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May 9, 2011

A position-by-position look at the depth of the 2011 football squad

By: Jimmy Robertson

Thomas terrific this spring and set to be the Hokies’ signal caller in 2011

3 Logan Thomas (6-6, 245, r-Soph.)
12 Ju-Ju Clayton (6-1, 220, r-Jr.)
6 Mark Leal (6-0, 199, r-Fr.)
16 Trey Gresh (6-0, 209, r-Fr.)
5 Ricardo Young (6-0, 176, r-Fr.) – missed most of spring with a foot injury

Everyone expected Logan Thomas to claim the starting job this spring after serving as Tyrod Taylor’s understudy a year ago, and the redshirt sophomore did exactly that, showing maturity, confidence, and most importantly, talent. In six scrimmages, including the Maroon-White game, Thomas completed 50 of 91 passes for 743 yards, with six touchdowns and three interceptions. He threw two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Maroon-White game.

“I don’t ever want to under-sell a young man, but he’s [Thomas] farther along than I thought he would be at this point in time,” quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said. “I’m extremely happy. I couldn’t be more pleased with his progress this spring. He picked up right where he left off in January, and you don’t ever know when you take a three-month layoff if that will be the case. But he’s thrown the ball well and he’s made good decisions.

“Now, he’s got some things that he’s got to work on, some little things. He’s got room to improve. But I can’t be more pleased with where he’s at right now. He’s in a good place going into August.”

The situation behind Thomas isn’t as clear. Ju-Ju Clayton is No. 2, but Mark Leal closed the gap the final week. Clayton threw five interceptions and no touchdowns this spring, while Leal threw two touchdowns and no interceptions.

“I’ve been pleased with Ju-Ju and what he’s been able to do having had very few reps,” O’Cain said. “The negative with him is that he’s had some interceptions, and we’ve got to eliminate that.

“I’ve been pleased with Mark’s poise and his accuracy and overall decision-making. We’ll get him some work in the early fall and see how much he’s progressed. I think he’s earned that.”

Wilson ready to take over at tailback

4 David Wilson (5-10, 201, Jr.)
2 Josh Oglesby (5-11, 210, r-Sr.)
26 James Hopper (5-9, 181, r-Soph.)
22 Tony Gregory (6-0, 187, r-Soph.)

45 Joey Phillips (5-11, 214, r-Jr.)
39 Martin Scales (5-11, 216, r-Jr.)
32 Riley Beiro (5-9, 227, r-Fr.)

David Wilson missed a portion of spring football practice while participating with the track and field team, but he certainly did enough during his time with his football teammates to impress new running backs coach Shane Beamer. Wilson, arguably the most explosive athlete on Tech’s team, appears more than ready to take over for the departed Darren Evans and Ryan Williams.

“Early on, I was concerned,” Beamer said of Wilson participating with the track team. “I was concerned about the mental aspect because we were installing different plays and different protections – stuff that was different from what we did last fall. But it didn’t affect him. He handled everything maturely, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise.”

Coming out of spring, Josh Oglesby, James Hopper and Tony Gregory were in the mix to back up Wilson. Beamer put Oglesby slightly ahead at this point, but added that the competition will continue in August.

Oglesby gives Tech a solid, experienced player behind Wilson. Still recovering from the torn ACL suffered last fall, Gregory only participated in specific drills, but he showed a lot of burst and quickness. Hopper, who was moved from rover by the staff before spring practice, also showed some burst and quickness. He and Gregory both need to get a little bigger and stronger.

“Josh is a good, solid tailback,” Beamer said. “He was a leader. I’d like to see him become a more explosive guy, but I think that will come after a summer with Coach [Mike] Gentry.

“Tony did a lot, but nothing full speed. He’s done an awesome job with the work he’s put in, and I hope he’ll come back even stronger.

“Hopper is smart and tough, and those are two of the many things you’ve got to have. He needs to get bigger and stronger. He can get into some mismatches in pass protection, but he knows that. He’ll continue to get in the mix.”

At fullback, Joey Phillips leads the brigade, with Martin Scales and Riley Beiro following him. Phillips injured his ankle in one of the final scrimmages and missed the Maroon-White game, but should be fine in the fall.

