Hokies taking advantage of off week to work younger players

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech football coach Justin Fuente has big plans for his Saturday off. They involve taking his wife and three daughters to the pumpkin patch that morning – and then watching some football in the afternoon while the girls are taking a nap.

Before getting to that point, though, he and his staff will keep the players sharp with a couple of practices. He gave the starters off yesterday, while working the backups and freshmen, and then he brought the entire group back together for Wednesday’s practice.

“I just felt like with the extended camp this year, with some of our veterans who have been multi-year starters … I just felt like giving them a day off, really focusing purely on everybody else that is either redshirting or playing limited snaps,” Fuente said at his weekly news conference Wednesday. “I thought they [the starters] needed a full day all to themselves. It was fun to see them [the backups]practicing without their normal leaders, without the [Andrew] Motuapuakas and the [Eric] Gallos and the guys that have played a lot of snaps – and they responded and had a good day’s work.”

Tuesday’s practice served as a valuable midseason teaching opportunity for Fuente and the staff. They worked the younger guys and backups on both sides of the ball, indoctrinating them more in base coverages and schemes, and they also worked them on special teams.

“They got tired quickly,” Fuente said, smiling, when asked what he saw from that group of players. “It was warm out there, and it was a few more reps than they are used to getting. That was for them to be kind of snapped into reality a little about what it takes to play multiple snaps.

“The thing I liked the most is that they go out there and compete. They didn’t view it as a punishment. They very easily could have viewed it as punishment – ‘Oh, Coach is being harsh on the young guys, or the new guys.’ I didn’t want them to approach it that way. I wanted them to embrace the challenge of going out there and having their own practice, their own individual attention.”

Tech’s assistant coaches were scheduled to leave after Wednesday’s practice to go recruiting, with the exception of coordinators Brad Cornelsen and Bud Foster. Fuente, Cornelsen and Foster will run Thursday’s practice, and then those three will hit the recruiting trail afterward.

Fuente gave the players Friday and Saturday off, and the entire program will resume preparations Sunday for the North Carolina game.

Here are some other tidbits from Wednesday’s news conference:

• Virginia Tech’s players spent much of their Monday morning breakfast time writing notes on cards to be sent to receiver Sean Savoy, whose brother, Omar, was killed early Sunday morning in a shooting in Washington, D.C. Savoy returned to Washington to be with his family, and Fuente remains in contact with both Savoy and the family.

“It’s tough when young people have to deal with very adult situations,” Fuente said. “I’m in constant communication with Sean and his family and encouraging him to be strong for his family and take care of all the things that he needs to take care of – obviously, football is way down the list. I’m confident that Sean will take care of his responsibilities and then return back to his teammates, back to school and be ready to move forward.”

• Injuries are starting to plague the receiver positions and certainly highlight the lack of depth at those spots. The staff worried about depth coming into the fall, but injuries to Phillip Patterson, James Clark, C.J. Carroll and Cam Phillips have forced receivers coach Holmon Wiggins to rely on younger guys like Savoy, Hezekiah Grimsley, Kalil Pimpleton and Eric Kumah much more than he anticipated.

Wiggins likes the progress and the potential, but they need to show more.

“As a group, we need to get better without the ball in our hands, and that’s the one thing we try to always praise is how guys play without the ball in their hands,” Wiggins said. “We’ve got five to six guys every play blocking their tails off for us to get the praise when we catch the ball. We need to return the favor when those guys are running the ball and they’re doing some other things.”

• Speaking of receivers, Kumah, a sophomore who did not record a catch last season, enjoyed the best game of his career, hauling in four passes in the Hokies’ 23-10 win over Boston College this past Saturday. All four of his receptions came on third down and gave the Hokies a first down, including once when he took a big shot from a BC defensive back and kept going.

“It’s their job to be hungry, and he was hungry and he wanted to make a play and you see that there,” Wiggins said. “Kumah is 220 pounds, and we expect him to be able to absorb some of those shots and play like he’s a big receiver.”

Kumah went into the game with just four receptions on the season.

“It definitely was a confidence boost,” Kumah said. “I feel like I’m getting more confident in my play style and with my body and what I can and cannot do. So it felt good last week to go out there and show that I can do that, especially to the coaches.”

• The lack of depth at the receiver positions prompted the coaching staff to play Drake Deluliis in Saturday’s game at BC. Deluliis, a freshman who hadn’t played this season, came to Tech as a tight end, but the 6-foot-5, 235-pounder has been getting reps on the outside similar to how the staff worked former receiver/tight end Bucky Hodges.

“He has the skill set to be that guy,” Wiggins said. “He’s big. He’s athletic – more of a tight end, but he has some of those qualities that Bucky Hodges had during his time here, just to go out there and flex out and play against a smaller guy and become a mismatch.

“We’re excited to bring him along, as well as he can keep adapting to what we’re throwing at him. He’s starting to let it soak in a little more, and we figured at the halfway point, this would be close to where he would start to springboard a little bit.”

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