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February 13, 2013

Staff changes made with focus to improve Tech offense's consistency, particularly in the running game

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tech coach Frank Beamer sat on the stage at the Schott Media Center in the south end zone of Lane Stadium. His three new coaching hires flanked him, all sitting there with a throng of media anxiously awaiting to toss them questions and the bright lights shining squarely upon them – literally, for sure, and probably figuratively as well.

Following the 7-6 grind of the 2012 season, Beamer overhauled his staff on offense, a foundation-rattling move that he hopes catapults the program back to the upper tiers of college football’s hierarchy. He cited the general inconsistency of the Hokies’ 2012 offense as the motivation behind the move, but digging deeper reveals a more important factor.

Beamer wants his program to get back to running the football. With power. With speed. With aggression. With intensity.

“I haven’t changed my belief in that the first thing you need to be able to do is run the football,” he admitted. “There are times when you’ve just got to run the football. But with that, I think you’ve got to be able to throw the football. I think there are times when you need to be able to throw it. To be a championship team, you’ve got to be able to do both.

“There’s no question we need to address how we can run the ball better. In talking with these three (new coaches), I think they’re all three going to help us be stronger in the running game.”

His reasons for wanting to get back to power running certainly are valid. This past season, the Hokies finished 79th nationally in rushing offense at 145.6 yards rushing per game. That was the program’s worst rushing effort since the 2007 season (133.6 ypg).

Since joining the ACC, Tech has finished third or better in rushing offense in the league on six occasions in nine seasons. Guess what? The Hokies played for the ACC title on five of those six occasions.

Getting back to that level is going to require work in several areas. It all probably starts up front, where new line coach Jeff Grimes goes into spring practice looking to build a capable front.

Tech lost starters Nick Becton and Vinston Painter at the tackle spots, and the backups who return combined for just 47 snaps last season. Inside, steady Andrew Miller returns, along with David Wang, Brent Benedict and Caleb Farris. All three of those possess potential, but need to play better.

Grimes wants to build “the toughest line in the ACC.” The task has already started in strength and conditioning workouts.

“My approach is going to be one that hopefully will rub off on everyone in the program because I really think if your offensive line plays with attitude, toughness, aggression … then your running backs will run a little bit harder,” Grimes said. “If your receivers see 300-plus pound guys working their tails off, then they’ll say, ‘If those guys can do it at their weight, then I can do it.’ Your quarterback will play with more confidence if he knows the guys up front will battle their tails off and do everything they can to protect him.

“So I really think we have a chance to impact everything in the program.”

The return of the running game also calls for a couple of tailbacks to emerge. Last year, Tech tried four – Michael Holmes, J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and Martin Scales – and only Coleman produced a 100-yard rushing game. Holmes, the opening-game starter, carried the ball just once the final four games. Will Trey Edmunds or Chris Mangus be of help?

Of course, the process also involves schemes. That’s where new coordinator Scot Loeffler, with his background of having coached at Michigan, Florida, Temple, Auburn and the NFL’s Detroit Lions, comes into play.

“It’s the fundamental base thing you have to do well to be a successful offense,” Loeffler said of the running game. “Even the spread teams, like Urban’s (Meyer) offense (at Florida), we ran the ball. Spread, wishbone, two-back, one-back … it’s teams that protect the football and can run are the teams that are winning.”

Beamer knows this. He watched Alabama win the national championship because of its power rushing attack. He watched the Baltimore Ravens get to the Super Bowl and win it because of their ability to run the football. And he’s seen his teams do it this way in the past, having won four ACC titles in nine seasons.

Will his new hires help the program get back to that level? He’s betting so. He and Hokie Nation will find out starting this spring.