“They’re all solid,” Beamer said. “We don’t use our fullbacks a lot, but some in specific situations, like on the goal line or in short yardage. They’ll continue to compete, and we’ll see where it goes in the fall.”

Offensive line a team strong point coming out of spring

Right tackles
62 Blake DeChristopher (6-5, 312, r-Sr.)
71 Vinston Painter (6-6, 296, r-Jr.)

Right guards
68 Jaymes Brooks (6-2, 307, r-Sr.)
64 Matt Arkema (6-3, 290, r-Fr.)
60 Laurence Gibson (6-4, 299, r-Fr.)

74 Andrew Miller (6-4, 290, r-Soph.)
67 Michael Via (6-7, 285, r-Jr.)
79 Caleb Farris (6-3, 306, Fr.)
63 Bo Gentry (5-9, 254, r-Jr.)

Left guards
75 Greg Nosal (6-6, 281, r-Sr.) – missed spring with an injury
76 David Wang (6-1, 301, r-Soph.)
59 Courtney Prince (6-2, 286, r-Jr.)
77 Dale Davis (6-2, 292, r-Fr.)

Left tackles
72 Andrew Lanier (6-5, 282, r-Sr.)
54 Nick Becton (6-6, 313, r-Jr.)
69 Mark Shuman (6-7, 301, r-Fr.)

For the first time in quite some time, the Virginia Tech offensive line features some depth. The Hokies aren’t necessarily two deep at each position on the offensive line, but they also aren’t far from it either.

At right tackle, Blake DeChristopher anchors the unit and will be one of the rare four-year starters on the offensive line. Vinston Painter, who moved over from guard before spring practice started, backs up DeChristopher.

“Blake had a good spring,” offensive line coach Curt Newsome said. “There’s not much more to say that hasn’t been said. He’s just one of those rare guys who can start for four years.

“I thought Vinston improved. I definitely think he’s better at tackle, and that’s the position for him. He’s got to be more physical in the run game and improve on some technique issues, but I thought he was solid this spring.”

At right guard, Jaymes Brooks also returns and enjoyed a good spring. Redshirt freshmen Matt Arkema and Laurence Gibson back him up, making it imperative that the experienced Brooks stay healthy.

“Jaymes really had a purpose this spring,” Newsome said. “He worked on the little things. He had some footwork issues, and I thought he got a lot better in that area.

“Laurence got off to a good start, and then Matt bypassed him, but Laurence caught back up toward the end of spring. Those two had a good competition going, and we’ll see where it goes.”

At center, Andrew Miller takes over for Beau Warren, and he established himself as an up-and-coming player. Behind him, Michael Via, who played mostly tackle a year ago, moved back to center, where he played two years ago. Caleb Farris and Bo Gentry round out the group.

“I think Andrew has a chance to be really good,” Newsome said. “I think we hurt Michael a little by moving him back and forth, but he was too good not to help us somewhere. I think center is his best spot, but I want to get him more physical.”

At left guard, Greg Nosal will be back in the fall after missing the spring with a shoulder injury. But David Wang took advantage of the reps. Wang figures to be the top backup at both guard spots.

“He’s been my biggest surprise,” Newsome said of Wang. “He’s been physical, and he’s intelligent. He’s got good footwork. I’m excited about what he can do to help us.”

Finally, at left tackle, Andrew Lanier and Nick Becton battled it out all spring. Lanier came out slightly ahead at this point. Mark Shuman, a redshirt freshman, is a prospect to keep an eye on down the road.

“Andrew was exceptional this spring,” Newsome said. “He really worked at it. And Nick has all the tools. Those guys are going to continue to compete. I like what they’re all about.”

Tech receiving group loaded with size, talent and experience

Split ends
81 Jarrett Boykin (6-2, 219, Sr.)
18 D.J. Coles (6-3, 225, Jr.)
85 E.L. Smiling (6-3, 194, r-Fr.)
83 Corey Fuller (6-2, 188, r-Jr.)

19 Danny Coale (6-0, 196, r-Sr.)
7 Marcus Davis (6-4, 231, r-Jr.)
11 Dyrell Roberts (6-2, 185, Sr.) – missed most of spring practice (compartment syndrome)
82 Willie Byrn (5-10, 176, r-Fr.)

