Following the color, the pageantry and the spectacle that is a Virginia Tech spring football game (that’s a head shaker in itself, no?), one clear conclusion can easily be made on May 1, 2009: the Hokies are a much better football team today than they were one year ago.
Now, where the Hokies fit into the national landscape, or even within their own division in the ACC, won’t be known for a while. Andy Staples of SI.com has slotted Virginia Tech at No. 5 in his post-spring poll. That’s rarified air, but it’s nearly impossible to gauge on the first of May how Virginia Tech compares to others ranked in the top 10. (Andy, by the way, is the former Tampa-based Florida Gators’ beat writer. He went to Florida and he has the Gators ranked No. 1, which is likely on target.)
But this much we do know: Tech is way ahead of where it was last year at this point at many positions and is remarkably deeper across the board on offense. On defense, depth is an issue at some spots, but overall, the Hokies have the look of a championship contender.
Here’s a closer look:
Quarterback: Clearly Tyrod Taylor has taken over the reins of the offense and has become a true leader on this team. He still needs to improve his passing, but he is a true game-changer across the board. Backup Ju-Ju Clayton has won the No. 2 spot for now, although Marcus Davis might get back into the mix in the fall. While some may be alarmed at Clayton’s 4-of-15 passing numbers in the spring game, he played well in the previous two scrimmages and Tech’s defense has a way of making quarterbacks look bad. You’ll recall the last quarterback who played against Tech’s defense, Cincinnati’s Tony Pike, was 16-of-33 and was intercepted four times at the Orange Bowl. And Pike was a 22-year-old fifth-year senior quarterback who had thrown for 2,400 yards during the regular season. Clayton has never played in a game, so you’d expect Bud Foster’s “D” to cause some problems.
Tailback: Ryan Williams was one of the headliners of the spring. His 80-yard run on his first touch in scrimmage No. 1 and his 56-yard reception for a touchdown in the spring game are examples of his big-play capability. Coupled with Orange Bowl MVP Darren Evans, the Hokies appear to have their best combo in the backfield since the Lee Suggs-Kevin Jones duo. With Danville’s David Wilson coming in August, you can’t help but be excited about the potential there.
Receiver: This is where the Hokies might have made their biggest improvement since last year. Dyrell Roberts, for example, had a remarkable spring after learning the position last fall. The former high school running back has big-play capability. Same with Jarrett Boykin, who makes tough catches look easy, and Xavier Boyce, who has a bright future too. If Marcus Davis isn’t at QB, the kid has smooth strides and great natural ability. We’ll see how it looks in the fall, especially when a couple of freshmen join the group, but you won’t get an argument from many if you suggest this is the best looking group of receivers in school history.
Offensive line: This is where the Hokies have clearly taken the biggest step forward. Even though Tech has lost two starters up front, it’s obvious that, entering August, line coach Curt Newsome has eight guys to work with and that added depth will help in the fall. Newsome could use another guard, and that could be an issue if injuries occur. And Tech has terrific depth at tight end as well.
When some of those rookies get here in August (D.J. Coles, Logan Thomas, David Wilson), there will be more firepower on that side of the ball than we’ve seen … well … maybe ever.
On offense, the Hokies appear to be better across the board at every single position and, to be honest, have more big-play weapons at different positions than any offense I can remember here. Taylor is better, the receivers are better, the running backs are tremendous and there are bunch of them.
Now, on defense, the issue is depth. Tech’s coaches moved Chris Drager to defensive end following the spring and that’s because the Hokies are a body short at that position. John Graves got a look there in the spring and could play the spot if needed. But look for him to start at tackle against Alabama. Jason Worilds needs to come back from shoulder surgery healthy and needs to put together a solid season. He’s a terrific player with one arm! With two, he can be a game-changer at defensive end.
It’s the same story with guys like Kam Chancellor and Jake Johnson. Developing depth at free safety and backer is critical. Johnson had a terrific spring and has the look of a four-year starter at that position, but the Hokies don’t quite have the depth they’d like … at least not yet.
Every team has its flaws and the Hokies will as well this fall. This might be a team that has rookies at key spots like kicker and that backer spot. But, the emergence of playmakers, skill at receiver and running back and the development of Taylor are three reasons why the 2009 Hokies are far ahead of Tech’s 2008 team.
• Make sure you catch Tech pitcher Justin Wright in action if you can. The lefty from Chesterfield, Va., was named ACC pitcher of the week this past week after a 10-strikeout performance in a win at Miami. Wright is 5-1, with a 3.27 ERA. Against Clemson and Miami the last two weeks, he constantly worked ahead of the hitters and showed excellent control. Tech’s baseball team enters this weekend still battling for one of eight spots in the ACC tournament. The two top teams in each division, and the next four teams with the best conference winning percentage make this year’s tournament, which will be played in Durham, NC.
• Thanks to Webmaster Damian Salas for updating the “Bill and Mike’s Greatest Hits” section on hokiesports.com. You can hear the latest additions, plus the classics at www.hokiesports.com/radio/greatesthits.html
• Remember that today (May 1st) is the deadline to renew your season ticket applications for 2009 Tech football. You can do it online at www.hokietickets.com or stop by the ticket office if you’re nearby. One of the questions all teams, college and pro, are wondering is how recent economic woes will affect season ticket sales. We’ll have an idea of the impact, if any, on Tech’s season ticket sales in the next week or so.
For updates on Virginia Tech Athletics, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@hokiesports).