Hokies continue practicing, preparing for mock game weekend

Quotes from Friday news conference
Tech head coach Justin Fuente

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech football team practiced for the 21st time this August on Friday afternoon, as the Hokies near the end of “training camp” phase and move into game preparation mode.

In fact, Tech will prepare for a mock game on Sunday, going through all meetings, meals and preparation in lead-up to a game. The Hokies open the season a week from Sunday against West Virginia.


“I think there is an element of anticipation, certainly,” Tech head coach Justin Fuente said of the season opener at a Friday news conference. “But I think they also know that they’re not ready to play the game. There is quite a bit of work to be done. There is an entire week. I don’t want to peak too early.

“I want us to understand that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that we’re working toward something. We’re not ambiguously practicing for no reason. There is a reward at the end of this, and it’s coming quickly. I think they’re ready to move out of camp mode and move into preparation mode for the first game.”

The mock weekend begins with the team holding its traditional meetings the day before a game, then a walkthrough, and they’ll even bus to the Hotel Roanoke, holding meetings there and eating dinner before returning to campus.

On Sunday morning, they’ll go to the Inn at Virginia Tech and go through their normal Saturday meetings before coming to the stadium. They’ll go through their normal pregame routine, and then Fuente and the staff have scripted a mock game, which even includes a halftime routine.

“Hopefully it adds some comfort to the players for when we do it for real,” Fuente said. “We’re pretty specific and meticulous about where they’re supposed to be and how they’re supposed to be there and how it’s all going to work. We want to give them ease of mind when we are doing for real. That’s kind of the goal.”

The Hokies will take off Monday, which marks the first day of classes at Tech.

Here are some more tidbits from Friday’s news conference:

• Fuente admitted that he remains concerned about the receiver positions. The Hokies basically entered August with two receivers – Cam Phillips and C.J. Carroll – with any collegiate experience. The group shows flashes, but continues to be plagued by inconsistency and youth.

Right now, the staff is nowhere near the number of eight whom they want to play with regularity.

“Right now, honestly, four,” receivers coach Holmon Wiggins said when asked how many receivers he trusted. “Hopefully, that can change going into this next week. We’ve got some guys on the cusp of doing some things. We want that number to grow, but right now, I’d say four.”

As for which four, he wouldn’t say.

“Right now, I’m holding my cards to the vest,” he laughed.

Expect any number of true freshmen to play this season. That contingent includes Kalil Pimpleton, Sean Savoy and Hezekiah Grimsley.

“They’ve done what we’ve basically asked them to do,” Wiggins said. “When we recruited those guys, we told them, ‘Hey, the cupboard is probably going to be bare, and we need you guys to come in humble, but ready to do work and ready to go out and play.’ Right now, they’re putting the pressure on us as coaches, and they’ve all shown us some good things. We feel they would be ready to play if we had to play today.”

• Defensive line coach Charley Wiles gave a brief assessment of the depth along the defensive front. Essentially, nothing has changed with the starting unit of Vinny Mihota, Tim Settle, Ricky Walker and Trevon Hill, but he also he likes the effort being put in by the backups and feels better about the situation.

In particular, he singled out Jimmie Taylor, a redshirt freshman from North Carolina who moved from defensive end to tackle.

“He plays a lot bigger than he is,” Wiles said.” When he strikes you, he’s a physical kid. He’s playing with good technique. He’s got some strength. He’s playing a lot bigger than he is.”

As far as the backups at defensive end, Emmanuel Belmar, Houshun Gaines and Raymon Minor continue to progress.

“Belmar’s had a good camp,” Wiles said. “He showed flashes in the spring, but he was inconsistent and just inexperienced. He didn’t know the position or the position demands. This summer, the work that he put in closed that gap, and he’s performed well this camp. He’s definitely a guy you’ll see playing some, and Gaines has come on and Raymon Minor – Ray play his best scrimmage in the last scrimmage. It’s good that we’ve got some pieces that we can move around a little bit.”

• Offensive line coach Vance Vice also made an appearance and said he was taking things day-by-day in regards to the right guard and right tackle spots. Several players remain in the starting mix at both spots, including Braxton Pfaff, Tyrell Smith, Kyle Chung and Parker Osterloh.

Tech enters this season with arguably as much depth as it has possessed on the offensive line. The Hokies feature a nice mix of youth and experience.

“I’m really pleased with the depth that we’ve developed in this camp,” Vice said. “There are probably 11, 12, 13 guys that know what to do. It’s way ahead of where I’ve been because we’ve got numbers right now. We are young. We’ve got the four seniors, but below that, we have a lot of guys that don’t have a lot of playing time. It’s been an interesting fall. I’m excited about it, though.”

Vice has seen it all during his 22-year coaching career. He relayed a story in which he played the same five guys in a game – and one in which he played 14 guys in one game.

“They all had a great camp,” Vice said. “Sometimes when guys know they’re going to get a shot to play, your meetings are better. Your practices are better. Everything is good. Now I’ve got to trust you.

“I’m sort of, ‘Who’s hot?’ I do that with any position.”

For the record, in the game when he played 14 offensive linemen, Vice said Memphis lost 42-35 to UCLA.

• One player who hasn’t gotten a ton of publicity this August is Mook Reynolds, but the coaching staff loves his abilities and especially his versatility. He made ESPN’s All-Bowl Team after recording five solo tackles, including three for a loss, and two sacks in the Hokies’ comeback win over Arkansas. He missed spring practice with an injury, but shows no ill effect, and appears to have carried his bowl performance over to August practices.

It helps that he plays a position – Tech’s nickel defensive back spot – that appears to be perfect for him.

“Coach [Bud] Foster said I was born to play this position, and I would agree,” Reynolds said. “I kind of played it in high school. I played rover in high school, but it was exactly it is now, just to the boundary. It didn’t take me any time. I know the position a lot more, as in I know what I can do in disguises. I know what I can give and what I can take. That’s the thing I’ve learned more than anything.”

Reynolds also gets a little assistance from Cody Grimm, a graduate assistant in Tech’s football program. Grimm enjoyed a standout career in a similar role.

“I would say it’s a little different kind of role [now],” Reynolds said. “I think now it’s more of a coverage position that allows you to blitz because it throws off the timing, and they don’t assume that I would blitz in a lot of cases.”

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