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Posted at 05:43 PM ET, 04/09/2011

DE James Gayle steals spotlight at Virginia Tech’s first full scrimmage

A star may have emerged during Virginia Tech’s first full scrimmage of the spring Saturday, and to the surprise of some, it wasn’t new quarterback Logan Thomas.

That’s not to say Thomas didn’t measure up to expectations - he finished 8 of 14 for 75 yards and made no glaring mistakes throwing the football. It’s more an indication of just how impressive defensive end James Gayle looked on this foggy afternoon in Blacksburg.

The redshirt sophomore, who was called the defensive line’s “bell cow” by position coach Charley Wiles earlier this week, officially finished with two sacks (although I had him down for a third) and another tackle in which he threw a running back to the ground with one hand.

Afterward, Thomas joked he was lucky to be wearing a non-contact yellow jersey with the 6-foot-4, 251-pound Gayle “beating our tackles around the edge.” Defensive coordinator Bud Foster likened Gayle to former Hokies star and current Philadelphia Eagle Darryl Tapp, saying Gayle already “made big strides from the end of the season to right now.”

“I feel like it was just one of those days where everything panned out my way,” said Gayle, who started in place of an injured Chris Drager against East Carolina and North Carolina a year ago. “Logan was a lot of time just falling into my arms.”

Gayle, who runs the 40-yard dash in under 4.6 seconds and won the Excalibur Award for his work ethic this offseason after setting a couple weight room records, had four sacks in limited action in 2010. And even though this is just one scrimmage in a controlled atmosphere, Foster is predicting that Gayle’s performance Saturday is merely a sign of greater things to come.

“He’s just confident in what he’s doing right now, and I really like that,” Foster said. “I think he’s gonna end up being a leader here because he plays hard, he’s gonna earn a lot of kids’ respect and he’s gonna be a playmaker if he can stay healthy. He’s got some of those natural characteristics about him. He’s got a lot of energy. He plays with a lot of emotion and you like that from a defensive kid.”

Notes and Quotes

Foster also offered some news during his talk with reporters. Foster said middle linebacker Bruce Taylor, a second team all-ACC selection, injured the AC joint of his left shoulder and will undergo arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday. Taylor will be out six to eight weeks.

“It’s nothing major,” Foster said. “It’s just something to get cleaned up now instead of having to deal with it in the fall.”

Taylor’s back-up, Oakton native Jack Tyler, suffered a stress fracture in his lower back and is also out for the remainder of the spring, according to Foster. Redshirt senior Barquell Rivers took all the first team snaps Saturday and finished with seven tackles and a sack. To compensate for the lack of depth, Foster has moved redshirt freshman Chase Williams (Loudoun County) to middle linebacker for the foreseeable future.. . .

The major position battle on the defensive side of the ball involves whip linebackers Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Alonzo Tweedy. The duo split reps with the first-team defense Saturday, and Foster praised both afterwards without declaring either a favorite to become the starter.

He said Gouveia-Winslow looks like “night and day” when compared to his struggles last year, and that Tweedy “can run like a danged antelope.” When told antelopes aren’t all that fast, Foster then corrected himself and compared Tweedy to a cheetah. . . .

As for the defense as a whole, Foster was pleased with how his unit performed. In addition to Gayle, he singled out defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins and cornerbacks Detrick Bonner and Kyle Fuller for praise.

“We’re really playing fast. We’re playing with a lot of confidence; a big difference from just a few months ago even,” Foster said. “I want to get back and have a little attitude. Last year I think we had a lot of guys worried about getting lined up and their mind was tying up their feet … and we didn’t see them play to their speed.”. . .

As for Thomas’s day, his longest throw was a 22-yard completion to wide receiver Marcus Davis, who had a team-high four catches. Thomas had a few overthrows on deep passes, but did not miss badly more than once or twice.

Thomas said at some point this week he had a moment where things seemed to click for him, especially in regards to reading and reacting to different coverages. He’s now “85 or 90 percent comfortable,” with the offense, and his biggest concern right now is developing a better rapport with a veteran group of receivers that got used to the tendencies of former quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Here’s what quarterback coach Mike O’Cain and Coach Frank Beamer had to say about Thomas.

“He played today like he played all spring,” O’Cain said. “He’s picked up where he did last fall, which is very pleasing. He’s throwing the ball very accurately, making good decisions and I feel really good about him.”

Said Beamer: “I think Logan is very poised, throwing the ball exceptionally well the last couple practices, very much in charge. He’s doing exactly what you want him to do, progressing through spring practice to be an exceptional quarterback at Virginia Tech.”. . .

A rundown of some other highlights from the day:

During punting drills, wide receiver Danny Coale took a few kicks, and during Beamer’s postgame chat with reporters, he indicated Coale is a legitimate contender to become the punter this fall. Coale punted before college for Episcopal High in Alexandria.

Running back David Wilson had a 56-yard touchdown run in which he stiff armed a defender the final 10 yards, but it was called back due to a holding penalty.

Tight end Randall Dunn caught a 69-yard touchdown pass from back-up quarterback Trey Gresh. Beamer said Dunn is now pushing Drager for the starting tight end spot.

Cornerback Jayron Hosley finished the day with seven tackles and a sack and Beamer didn’t hide how satisfied he is with Hosley’s effort this spring even though he’s coming off a season in which he led the nation in interceptions. “Sometimes those veteran guys, they take it easy,” Beamer said. “But I don’t see Jayron taking it easy. I see Jayron getting better every day.”

Robinson High grad Brian Laiti, a third-string linebacker, had the only interception of the day when he picked off quarterback Mark Leal.

Wide receiver Jarrett Boykin sat out Saturday’s scrimmage with a groin injury, but he indicated it was nothing serious.

Notable statistics:

PASSING - Thomas 8-14, 75 yards; Gresh 4-8, 96 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; Leal 6-11, 34 yards

RUSHING - Daniel Dyer 7-72; Josh Oglesby 8-32; James Hopper 8-24; Wilson 4-16; Gresh 3-16; Justin Ryals 2-9; Greg Gaddell (O’Connell) 5-8; Byrn 1-8; Thomas 4-3

RECEIVING - Dunn 2-82, 1 TD; Davis 4-47; Joey Phillips 2-22; D.J. Coles 3-2; Coale 2-5; Jerome Lewis 1-17; Corey Fuller 1-12; E.L. Smiling (Brooke Point) 1-6; Mark Carter 1-4; Oglesby 1-2

DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS - Hosley 7 tackles, 1 sack; Rivers 7 tackles, 1 sack; Duan Perez Means 5 tackles, 1 sack; Bonner 5 tackles, 1 break-up; Eddie Whitley 5 tackle, 2 TFL; Nick Acree 5 tackles, 1 TFL; Gayle 3 tackles, 2 sacks; Theron Norman 4 tackles; D. Hopkins 3 tackles, 1 QB hurry; Fuller 1 TFL, 1 break-up; Tweedy 2 tackles, 1 sack; Quillie Odom 3 tackles, 1 sack; Telvion Clark 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 break-up; Battle 1 TFL; Zack McCray 1 sack

By Mark Giannotto  |  05:43 PM ET, 04/09/2011

 
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