Virginia Tech’s 2011 fall training camp got off to a strange start, with the school in lockdown mode and practice pushed back an hour after a scare involving a possible gunman on campus.
But once the Hokies completed their first practice of the season Thursday evening, Coach Frank Beamer made it abundantly clear what sort of story lines will dominate this camp.
“For the most part we know who should be our starters,” Beamer said. “Now it would be nice if some of these younger guys can come in here and back up and have a positive effect on the team.”
After the jump, we’ll highlight four position groups — the quarterbacks, offensive line, defensive line and safeties — where there are entrenched starters in desperate need of some depth should an injury occur over the course of the next few months.
It seems the biggest priority would be deciding just who will back up new quarterback Logan Thomas. But position coach Mike O’Cain indicated after practice he’s in no rush to declare a No. 2 signal caller.
O’Cain said redshirt freshman Mark Leal is ahead of redshirt junior JuJu Clayton “by a little” after finishing spring practice strong. He’s particularly impressed with Leal’s ability to see down the field and deliver an accurate throw while facing a pass rush.
O’Cain said that Leal will likely get more repetitions with the second offense to begin training camp since he already knows what Clayton can do from his time battling Thomas for the backup role last year.
Washington native Ricardo Young could also figure into the race, but O’Cain indicated his best shot would be as the No. 3 quarterback since he wasn’t able to practice much in the spring after suffering a foot injury.
O’Cain said there is no timetable on when he’ll name a No. 2 quarterback.
“Obviously the sooner the better, but I don’t think with the second guy you need to make an early decision,” he said. “You wanna be fair and you wanna give each guy a chance to compete.”
Along the offensive line, the depth concerns may be more pressing with both right tackle Blake DeChristopher and left guard Greg Nosal missing the start of training camp with injuries.
But offensive line coach Curt Newsome sees it more as a positive, especially since he doesn’t expect either to miss any games. On the current depth chart, redshirt sophomore David Wang is listed as the first-team left guard and redshirt juniors Michael Via and Vinston Painter are splitting repetitions with the first team until DeChristopher is healthy again. Out of those three, only Via has actually started a college football game.
“They need to show they can play,” Newsome said bluntly.
On the other side of the ball, defensive line coach Charley Wiles is pretty sure who his starting front four will be — redshirt sophomores J.R. Collins and James Gayle at the ends and brothers Antoine and Derrick Hopkins at tackle — but he’s still trying to figure out who else will be in the defensive line rotation.
Three intriguing prospects are true freshmen Kris Harley and Corey Marshall — two of the Hokies’ highest-rated incoming recruits — as well as freshman defensive end Luther Maddy. Wiles expects all three to compete with veterans Kwamaine Battle, Isaiah Hamlette and Duan Perez-Means for playing time right off the bat.
“I want eight guys that can play,” Wiles said. “It doesn’t matter who it is.”
Perhaps Virginia Tech’s biggest weakness is at the safety position, where other than starters Antone Exum and Eddie Whitley, the Hokies have little depth to speak of. It’s so bad that this week the team decided to move James Hopper back to safety, after moving him from safety to running back in the spring.
To that end, freshmen Michael Cole, Boye Aromire (H.D. Woodson) and Ronny Vandyke (South County) were all identified by both secondary coach Torrian Gray and defensive coordinator Bud Foster as players who could move into the two-deep chart at safety.
Cole is from the Roanoke area and has a good grasp of the defensive scheme after watching almost all of Virginia Tech’s spring practices from the sideline. Vandyke’s position coach at South County is a former Virginia Tech player, and the defense there used a similar scheme with almost the same verbage as the Hokies do. Aromire, meanwhile, impressed coaches this spring when he enrolled in school early and participated in spring practice.
“Somebody’s gonna come out of that group that can help us,” Foster predicted. . . .
On the injury front, starting linebacker Tariq Edwards is nursing a hamstring injury but did participate in Thursday’s no-pads workout. Head athletic trainer Mike Goforth said he should be healthy again in “about a week or so.”
Freshman running back Michael Holmes, meanwhile, did not participate in Thursday’s practice. Beamer said he has not gained approval from the NCAA’s clearinghouse yet.