What happens when you combine a stifling defense with an elite quarterback?
Well, that’s a pretty good place to start if you want to contend for another ACC championship and a spot in the BCS. And that’s exactly where Virginia Tech sits as the 2012 season opener against Georgia Tech approaches.
The Hokies return nine starters on defense, and several other players who received major playing time in 2011 because of injuries, from a unit that finished 10th in the nation in total defense, seventh in scoring defense, and 12th in sacks last year. It marked the ninth time a Bud Foster-coached defense finished ranked among the top 10 in total defense, which was a remarkable feat considering the defense was crippled with season-ending injuries to several key players.
The net positive, however, is that Foster enters 2012 with more depth and experience in his front seven than he’s likely ever had. And the talent level is sky high, too.
What else is there to watch for as the season begins?
Hi, my name is Michael Holmes
Virginia Tech has seen three straight starting tailbacks declare early for the NFL Draft – Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson. That’s bound to catch up to any program, no?
Well, say hello to Holmes, who was a two-time Group AA Player of the Year in Virginia at Harrisonburg High School and the Blue Streaks’ all-time rushing leader.
“He had a really good 15 practices in the spring,” running back coach Shane Beamer said.
Holmes was named “top offensive newcomer” following spring ball and did have several terrific runs in spring scrimmages. But the Georgia Tech game will mark the first time most Tech fans will see the 5-foot-11, 208-pound tailback in action.
What should they expect? Well, he’s not Wilson from a personality standpoint or skill set. Wilson did back flips at practice, chased rabbits on the Drill Field and was as flamboyant as they come. Whether he was scaling a buttress at Cassell Coliseum, or pimping out his classic ’78 Ford Thunderbird with 24-inch rims, Wilson was dare and flare. Holmes is more smash and dash. He excelled in pass protection this spring and has gotten significantly stronger since first arriving on campus. He has all the skills needed to be the next very good running back.
“I feel about Michael Holmes the way I felt last year about Logan Thomas,” Tech head coach Frank Beamer said. “I think he’s got a chance to be very good. When guys have done it in high school and are used to carrying the ball and not fumbling, that’s good. I had a great feeling about Logan a year ago, and that’s how I feel about him [Holmes].”
Who else is back there?
Since he rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 33 touchdowns last year at Dan River High School in Ringgold, Va., folks in Danville, Va., have been raving about Trey Edmunds as a tailback. He starred as a linebacker in high school, too, but the Hokies will start him out on offense.
Chesapeake’s J.C. Coleman enrolled in January and went through spring ball with Holmes. He has a chance to get in the fold early, too. I’m also looking forward to seeing Chris Mangus, a Raleigh, N.C., native who turned down offers from hometown N.C. State, Notre Dame, Clemson, UVa and others when he signed with Tech in February. Like Holmes, that trio is untested other than practices, meaning the Hokies will have a youthful bunch carrying the ball.
The one veteran who will be key is Martin Scales, the converted fullback from Martinsville, Va., who, at 226 pounds, can really hammer between the tackles. He’ll have his moments this year, you can be sure.
In the spring, Shane Beamer suggested that freshmen could total more than 90 percent of Tech’s rushing total from the tailback position, and it’s easy to see why. In Holmes, Coleman, Edmunds and Mangus, the Hokies have four highly touted, heavily recruited tailbacks coming in at basically the same time. To watch how each progresses this fall, and during ensuing seasons, will be fun to watch.
Biggest thing in town since Ron Burgundy
Logan Thomas spent part of his spring break in San Diego, working with quarterbacks guru George Whitfield, Jr., who’s become well known in recent years after working with guys like Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger.
“We worked on footwork and other mechanics,” Thomas said of his West Coast jaunt.
Among the drills – Thomas would wade knee-deep out into the Pacific Ocean and then simulate taking drops against the current and waves, all the while keeping his balance and throwing mechanics the same. The Hokies’ coaches aren’t about to move practice to the New River to simulate that drill, but they know in Thomas that the team has an elite quarterback who is as emotionally grounded as he is physically gifted. Thomas set a Tech season record with 3,482 yards of total offense and registered the second-highest single-season passing total in school history when he threw for 3,013 yards during his sophomore season last year.
This season, Thomas will be playing behind a rebuilt offensive line, playing without the top two receivers in school history (the graduated Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin) and breaking in freshmen running backs (see above). So while his 2012 stats might not be as gaudy as last year’s, he’ll be the key guy if Tech is to have the success it wants. And he seems to be up to the challenge.
“We’re going to have a fun offense. There are some new faces out there, but we have some guys who have made some big plays before,” Thomas said.
As revealed in the spring, the Hokies will use their version of the “Pistol” offense and no huddle this fall. How much we see it is still an unknown. What we do know is that Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring spent time in Austin last winter with University of Texas co-coordinator Bryan Harsin, who had great success running an up-tempo, no-huddle offense at Boise State for five years before moving to Texas.
The Pistol will allow the running backs to hide behind Thomas and get the ball quickly. It also allows Thomas to get the ball out of his hand quicker on quick slants without taking the time to drop back. When you look at the makeup of Tech’s receivers and their athletic ability to make people miss if they get in space, the skills and size of the Hokies’ running backs, and Thomas’ talents, you can see how this offense can be effective.
On paper, the 2012 Hokies don’t look like an I-formation team. Thomas, in a way, is a fullback and a quarterback. He gives this offense a really neat added dimension, as do the multiple formations.
Freshmen in the secondary
Now, here is where things get dicey. There will be three true freshmen in the two-deep in the secondary. Read that again, and try not to gulp.
“I like the talent, but clearly there is no experience,” defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said. “We have to get lucky. We just have to stay healthy this year.”
“He had 15 practices in the spring, and I really like what I saw,” Gray said.
As for Desmond Frye, Donovan Riley and Davion Tookes, we don’t know much other than two of them will be in the two-deep for the season opener. I go back to what I wrote earlier about tailbacks leaving early for the NFL. If you’re going to have multiple players at the same position leave early [Brandon Flowers and Jayron Hosley are the examples here), younger players are going to get on the field earlier, and true freshmen are going to play. That’s going to be the case at tailback, cornerback and perhaps safety for the Hokies this season.
The October-November derecho
The Hokies play at Clemson, at Miami and against Florida State in a three-game span late in the season. That’s a tough stretch, and staying healthy will be really important heading into that stretch.
Of course, that’s true for the entire league since the schedule is back-loaded for everyone, especially the contenders. But keep this in mind – since 2004, the Hokies are 27-2 in November, and that includes a 25-2 ACC mark. That’s just a tremendous statistic. This year’s stretch drive will be really fun to watch.
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