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May 8, 2013

Lots to take away about the Hokies following important spring practice

By: Jimmy Robertson

The Maroon-White game wrapped up Tech’s 2013 spring practice, which was arguably the most important in head coach Frank Beamer’s tenure. Coming off a 7-6 campaign that was a bit of a struggle throughout, he hired a new offensive coordinator, line coach and receivers coach, and he spent a lot of the spring emphasizing toughness.

So how did the spring go? Well, here are one man’s takeaways from spring practice:

• Offense still a work in progress – A lot of people were disappointed in Tech’s offense following the spring game, and that’s understandable because the Hokies turned it over three times and struggled to muster any sustained drives.

That said, be careful about judging anything off of a spring game, particularly when a new coordinator is installing a new offense. It takes time, plus the Hokies lack experience, and in some cases, skill, and it will take more time for Scot Loeffler to get this offense going in the direction he wants.

But Tech showed flashes this spring. For example, in a scrimmage, the offense scored on a Logan Thomas touchdown pass to Demitri Knowles to finish a six-play, 65-yard drive against the first-team defense. That showed their potential. Consistency needs to come, and it will once the coaches get the offensive line squared away and a tailback emerges. People just need to be a little patient.

• Trey at tailback – Speaking of tailbacks, Trey Edmunds served notice this spring with a very good display. He got better as the spring went along, and from this perspective, he was the best tailback the final week.

In the Hokies’ final scrimmage before the spring game, he burst through a hole and ran 50 yards for a touchdown. You saw everything in that run – vision, burst, power and speed.

The coaches liked what Michael Holmes accomplished this spring, but his status now remains in limbo pending the outcome of an off-field issue. They also like J.C. Coleman and what he brings to the table. But Edmunds’ skills and continued improvement may vault him to the top at tailback by the time the Alabama game rolls around.

• Emerging tight ends – Bryan Stinespring got very good production out of his tight ends as spring practice went along, and they saved their best for last. In the spring game, the tight ends combined for nine catches and 125 yards and scored the lone offensive touchdown.

Ryan Malleck is just a solid guy at the spot, and his two years of experience showed. Zack McCray showed flashes. He needs to get better as a blocker, but he’s a huge target in the open field, and he runs well enough to create some problems.

Loeffler said he likes getting the tight ends involved, and they saw a lot of action this spring. It will be interesting to see if they continue to emerge as weapons next fall.

• Depth in the secondary – Last fall, the Hokies lacked depth in the secondary. So much so, in fact, that three true freshmen played (Donaldven Manning, Desmond Frye and Donovan Riley).

Now, even with Michael Cole having given up football for medical reasons (neck), the Hokies appear to be two deep at every position in the defensive backfield. Obviously, starters Antone Exum (once he returns), Kyle Fuller, Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner rival anyone’s, but Manning and Riley played adequately at field corner this past spring. Frye gave the Hokies something at both free safety and rover, and Der’Woun Greene made plays in just about all the scrimmages and the spring game. Also, Brandon Facyson made himself noticed this spring behind Fuller.

Sure, defensive backs coach Torrian Gray wants better than adequate from Manning and Riley, and he worries about Frye and Greene only because the safety and rover positions are complicated ones in Tech’s scheme. But Tech’s defensive backfield is much improved and deeper from a year ago – and awaits the arrival of star recruit Kendall Fuller this summer.

• Dadi and the defensive ends – Dadi Nicolas received the Dr. Richard Bullock Award for the defensive player who showed the most improvement this spring, and it wouldn’t surprise at all if Nicolas saw extensive time next fall. The redshirt sophomore is relentless off the edge. He combines speed with a refusal to quit. Now, he may get thumped in the running game a time or two, but he should be a factor when teams need to pass.

Tech possesses five defensive ends of starting quality, a ridiculous bounty by any team’s standards. James Gayle, J.R. Collins and Corey Marshall are proven quantities and don’t forget about Tyrel Wilson, who missed a lot of spring with a foot injury. The coaches love his steadiness.

In all, this may be the most talented position in the ACC – and Tech’s defense may be the best in the league, too.