Well, gang, it’s time for the annual spring-cleaning edition of the Kroger Roth Report. Lots to get to, so let’s get started:
You’ve heard coach Frank Beamer and members of his staff use the word “toughness” frequently over the past several weeks.
“I told the kids the other day that I want this to be the toughest football team we've ever had here at Virginia Tech,” Beamer told the media during a recent teleconference. “I just think, when you sit back and evaluate, there's something about mental toughness and physical toughness that I think is important to winning.”
Without question, this has been as rugged and as spirited a spring practice as Tech’s had in recent years. So what exactly did the staff evaluate to conclude that the Hokies weren’t tough enough?
Go back to 2011, when the Hokies had 70 red-zone possessions (inside the opponents’ 20-yard line) and scored just 35 touchdowns. Tech finished ninth in the ACC in red-zone offense in 2011, and Beamer and the staff were focused on improving that number in a big way.
“Sometimes, you just have to bang it in there, and we’re not doing that as well as we need to,” Beamer said at the end of that season. “Sometimes you just need a yard.”
The 2011 Hokies were 9 of 20 on fourth-down conversions. Not good.
Well, in 2012, Tech had just 41 red-zone possessions. (Yes, you read that correctly. In 13 games, Tech had the football inside the other team’s 20-yard line just 41 times and that includes three overtime possessions). In those 41 red-zone trips, Tech scored just 21 touchdowns. And on fourth down, the 2012 Hokies were just 7 of 20. Ouch.
Tech’s overtime possession against Rutgers provides a specific example of what frothed the head man. The Hokies had first-and-goal on the Rutgers 3-yard line, but settled for a field goal.
This isn’t about play calling or schemes. This is about needing a yard or less on fourth down and having the play blown up in the offensive backfield. This is about having first-and-goal inside the 5 in key games and either settling for a field goal or losing the ball on downs.
There’s mental toughness (attention to detail) and physical toughness (getting three inches on fourth down, etc.). This spring, improving both has been a major focus for Beamer and his staff.
Who’s running the ball?
The same question was asked a year ago following the departure of David Wilson to the NFL and the “backfield-by-committee” approach didn’t work very well for the 2012 team. J.C. Coleman led the group with just 492 yards, and Beamer said settling on a tailback by the end of spring is huge for the 2013 team. Coleman, Michael Holmes and Tony Gregory return, along with Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus, both of whom redshirted last year. Edmunds is the guy to watch. He’s gained some weight (215 pounds), which makes him even stronger. His 40-yard time is impressive, too (4.37 seconds, tied for second on the team). He’s tough, and he’s a strong kid and certainly a guy to watch this spring.
Who’s the tight end?
After spending time with new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, it’s clear he’d like to use the tight end often in his offense. Tech’s staff moved Zack McCray to that position at the end of 2011, and Ryan Malleck, Duan Perez-Means, Darius Redman and Dakota Jackson are all getting reps this spring. There are some options here, and with the new offense, it will be exciting to see who emerges. Fans will be excited about how the Hokies are using the tight end more in the passing game in 2013, provided someone emerges. My hunch is someone will emerge and be a new weapon for Tech this fall.
The next Steve Johnson?
It would be great if one of those five tight end prospects could blossom like Steve Johnson, who lettered at Tech from 1984-87 before playing in the NFL with New England and Dallas. In really exciting news, Tech announced that the football practice fields will be renamed the “Steve Johnson Practice Fields” after Johnson made a $1 million pledge toward the construction of a new indoor football practice facility. It’s another generous gift from Johnson, who has contributed to several major projects since graduating from Tech in 1987. Johnson currently serves as president and owner of Bristol, Va.-based Johnson Commercial Development, one of the largest commercial developers in the southeastern United States. This is just a great feel-good story all the way around because we have a former Tech athlete who excelled on the field, helped found a major company in Virginia and now is giving back to the program he loves so much.
Another honor for Erick Green
When he was named a third-team All-American, Erick Green became the first Hokie to be named to any basketball All-America team since Dell Curry in 1986. That’s a pretty long dry spell for any program, but just another terrific honor for Green, who was named ACC Player of the Year as well. Green has a future in pro ball, and everyone hopes to see him in an NBA jersey next season.
Every NBA mock draft I’ve seen has Green going somewhere in second round, but one NBA scout I talked with a few weeks ago told me specifically that, “We just hope Green is available for us, so you won’t hear us talking about him at all.” Scouts talk about his offensive efficiency, and if you’re a number’s guru, check out this page: http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Erick-Green-16580/stats/.
Green will get his chance to impress scouts and general managers at various pre-draft events and workouts, but in this instance, where he goes is probably more important than when he’s picked.
A closer look at the All-America team
I took special interest in the first-team All-America team: Doug McDermott (Creighton), Victor Oladipo, (Indiana), Kelly Olynyk (Gonzaga), Otto Porter, Jr. (Georgetown), and Trey Burke (Michigan).
In looking back, McDermott picked Creighton over Drake, Indiana State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Olynyk had an offer from Providence. Burke wasn’t a top-100 player in the recruiting rankings. Oladipo had higher-profile options (he took a recruiting visit to Virginia Tech, by the way, toured campus and had a great lunch at West End, per Tech coach James Johnson), but like Green, wasn’t a major national recruit.
As you look at these players and see how they developed (Olynyk redshirted at Gonzaga as a freshman, Oladipo averaged 7 points and Green just 2.6 points per game as freshmen), you can see how so many really solid kids can develop into elite players if they work hard at it and fit in a system. Again, that’s a selling tool for Johnson moving forward as he recruits kids to fit his program in Blacksburg.