The strength of Tech’s 2011 team may be the receivers, a group that features three seniors and two juniors – and all of them possess the ability to change a game and showed it this spring.

Jarrett Boykin came out of spring in the top spot at the split end position, with D.J. Coles right behind him. Both possess the height and speed a coach wants at the position, and both played well this spring.

“Jarrett had a great spring,” receivers coach Kevin Sherman said. “He’s faster, and he was physical in the run game. He’s worked hard to take his game where he wants it to go, and I think he can be even better.

“D.J. had a good spring. He got a lot of reps, which he needs because he’s missed time in the past with injuries. He was productive, and he showed some things. He needs to be a little more consistent, but I like what he’s about.”

On the other side, Danny Coale and Marcus Davis lead the way. Coale always plays consistently and productively, and this spring was no different. Davis turned out to be the offensive standout of the spring, catching 23 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns combined in the Hokies’ scrimmages and the Maroon-White game. He caught two touchdown passes in the Maroon-White game.

“Danny had a good spring and was productive,” Sherman said. “Marcus had a good spring, too. His confidence level is sky high. Part of it goes back to how he played the second half of last season when he played well. He always had the ability do those types of things, but now, he knows he can do them.

“Now, he needs to do them on a consistent basis. I want him to work on the little things. If he attacks the little things, then that will help the big things come.”

Dyrell Roberts did not participate in practice this spring as he attempts to recover from compartment syndrome in his thigh that he suffered late last fall. But he should be ready in time for fall practice.

“Overall, I like this group,” Sherman said. “They’ve worked hard this spring on getting the timing down with Logan [Thomas], and we still need to work on that and work on deep balls. Can we be better? Yes. But I like where we are and where we’re headed.”

Drager tops among tight ends after moving over from defensive end

Tight ends
33 Chris Drager (6-3, 256, r-Sr.)
86 Eric Martin (6-2, 261, r-Soph.)
13 Randall Dunn (6-2, 243, r-Jr.)
88 George George (6-4, 261, r-Jr.)
80 Jerome Lewis (6-3, 240, r-Fr.)
87 Fuller Hoepner (6-2, 227, r-Fr.)

Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, who doubles as the tight ends coach, expressed worry heading into spring practice about his tight ends. He wanted to avoid a platoon situation heading into the season, where one player plays when a passing play gets called and another when a running play is called.

“I still am concerned,” he said. “But I do think now we have two guys who can be every down guys in Chris [Drager] and Eric [Martin]. They’ll benefit from having those receivers around them. If you’re not aware of them [the tight ends], they’ll find some space and catch the ball. You’ve got to be aware of them. They can hurt you, and I think we’ve shown, as a group, that we can be effective in the running game and the passing game.”

Drager came out of spring at the top of the depth chart despite spending the past two seasons at defensive end. He showed a little rust, but it didn’t take him long to revert back to the form that made him a top tight end coming out of the 2009 spring practice.

“Playing defense has helped him,” Stinespring said. “He knows both sides of the ball, and he uses that to his advantage. He’s tough and physical and smart. He understands the game.”

Martin showed better quickness and speed than last fall when he dealt with a knee problem. Stinespring called him “one of the more reassuring aspects of spring.”

Randall Dunn figures more into an H-back role, while George George should see time on special teams. Jerome Lewis and Fuller Hoepner, a walk-on, are two guys who need to improve, but could figure in down the road.

First-team d-line tremendous this spring, but depth is a concern

Derrick Hopkins (maroon tackler)2011 SPRING DEPTH CHART
42 J.R. Collins (6-2, 253, r-Soph.)
66 Tyrel Wilson (6-1, 214, r-Soph.)
95 Zack McCray (6-5, 248, r-Fr.)
87 Justin Taylor (6-2, 220, Fr.)

99 James Gayle (6-4, 251, r-Soph.)
90 Duan Perez-Means (6-4, 252, r-Fr.)
38 Quillie Odom (6-1, 242, r-Jr.)

56 Antoine Hopkins (6-0, 299, r-Jr.)
55 Isaiah Hamlette (6-4, 274, r-Jr.)
92 Nick Acree (6-5, 276, r-Fr.)

Nose tackles
98 Derrick Hopkins (6-0, 298, Soph.)
93 Kwamaine Battle (6-0, 301, r-Sr.)
53 Dwight Tucker (6-1, 273, r-Jr.)

