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March 19, 2013

Five to watch, as Hokies gear up for 2013 spring practice

By: Jimmy Robertson

For those tired of the doldrums of winter, for those tired of the varying degrees of cold, for those tired of words like “wind chill” and “jet stream,” take heart. The first day of spring is March 20.

The lone exception is on Tech’s campus in Blacksburg, where spring actually starts on March 27. This day marks the first day of spring football for the Hokies.

Tech begins spring drills with a new offensive coordinator for the first time in 11 years and a new receivers coach and offensive line coach for the first time in seven years. Given that, this spring is shaping up to be one of the most compelling in coach Frank Beamer’s tenure.

But the attention will not be solely on the new coaches and their schemes and philosophies. Tech needs to replace, and in some cases, improve certain personnel, which means opportunities are available for all within the program.

Who will take advantage? Good question. Here are five players to watch as spring ball kicks off:

Mark Shuman – The Hokies lost both tackles off of last season’s squad and new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes needs to replace those two. A top candidate is Shuman.

Shuman possesses the necessities to play a tackle spot. The rising redshirt junior stands 6-foot-7, weighs more than 300 pounds and displays good footwork. But in two years, Shuman has played in just five games. He’s played just 50 snaps in his career.

Former line coach Curt Newsome wanted to see consistency match Shuman’s potential, and you can be sure Grimes wants to see the same. These 15 spring practices provide Shuman a perfect opportunity to solidify himself as a starting tackle for the next two years.

Dadi Nicolas – There was a play in the second quarter of the Russell Athletic Bowl in which Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova completed a pass to Brandon Coleman that went for 43 yards. On that play, Tech defensive end Dadi Nicolas sprinted down the field to make the tackle.

That’s what Nicolas can do. He relentlessly pursues.

Nicolas came to Tech as a raw, skinny kid. He’s bigger and stronger, but he needs to get even bigger and stronger. His ability to run got him on the field more and more as last season went along, and he finished the season with a respectable 123 snaps, not a bad total for a redshirt freshman.

Hopefully, Nicolas gets to 230-240 pounds before spring practice starts. The size and strength would only add to his potential.

D.J. Coles – Tech’s receiving positions are in a state of transition. Three seniors (Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts) left following the season, and Aaron Moorehead replaced Kevin Sherman as the receivers coach following Sherman’s departure to Purdue.

Only two receivers return with any semblance of experience, and one of those is Coles, who missed last season with a knee injury. He caught 36 passes for 480 yards and three touchdowns two years ago, and the Hokies need that type of production and his leadership.

Demitri Knowles caught 19 passes last season. But the rest of Tech’s scholarship receivers have combined to catch three passes in their careers. That makes a healthy and productive Coles an imperative for Tech’s offense this spring.

Tariq Edwards – Edwards played in seven games last season, but everyone who watched him knew he wasn’t close to 100 percent (leg, knee). A year after recording 71 tackles, Edwards finished last season with just four – none solo.

Tech’s defense is loaded, with eight starters back (nine if Antone Exum makes it back from a torn ACL). But Bruce Taylor graduated, leaving a void to be filled by Edwards.

The backer spot is a playmaking position in Tech’s defense. Edwards knows how to make plays. Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to resume doing just that this spring.

Any running back – This isn’t meant to be sarcastic at all. Remember, a year ago, the Hokies played four tailbacks with only a modest amount of success. Tech simply needs more out of its running game in 2013.

Michael Holmes started the 2012 season opener against Georgia Tech. But in the final four games, he carried the ball one time and showed little of the power and speed he displayed last spring. He returns, along with Tony Gregory and J.C. Coleman.

Also, redshirt freshmen Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus enter the picture. Edmunds ran a 4.37 in the 40-yard sprint in recent testing and weighs 215 pounds. Could he be the answer? Or what about Coleman, who ran a 4.37 as well, or Mangus, who ran a 4.42?

We’ll find out about all these guys this spring.