Hokies continue August grind in preparation for season opener

Quotes from Friday news conference
Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente quotes

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech football team takes part in practice No. 15 this afternoon, as the Hokies continue their preparations for the 2017 opener against West Virginia at FedExField.

For head coach Justin Fuente and his staff, that means continuing watch his team in various situations, while also looking at and evaluating players. The coaches want to develop depth at all areas, and that remains an ongoing process.

The good news, though, is that the staff feels confident in the group projected to start in the season opener.

“I think we have a good idea,” Fuente said. “I’ve always believed in playing a large number of competent people. I’ve never gotten all that hung up on who is the starter and not a starter. I understand the position of quarterback. That’s not what I’m talking about. Those skill guys, I want them to play fast and to play hard every single play. In order to do that, I think you have to play multiple people.

“So we’re getting the number of guys that we’re working with and slowly whittling down. I don’t exactly who is going to run out there. I don’t know exactly who is the first ‘Z’ [wide receiver] in the first series of the game, but there is a group of guys [in the mix].”

Here are some notes from Friday’s news conference:

• Fuente said that neither AJ Bush or Hendon Hooker have sulked following Monday’s announcement in which he tabbed Josh Jackson as the starting quarterback for the West Virginia game. Jackson beat out Bush and Hooker for the WVU start, but both of those guys continue to battle for the backup position and continue to work hard.

“They’ve been great,” Fuente said. “They’ve handled it [the quarterback decision] the way that I expected them to, or hoped they would, I guess I should say. They’ve had good practices and good energy out there, and they’re trying to get better. They have been good.”

• Much has been made of running backs coach Zohn Burden’s participation in the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship program this past summer, as he worked at the Washington Redskins training camp in July with running backs coach Randy Jordan. Burden had never worked with running backs until Fuente shifted him there from receivers coach after being hired to replace Frank Beamer. He said Friday that he thought the move had been good for Burden’s development as a coach.

“I know one of the best things I ever did was coaching the running backs for two years at TCU,” Fuente said. “Getting Zohn involved in the run game … to continue to broaden his horizons, so to speak, I think has been good for his development. I know it’s been good for us. It’s been a pretty smooth transition.”

• The Hokies continue to search for depth along the defensive line, and in particular, at the tackle spots. Tech is great shape with starters Tim Settle and Ricky Walker, but Fuente and defensive line coach keep hoping that someone emerges behind them.

“I don’t know that anybody has stood out,” Fuente admitted. “Jimmie [Taylor] has worked in there, and [Jarrod] Hewitt. Those two guys have taken most of the reps in there, but to me, those two spots are far from certain. We need better play out of that whole group – backups, too.”

• The season opener against West Virginia figures to be an interesting game for Tech cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell, who worked at West Virginia for two years before Fuente added him to the Tech staff. Mitchell obviously possesses some knowledge of WVU’s personnel and scheme, but Fuente doesn’t feel like that gives the Hokies an edge.

“He knows the kids, or most of them,” Fuente said. “There are some guys that are playing that he’s never met. I don’t think it’s a huge advantage. I think it’s an advantage that Brian works for us because I think he’s really good, but as far as his specific experience at West Virginia, I don’t see any [advantage].”

• Fuente said Friday that, if the Hokies played today, then Reggie Floyd would be the starting rover. Many fans expected highly touted Devon Hunter just to come in and start right away, but Floyd’s talent and experience has pushed him ahead of Hunter and Khalil Ladler. That, however, doesn’t mean that Hunter isn’t progressing. In fact, he probably sees the field this season.

“I think Devon is certainly going to have an opportunity to contribute on special teams,” Fuente said. “He’s certainly going to improve defensively, and how all that goes is dependent on him. But we’ve been pleased with him every step of the way.”

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