Following spring practice, defensive line coach Charley Wiles liked what he saw from his group, but summed up things as a whole with this statement:

“We’ve got depth issues,” he said.

The starting unit of ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins and tackles Antoine and Derrick Hopkins played fantastic football throughout the spring. Gayle, who finished with six sacks combined (scrimmages and the Maroon-White game), was named the defensive MVP of the spring.

“He had a very good spring,” Wiles said. “He’s gotten a lot of attention, and he deserves it. But at the same time, he’s got to do it this fall. That’s what I want him to remember.”

Collins got off to a bit of a slow start, but played great in the final scrimmage and in the Maroon-White game, when he had two sacks. He got a few reps at defensive tackle, and the staff’s plans for having him do that are ongoing.

“It was just hard to get him a lot of work there,” Wiles said. “We were working on a lot of different stuff, and he needed to work on things at end. I do think he gives you something there, but he’s going to have to know everything at that position to play there. We can’t limit our defense.”

The Hopkins brothers played well. In particular, Derrick stood out after playing last season as a true freshman. He recorded three sacks and five tackles for a loss combined (scrimmages and the Maroon-White game) and was named the defense’s top newcomer of the spring.

“He was phenomenal,” Wiles said of Derrick Hopkins. “He was active and was a playmaker. I think he made Antoine better, too. Antoine’s got a lot of ability. He needs to work on his practice habits, but when the lights went on, Antoine was very good, too.”

There is a bit of the unknown behind those first four, though. At tackle, Kwamaine Battle, coming off a torn ACL, figures to be the third tackle.

“I admire what he’s done to get back,” Wiles said. “It shows character and toughness. Now, he needs to get in shape, and he will.”

Dwight Tucker, Isaiah Hamlette and Nick Acree round out the group at tackle. But Wiles wants to see what incoming recruit Kris Harley can do.

“He’s going to get some reps,” Wiles admitted.

At end, Duan Perez-Means and Tyrel Wilson are the backups behind Gayle and Collins right now. Quillie Odom, Zack McCray and Justin Taylor round out the group.

“Perez-Means was good,” Wiles said. “He needs to improve and get stronger, but he showed he can make plays.

“Tyrel needs to gain 10 pounds and play a little bigger. He plays bigger than his size, but he tends to get engulfed in there sometimes.”

Edwards shines as most improved player on defense this spring

Tariq Edwards2011 SPRING DEPTH CHART
Mike linebackers
51 Bruce Taylor (6-2, 252, r-Jr.) – missed most of spring with a shoulder injury
52 Barquell Rivers (6-0, 241, r-Sr.)
58 Jack Tyler (5-11, 220, r-Soph.) – missed the entire spring with a back injury
36 Chase Williams (6-1, 223, r-Fr.)
47 Brian Laiti (6-3, 205, r-Fr.)

24 Tariq Edwards (6-2, 229, r-Soph.)
57 Telvion Clark (6-1, 214, r-Soph.)
36 Chase Williams (6-1, 223, r-Fr.)
Jonathan Halfhide (5-10, 209, r-Fr.)

Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster doubles as the linebackers coach, and he really liked what he saw out of his two linebacker spots during spring practice.

For starters, Tariq Edwards started living up to his immense potential. Then, Telvion Clark showed some maturity and talent. And finally, Barquell Rivers looks to be getting closer to the linebacker he was two years ago.

At mike linebacker, Foster listed Bruce Taylor ahead of Rivers even though Taylor missed most of spring practice after injuring his shoulder early on. Foster expects him back by the time practice starts in August. Also, mike linebacker Jack Tyler missed the entire spring with a back injury. His status is a little murkier.

The injuries, though, allowed Rivers and Chase Williams to get a lot of reps, which helped both of them.

“I’ve seen flashes of what he was two years ago,” Foster said of Rivers. “He’s not in good shape, and that will be the big thing for him this summer. But he’s heady and tough and physical, and I trust him more than anyone I’ve ever trusted. He’s getting close.