There are good players everywhere … we know that. But they can develop into elite players as Olynyk, Oladipo and Green have shown, and that’s what is encouraging about that All-America team.
All-time Shenandoah Valley?
With Green joining Curry on the list of all-time greats, how’s this for a six-man, “All-Valley team?”
The team banquet should be at the Johnny Appleseed’s in New Market, Va., if for nothing else, to enjoy the awesome apple fritters. Trust me on that one.
Somewhat under the radar this spring has been the success of the Tech men’s swimming and diving program, which finished second in the ACC and 20th at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis, Ind. The Hokies sent a school record 10 athletes (seven swimmers and three divers) to Indy, including junior Ryan Hawkins, who was named All-American. It’s been just three seasons since Tech moved into its new $15 million swimming facility, the Christiansburg Aquatic Center, and in that short time, coach Ned Skinner and his staff have done a sensational job. In swimming, when you’re finishing ahead of schools like Alabama, LSU, Florida State and UVa at the NCAA Championships, that deserves some serious recognition.
Is Miami eligible for the ACC championship this season, or are the Hurricanes banned from postseason play again, including the ACC championship game? Also, UNC and Georgia Tech are still on probation, too, right? Who from the Coastal Division can play in the ACC championship game this year? This is so confusing! Mike, Culpeper, Va.
The NCAA’s much-publicized and seemingly flawed investigation of the ‘Canes is still ongoing. Miami actually self-imposed its postseason bans in 2011 and 2012 in hopes of softening any future NCAA sanctions. But as of yet, the NCAA and its Committee on Infractions have not made a decision on the ‘Canes sanctions.
As for North Carolina, the Tar Heels sanctions included a postseason bowl ban only for the 2012 football season and a loss of 15 scholarships and probation over a three-year span. So while UNC’s probation is for 2012, 2013, and 2014, the Heels are eligible to play in postseason games this season.
Georgia Tech’s penalties were four years of probation through July of 2015, a fine ($100,000), and vacating of the 2009 ACC Championship. The Jackets are eligible for postseason play this year.
So, as of now, everyone in the Coastal is eligible, but the Miami situation has yet to be resolved.
We have no experience at tackle, receiver or tight end, and no proven running backs. Even as a diehard Hokie, I don’t know if we can match last year’s win total. Tell me I’m wrong, but this looks like a team that’s really going to struggle to score. Cal, Richmond.
I don’t think it’s that dire, pal. You’re correct in assessing a lack of experience at several positions, but there’s a lot of talent there. I’m eager to see Tech’s young receivers this spring. I really loved Josh Stanford’s performance last August and thought he was one of Tech’s most explosive talents. Demitri Knowles and Kevin Asante can fly, and D.J. Coles is back. And don’t’ forget about Joel Caleb. So let’s watch how they perform this spring.
As for tackle, that’s a key area, and we’ll keep an eye on that this spring, too. I think having Logan Thomas back makes the entire thing click. Had he left for the NFL, and Tech was trying to bring in a new line, new receivers, along with a new quarterback, it would be more of a challenge. Hang in there and believe in these kids. They’ve worked hard this winter. They’ll be fun to watch, for sure.
Why aren’t you covering THIS! Britney Spears is dating diehard Hokie fan (David Lucado from Forest, Va.). He even wears Tech shirts and caps on dates with her (http://www.people.com/people/mobile/article/0,,20682401,00.html). As someone who loves Britney AND the Hokies, this is the greatest thing EVER! Maybe we can get Britney to a game? You can make this happen. Nicole, Midlothian, Va.
Thanks for adding a “Hollywood Gossip” feature to the mailbag this week. If Ms. Spears and Mr. Lucado would like to attend a game at Lane Stadium, I’m sure we can get them tickets. And no doubt the TMZ paparazzi would follow as well.
Love and appreciate your work, and a big Tech baseball fan here. Can you please explain to me how Hokies’ All Access works for baseball? What can I watch online? What can I watch on my phone? What can I hear on radio? What is free? What is not? I’d be happy to pay to hear and see the games. Scott, Blacksburg.
Thanks for your note. Since you live in Blacksburg, you can hear all ACC baseball games on Supersports 101.7 FM. If you can’t make it to the game in person, you can watch games on Hokies’ All Access either on your computer, or on your mobile device using our official Hokies mobile application. You can go to hokiesports.com and get details on each option. Andrew Allegretta is doing a fantastic job calling the baseball games, and the team is playing well. Hope to see you at English Field soon.
In looking back, the Hokies won several games on the final play of the game. My question – in Tech history, has that ever happened before? George, Altavista, Va.
It doesn’t happen often. Before this past season, the last time the Hokies won a game on the final offensive play of the game was in 1999 when Tech beat WVU 22-20 in Morgantown on Shayne Graham’s kick. This season, it happened twice: against Georgia Tech and UVa.
With the success of SEC football and with our new coaches having coached in the SEC, I was wondering how the SEC’s talent compares with Tech’s talent? What are their thoughts on our talent level and how wide a gap is there? How do we close that gap? Thanks, Cody, Salem, Va.
I’ve asked that question of Shane Beamer (who coached at Tennessee, Mississippi State and South Carolina) before he came back to Tech, and Scot Loeffler, who has coached at Florida and Auburn. Their answers are similar: Both suggest the difference in the SEC is up front on the defensive line and the depth at those positions. The top SEC teams have tremendous size, speed and depth on the defensive line. The gap is closed by simply recruiting the elite high school players and making them even better once they get here.
Secondly, I like the fact that Coach (Jeff) Grimes, Coach Loeffler, and Beamer have all recently been in the SEC and have recruited in that region. It’s ultra competitive 365 days a year, and they have all experienced that first hand.
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