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April 7, 2011

MOVING FORWARD - Staff changes and replacing Tyrod Taylor are just two of many much-discussed topics this spring

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tech coaches like Logan Thomas’ size, arm strength and leadership ability, and he is the frontrunner to replace Tyrod Taylor heading into next fall.

Virginia Tech’s coaching staff underwent a transformation in the offseason, on the offensive side of the ball, in particular. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring ran an offense that led the ACC in scoring a year ago, and he sat down to talk about all the changes on that side of the ball as the Hokies continue spring ball.

Q: How much will the offense change now that Tyrod Taylor is no longer at quarterback?

BS: “It’ll change only in the sense that you start playing to the individual strengths of whoever the starting quarterback is. The general scheme of the offense and what we’re going to do week in and week out is pretty much going to stay the same.

“Obviously, there are certain routes or certain throws or certain plays that certain quarterbacks like. Each have their own first, second or third choice. You start gearing yourself to whatever this quarterback likes. There’s still a little bit of the unknown about that. When you’re the second-team quarterback, you have to like what the first-team quarterback likes as you get ready for games.

“I don’t see things changing a great deal. Again, there are some things that you’ll use to play to individual strengths, whatever they may be. No two guys are exactly the same. But more than not, things will be the same.”

Q: What concerns do you have during spring practice?

BS: “This year, a lot of people are asking what we’re going to do without Tyrod and without Andre [Smith] and Darren [Evans] and Ryan [Williams]. That’s a lot of yards we’re losing. So what we’re concentrating on is that it’s not David Wilson’s time or Josh Oglesby’s or Logan Thomas’. We can be productive. We can move the ball. We can score points. But all of us have to step up, and not just center this on the next quarterback or the next tailback.

“First, I think we’ve got to set a direction quarterback-wise. When they started cutting back on practice time and scrimmages and how many practices you could have … whether an offensive lineman gets 25 practices or 35, I think there’s a difference. But I can assure you, at quarterback, it affects that position even more, especially when you’re ushering in a new No. 1, a new No. 2 and a new No. 3. You’d love more reps. How do you rep the guys who need work? They all need work. So coming out and having a direction and finding out who’s No. 1 and who’s No. 2 and then having a plan of attack is important. When we’ve been able to go into a season settled on the offensive line and settled at quarterback, we’ve been good.

“Then, we’ve got to get settled at tailback. You’ve got to make a transition with Josh Oglesby back to tailback from fullback. David Wilson’s got to step up and assume a larger role. Same with Josh.

“I like our offense. I like our choices. But any time you lose two tailbacks and both have been freshman players of the year, that’s a little disconcerting. To say you’re not concerned is painting a nice picture. You’re like a duck on a pond, if you say that. You are calm and tranquil above water, but paddling like heck underneath.

“The third concern is at tight end. With Chris [Drager] moving over, that makes us feel more secure. He’s a guy who played a significant amount of snaps when we had Greg Boone and Andre and even a healthy Sam Wheeler. He proved that he could catch the ball and that he could block. He’s a smart guy. I think he’ll step right in where Andre left. The rest of us have to step up. Eric [Martin] has been a proven blocker, whereas Randall Dunn plays well in space. Each has strengths, and each has areas where they need to improve. Do we become more of a role spot or platoon spot at tight end? I don’t like that. I know how our defense is. If a guy comes in for this situation, then this is probably going to happen. I don’t like that. So we have to sort that out.”

Q: You mentioned Logan Thomas. He was the No. 2 last year and easily the favorite to be the starter. What do you like about him?

BS: “Arm strength, can make all the throws, upside … he gets better at that position every time he steps on the field. I don’t think you have a finished product. You’ve continued to see his development, and when you like where he is already and you know there is more to come, that magnifies things at that spot and how you feel about him.

“It’s hard to practice as the second-team quarterback. It’s not the same as the second-team receiver or the second-team tailback. You know you’re getting in the game at those spots. So it’s different. It’s tough to stay focused at quarterback when you’re in that spot. We’re all human. But he handled it well, and I’m anxious to see where he goes this spring.”

Andrew Miller takes over for Beau Warren at center and is the only newcomer on an offensive line that returns four starters.

Q: Are you anxious given all the changes you have made within your offensive staff?

BS: “People say ‘changes,’ but most of it has been adjustments. I think there’s a difference. Now, some of them have been significant adjustments, but I’m excited because it’s spring practice and not necessarily because of the adjustments we’ve made.

“We make adjustments from year to year every year, and there’s been a lot of attention this year for obvious reasons. But the staple has been the same. We’ve got to go out and get better. We challenge our players to get better. We challenge our staff to get better. We challenge each other to get better. We’re using these 15 practices to take another step to defending our ACC championship. That’s what excites you about spring.”

Q: Yes, but you won the ACC championship and were very good offensively with you calling the plays. Now, you’re not going to be calling the plays and Mike O’Cain is. That will be a huge adjustment for you and this offense, right?

BS: “Yes, but this isn’t about me. Every decision is about what’s best for the program and the players. Obviously, I’ve taken on some additional responsibilities. I’m helping more with the offensive line, and I have the opportunity to go back into Tidewater and western Pennsylvania and recruit more – which I want to do. For me to do that, there were some adjustments that we had to make. When I was coordinating and recruiting Tidewater, I couldn’t get down there on Thursdays and Fridays. That was difficult. Friday is the time when you go through your plans for calling plays. That’s kind of hard to do going 75 miles per hour down Interstate 64.

“For us, at this point, we’re going to have a new No. 1 quarterback, a new No. 2 quarterback and a new No. 3 quarterback. The best way to get through that process is not by having Mike [O’Cain] going to his quarterback meetings and then coming back to me and saying, ‘Is this okay? Is this what I tell the quarterback?’ and so on. He needs to coach the quarterbacks, and he’ll know what those quarterbacks like and what plays they’re comfortable with running. So that’s another reason why we decided to make the move.”

Q: So the timing led to this move, with Taylor leaving and you all breaking in a new quarterback, correct?

BS: “Absolutely, the timing as much as anything. With the situation we have at quarterback, I do think it’s advantageous to do this.

“But there’s more to it. For example, Curt [Newsome] and I want to be more involved with the offensive line. Two heads will be attacking it now. We’ve got a group of linemen we need to work, and we want that group to get better. To do that, we want to get back to the tight end/tackle concept and the center/guard concept. I’ll be less with the quarterbacks and the skill people during practice.

“When I took over the tight ends, I wanted to do more with the quarterbacks and the skill players during practice. As a coordinator, I thought that was important. Now, I’ll be with them less. I’m going back in the other direction. Why is that? To go backward like that, we had to do something to move us forward in the other direction. So all that was a part of why Mike is going to handle the play calling.

“Then, to be able to recruit on Thursdays and Fridays is important. That’s when you’re going over the game plan and the play calls that you’re going to do [as an offensive coordinator]. It helps to have that Friday to clear your head and gather your wits. But like I said, it’s hard to clear your head and gather your thoughts when you’re doing 75 miles per hour down Interstate 64 with a No. 6 combo meal in your lap [laughing].”

Q: Who are a couple of players you’ve been watching closely this spring?

BS: “I like watching them all. But specifically, Andrew Miller, Vinston Painter, Courtney Prince and David Wang. We’re really hoping we’ve got some depth on our offensive line. And I mean depth in terms of additional starters, not just bodies. And then, obviously, I’m watching Logan. I like where he is, and I think there’s so much more room for him to grow as a quarterback.”