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March 14, 2012

Five to watch, as spring practice set to answer questions about 2012 squad

By: Jimmy Robertson

On March 28, the Virginia Tech football squad opens spring practice, which serves as college football’s version of March Madness – only the games are intrasquad scrimmages.

That doesn’t make spring football any less interesting, though. In fact, spring practice serves as the best time of year to watch the younger generation, with many coaching staffs, including Tech’s, preserving their veterans in an attempt to develop depth and construct a foundation for future years.

So in continuing with the March Madness theme, here are the picks – for players to watch this spring – as Tech’s practices and scrimmages build up to the April 21 Maroon-White game:

Kyshoen Jarrett – Jarrett will be playing the most important position on Tech’s defense, and do you know how many reps the rising sophomore played at that spot last season as a true freshman?


But Jarrett displays maturity beyond his years, and he played in all 14 games a year ago. Frank Beamer played him on a majority of Tech’s special teams, showing trust in Jarrett’s ability to play and to pick up schemes quickly.

Jarrett isn’t the biggest guy in the world, nor the fastest. But his instincts and intelligence make him a good candidate for the free safety spot, a position responsible for making a lot of calls in the secondary.

Jarrett’s development is critical for a Tech defense that appears to have everything else needed to be great.

Michael Holmes – Tech’s staff signed a bunch of tailbacks roughly six weeks ago, but the one everyone wants to see is the one who signed with the Hokies last year.

Holmes gets the first crack at replacing David Wilson, who declared for the NFL Draft. But Holmes has a totally different running style than Wilson.

Holmes lacks Wilson’s explosiveness and his vertical speed, but shows more of a willingness to run between the tackles. In many ways, he resembles Darren Evans, but with a touch more speed.

Holmes takes a business-like approach to the practice field, and that endears him to his teammates. It’ll be interesting to see if he lives up to the Tech legacy at that position.

Vinston Painter – Is this the season when the impressive-looking Painter finally gets on the field? That probably depends on how he plays this spring. Michael Via’s misfortune turns out to be Painter’s good fortune, as Via’s knee injury leaves the first-team reps at right tackle this spring right in Painter’s large lap.

There is a lot to like about Painter, who may be the best combination of size, strength and speed on Tech’s roster. He owns most of the strength and conditioning records for an offensive tackle. His front squat of 500 pounds in recent testing before spring break broke his own previous mark. His bench press stands as one of the 10 best ever at Tech. And at roughly 300 pounds, he ran the 40 in 4.7 seconds.

But he’s only played 90 snaps from scrimmage in his career. His odyssey at Tech ends this fall, one way or the other. Hopefully, it ends on a positive note.

Alonzo Tweedy – Injuries decimated the whip linebacker position last season, as both Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Tweedy missed action. Gouveia-Winslow suffered a Lisfranc injury that cost him the season, while Tweedy missed three games with an ankle injury.

Tweedy, though, returned, and he played outstanding in Tech’s bowl loss to Michigan. Tech’s coaches love his speed – he recently clocked a 4.43 in the 40 – and his ability to make plays in the open field. But the problem has been keeping him healthy.

Gouveia-Winslow is limited for this spring, leaving a lot of reps for Tweedy, who possesses all the talent and skill set needed to be the playmaker Bud Foster wants at that whip spot. This is his time.

Demitri Knowles – Knowles is intriguing because of his undeniable physical skills, and yet he lacks experience with the game of football. He possesses terrific speed, having recently blistered the 40 in a team-best 4.28 seconds. With his height and speed, he’s a clone of former receiver André Davis. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by Knowles’ potential.

The Hokies possess three talented, experienced receivers in Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles and Dyrell Roberts. But Coles is out for spring ball because of a knee injury, so that injury leaves some reps for Knowles.

Tech’s staff nearly played the rising redshirt freshman a year ago, so he obviously displayed accelerated development. Just how much should be on display this spring.