“As for Chase, he is going to be a guy who can play both spots for us. I think that will help him, and it will help us. I like what he did this spring.”

Edwards, though, was the star of the linebackers this spring. Stronger and more experienced, he made plays in space and had a couple of interceptions. He earned the defense’s most improved player during spring practice.

“We really needed him to step up,” Foster said. “That’s a playmaking spot, and we ask that position to do a multitude of things. Tariq always did some things in games, but he had to show me in practice, and he didn’t, so I was always a little apprehensive to play him.

“But he’s made a commitment. He’s got all kinds of abilities – he’s long and he’s quick and he can run. If he can be consistent, with that ability and explosiveness, then that’s exciting.”

Clark got better as the spring went along, and toward the end, he played like someone who wanted to be a starter. In the final three outings, including the Maroon-White game, he recorded 22 tackles, including three for a loss.

“Just maturity,” Foster said of Clark’s progress. “He took to coaching and applied it, but mostly, he has matured. He’s always had the ability, but he focused on learning and being coachable. I’m proud of him. Now, he’s got to be consistent from here on out, but he’s got a lot of potential and tools.”

Starters solid, but depth a concern at spots in the secondary

Detrick Bonner2011 SPRING DEPTH CHART
Boundary cornerbacks
20 Jayron Hosley (5-10, 170, Jr.)
9 Cris Hill (5-11, 176, r-Sr.)

Field cornerbacks
17 Kyle Fuller (6-0, 185, Soph.)
8 Detrick Bonner (6-0, 183, r-Fr.)

Free safeties
15 Eddie Whitley (6-1, 187, Sr.)
21 Theron Norman (6-3, 209, r-Fr.)

1 Antone Exum (5-11, 217, r-Soph.)
30 Adeboye Aromire (5-11, 195, Fr.)

Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray came out of spring practice feeling pretty good about his cornerbacks and concerned about a lack of depth at both safety and rover.

His projected starting corners are two good ones in Jayron Hosley, who led the nation in interceptions last fall, and Kyle Fuller, who played well as a true freshman. Hosley missed the last week of spring with symptoms of a concussion, but other than that, he played well, refusing to rest on the work he put in last year.

“He didn’t rest on his laurels,” Gray said. “He was conscious of his technique and fundamentals, and he was focused. Sometimes, guys will zone out after a great season like he had, but he was consistent.

“Kyle was consistent, too, for the most part. He was focused. He lost a little of that the last couple of practices, so he’s got to learn to sustain it, but overall, he had a good spring.”

Cris Hill and Detrick Bonner head out of the spring as the back-ups at the corner spots. Hill had another good spring, but Gray wants to see it carry over to the fall. Bonner, a redshirt freshman, was one of the surprises of the spring on defense.

“He surprised me,” Gray said. “I wasn’t sure if he could run with wideouts and make plays. But he did a good job. He’s smart, and he picked up things quickly. I’m pleased with his progress.”

On the back end of Tech’s defense, Eddie Whitley mans the safety spot, while Antone Exum takes over at rover. Both are excellent players, with certain things to work on over the summer. Gray wants to see Whitley make a few more plays, and he wants to see Exum familiarize himself with Tech’s schemes even more.

“Eddie had a good spring alignment-wise, just getting us lined up,” Gray said. “But I want to see him make more plays. He needs to do that to take that next step, and that’s what I expect from a guy with his football IQ.

“Antone has come a long way mentally. He’s not all the way there, though. He’s not as precise and exact as I want him to be. But he’ll get there. He and Eddie give us a solid tandem.”

The Hokies, though, lack experience behind them. Theron Norman, a redshirt freshman, backs up Whitley, but missed a portion of spring with an injury. Adeboye Aromire – a true freshman who enrolled in January – is the backup at rover.

“We’ll see how these guys do over the summer and in August,” Gray said. “They have time to get better and learn, and I’m confident they will. We also have some freshmen coming in who might be able to help us. The good thing is we have some time. We’ll see how everything works out.”

