carries around more than the Frank Beamer staff, as McMillian carried the ball 55 fewer times. Yet some of the decrease came about as McMillian adjusted to a new scheme that was markedly different than the tailback-oriented one he played in under Beamer.

McMillian now views the transitional period as over and has been readying himself for a more prominent role this fall.

“I feel like it is totally different this spring because they [Tech’s coaches] know what I’m capable of based on last year,” he said. “I feel like I’ve become a better player over this offseason, looking at film and figuring out the things that I need to improve on. I feel like they know where I’m at right now.”

Head coach Justin Fuente agreed.

“Travon [McMillian] has had a good spring,” he said. “Steven Peoples has had a good spring. I’ve been pleased with the improvement those two guys have made.”

McMillian has gotten plenty of reps this spring, with he and Peoples getting the bulk of the work. D.J. Reid and freshman Terius Wheatley, who enrolled in January for the spring semester, have missed parts of spring practice with injuries.

Taking advantage of the reps, McMillian has spent the spring working on some of the finer points of the tailback position and also some of the understated ones, as Tech held its 13th of the 15 NCAA-allotted spring practices Tuesday evening. That includes watching film to learn how to set up and read blocks better on certain plays, and of course, taking better care of the ball – a point of emphasis for the entire offense this spring.

(For the top images from Student Appreciation Day, please check out the gallery below.)

He also has worked on his blocking. He even watched past film of former tailback/fullback Sam Rogers, a terrific blocker, to get a better feel for how to be a effective blocker.

“Just simple things,” McMillian said. “Getting my hands inside when I’m blocking … you’re always just working on the same things and trying to improve the same things. I looked at every carry last year and what I could have done on certain carries. Getting my pad level lower, I’ve been working on that a lot this spring.”

Tech’s coaches want to see McMillian run more physically in traffic. He possesses a burst in the open field and an ability to make defenders miss in one-on-one situations, but when running in traffic, he needs to be able to gain three or four yards.

He believes keeping his pads lower will help him become a more productive back.

“I feel like I’m quicker if I’m lower,” he said. “Getting really low in the hole against a linebacker if there is nowhere to run, just being able to run somebody over.”

Tech concludes spring practice with the annual Maroon-Orange Spring Game on Saturday at Lane Stadium. Though his reps may be curtailed to prevent possible injury, McMillian hopes at least to give fans a glimpse of what to expect this fall.

“At the end of the day, winning matters, but I try not to put my personal accolades ahead of the team or anything like that,” he said. “I do want to rush for 1,000 yards, yes.

“I’m just going to try to utilize every rep I can this year and see where it gets me, see where it falls.”

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