User ID: Password:

May 12, 2009

Young players create excitement with their improvement and overall play this spring

By: Jimmy Robertson

Normally, the Maroon-White game that marks the conclusion of Tech’s spring football practice lacks entertainment value. The same thing applies to the majority of the practices as well.

After all, Tech’s coaching staff uses the spring to mix and match young players and walk-ons, trying to build depth and seeing who fits best at certain positions and who may be able to help in the future. That shuffling alone leads to uneven play, which in turn makes it somewhat difficult to watch.

It’s kind of like watching Picasso stain my deck – it must be done, but you know that something much better would be in the works given different circumstances.

That said, this spring practice differed from most in Blacksburg. The young players displayed play-making skills that belied both their age and experience. The gap between first- and second-teamers was slimmer than in years past. And the scrimmages offered some entertainment – which made watching fun.

Following the spring game, we learned some things about this team. Tech goes into the fall with some depth at several positions – mainly because of the improvement of its young players, particularly those who redshirted in that large freshman class last year. From this perspective, that was the overall biggest surprise coming out of the 15 April practices.

Who were the individual surprises? Well, here’s a look;

  • Ryan Williams – Interestingly, Williams was a highly rated player coming out of high school, though he only rushed for 650 yards and two touchdowns his senior season because of injuries.

    But he truly is the real deal. Think Shyrone Stith with speed, or a shorter version of Kevin Jones. He possesses that breakaway ability that Tech’s offense has lacked of late, and yet, he brings power to the field as well.

    In every scrimmage, he made a big play. There was the 80-yard run in the first scrimmage and the 56-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass in the spring game. His best run came in the first scrimmage when he made four or five guys miss on what went down on the stat sheet as an ordinary 6-yard run.

    Tyrod Taylor won the offensive MVP of spring practice. But we’re not so sure Williams wasn’t the best player on the field.

  • Greg Nosal – Tech’s staff planned to look at him at tackle this spring, but an injury to Sergio Render led them to trying Nosal at guard and it panned out nicely. At 6-foot-6, he’s got a nice frame and he possesses the athleticism of tight end – which he played in high school, a theme among Tech’s offensive line.

    Nosal won’t start, but he’s going to be the top backup. He figures to see 15-20 snaps a game.

  • Dyrell Roberts – Talk about someone who grew into a position. Roberts looked like a different player this spring, which made sense. He actually knew what he was doing out there. The former tailback needed some time to soak into the receiver spot, but Tech’s staff didn’t have that luxury last fall. So he played quite a bit.

    Now, that decision is paying off. Roberts looked like a confident player out there. He made some tough catches this spring. More importantly, he got in the end zone. With him, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, the Hokies should be able to attack down the field this fall.

  • Jake Johnson – This kid just loves football and his passion for it has enabled him to move onto the cusp of a starting role as a sophomore. He reminds most of George Del Ricco – and that’s not a bad comparison. Johnson will make some mistakes because the backer position is one of the toughest to play on Tech’s defense, maybe the toughest. But he learns quickly and rarely makes the same mistake twice. He and Barquell Rivers could be three-year starters at Bud Foster’s spots.

  • Matt Waldron – How does Frank Beamer keep doing this? Two years ago, yours truly didn’t think Waldron had the leg to be a kicker. This spring, he didn’t miss and he actually showed some range. Beamer appears to have unearthed another gem of a walk-on at kicker, following the likes of Brandon Pace, Judson Dunlevy and Dustin Keys.

    There were other surprises, too. Chris Drager was exceptional at tight end before being moved to defensive end following spring practice. Jim Cavanaugh spoke highly of both Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Alonzo Tweedy. Courtney Prince enjoyed a tremendous spring at defensive tackle before he tore his ACL in the final scrimmage. Cris Hill was the Hokies’ most improved defensive back. Their improvement, and that of other young players, made this spring practice exciting Now that excitement will build even more toward next fall.