Gouveia-Winslow heads up the whips after spring ball

Alonzo Tweedy2011 SPRING DEPTH CHART
Whip linebackers
43 Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (6-2, 195, r-Jr.)
28 Alonzo Tweedy (6-2, 185, r-Jr.)
27 Nick Dew (6-2, 194, r-Fr.)
14 Dominique Patterson (6-2, 223, r-Fr.)

Perhaps no position received more scrutiny this spring than the whip linebacker position, and Tech coaches felt comfortable with what they saw from returners Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Alonzo Tweedy this spring. Gouveia-Winslow, who struggled at times last season in his first as a starter, played fast and looked much more comfortable at the position. He came out of spring in the top spot at whip.

“He’s been productive,” new whips coach Cornell Brown said. “He’s got football savvy. He understands the defense, and he made the plays that we expect him to make.

“Alonzo’s very similar. He’s got knowledge of the defense, and he’s comfortable out there. He’s letting his athletic ability come through, and he’s making plays. You can play either one of those guys and do whatever you want to do defensively.”

Nick Dew and Dominique Patterson are two young guys who got a lot of work this spring. Dew came out of spring practice a little ahead on the depth chart because he made fewer mistakes.

“Nick’s very similar to Tweedy,” Brown said. “He flashes a lot of speed. He’s just got to get comfortable with the defense.

“Dominique’s got the body type you want. He can run, but I think he was holding himself back. He was learning the defense, and I think his mind was tying up his feet. As he gets more comfortable, he’ll attack more. I like both those guys. I think you’ll see a lot of both of them on special teams.”

As for Brown, he used the spring not only to coach, but also to get comfortable re-learning Tech’s defensive schemes. He served as a graduate assistant several years ago, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster has tweaked some things since then.

“He’s changed some things coverage wise since I was here,” Brown said. “I think Torrian [Gray, Tech’s defensive backs coach] found some things he liked, so I had to learn, too. But they helped me. Bud has that linebackers knowledge, and Torrian helped me with coverages. I give them a lot of credit for helping me not only understand the defense, but also how to coach it.

“Now, I’m ready to go. I like my guys and their potential, and I’m excited to see what they can do.”

Journell leading in the battle to be the FG kicker

Cody Journell2011 SPRING DEPTH CHART
89 Cody Journell (5-11, 167, r-Soph.)
48 Justin Myer (6-1, 212, Sr.)
Tyler Weiss (5-10, 169, r-Sr.)

19 Danny Coale (6-0, 196, r-Sr.)
Ethan Keyserling (6-2, 203, r-Fr.)
Scott Demler (5-11, 194, r-Jr.)

Tech head coach Frank Beamer spent most of his spring analyzing the kickers and punters in hopes of continuing the Hokies’ recent trend of excellent kicking. Coming out of spring practice, Cody Journell held the lead in the battle for the kicking job, while the punting job remained wide open.

Journell booted a 26-yarder in the Maroon-White game, and he made most of his attempts this spring. But he never made anything beyond 33 yards in the scrimmages. Still, none of the other contenders challenged his consistency.

“I think Cody Journell is going to be our field-goal guy,” Beamer said. “We’ll continue the competition [in the fall]. I think he’s a good, steady kicker. He’s been coached well. Our kicker the last three or four [seasons] has been a senior that’s been around, had a lot of kicks, and now I think Cody’s kind of fitting into that [as a redshirt sophomore], that experience thing, that confidence thing.”

Justin Myer will continue his duties as the kickoff specialist. He blasted two of his four kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks in the Maroon-White game.

Still, Beamer wants Myer to remain in contention for the field-goal job because of that strong leg.

“I don’t want to give up on him because you saw him boom those kickoffs,” Beamer said. “He’s got such a strong leg, and he gets the ball up so high. If he could just ever find his consistency, he’d be a great kicker.”

The punting job remains up in the air. Receiver Danny Coale may be the favorite. He averaged a game-best 44 yards per punt on three punts. Ethan Keyserling averaged 43.5 yards per punt on two punts.

“If we stay inconsistent, I’m probably going to go with Danny Coale because he’s the guy you trust and the guy that’s been in the game,” Beamer said. “He needs to get down to a two-step kicker. He’s a little bit of a slow three-stepper right now, but he’s athletic, and I think he can do it.”