When he heard the news that running back J.C. Coleman had fractured his right hand during practice Thursday night, Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring immediately assumed the newcomer would miss the Hokies’ first open scrimmage of training camp Saturday.
But Coleman had other ideas, and armed with a small cast and a nifty spin move, he stole the show on an afternoon when the Hokies’ offense performed better than expected in front of a few thousand fans at Lane Stadium. The 5-foot-7, 192-pound freshman from Chesapeake, Va., produced the play of the day, spinning through a tackle and nearly out-running Virginia Tech’s entire first-team defense en route to a 52-yard gain.
Coleman finished with a team-high 54 yards on four carries, and Coach Frank Beamer joked afterward that he “didn’t have a fractured foot, I can tell you that. . . . I think he showed us the real J.C. here today.”
“I wasn’t gonna let a hand slow me down at all. I feel like a hand shouldn’t be able to slow anyone down,” said Coleman, who is still technically No. 3 on the running back depth chart behind redshirt freshman Michael Holmes and converted fullback Martin Scales. “I’m out here to compete and I want to play, so sitting out for a hand, that’s not gonna help my chances to play.”
Coleman’s breakout performance was the highlight for a Virginia Tech offense that looked noticeably ahead of schedule as it implements a faster tempo and more misdirection this season. Saturday featured fans’ first look at the complex pre-snap movement, shotgun formations and quick-huddle offense the Hokies will use with increasing frequency this season.
Quarterback Logan Thomas finished 8 of 15 for 112 yards and also had a beautiful 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Corey Fuller. With senior D.J. Coles still limited as he recovers from offseason knee surgery, redshirt freshman Kevin Asante led all receivers with four catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. The offense gained 471 yards on 77 plays.
“It was one of the more productive offensive first scrimmages we’ve had around here,” Coach Frank Beamer said.
Cornerback Antone Exum noted afterward that the new up-tempo look has been giving the defense issues in practice because “we don’t have time to make adjustments” or adjust the play-call at the line of scrimmage. Stinespring added that the offense is “closer” to the tempo he’d like to see in the regular season but still has work to do in that regard.
“For one, it gets us more plays. And for two, it keeps the defense off balance,” Thomas said. “The more the defense is having to think, the better it is for us, especially when we know what we’re doing, we’re able to move the ball right to left, pass and run, as quickly as we can.”
In general, the offense appeared well ahead of where it was this past spring, when the revamped line struggled to pick up the complicated blitzes of Bud Foster’s defense. Stinespring indicated part of the progress was because of all the skepticism surrounding a unit that has to replace eight starters from a year ago.
“There’s an urgency,” Stinespring said. “They’ve been told since spring every time there’s a microphone in their face about who’s not here, who’s not there.”
For Coleman, that meant adding 16 pounds to his frame when he realized this spring he was too small for college football. He said Saturday the weight came in handy as defenders bounced off him on his 52-yard scamper. But Exum added that Coleman’s lack of size also served him well.
“I make fun of him sometimes for being short and stuff, but when he’s out there on that field it comes to his advantage,” Exum said. “You can’t really see him behind those big, tall linemen.
Coleman had some trepidation about playing Saturday, but after getting “medicine” in the morning, the adrenaline of playing in front of a crowd at Lane Stadium for the first time in training camp superceded any pain.
Coleman’s one issue could have been ball security, since he can’t secure the football with a hard cast on his right arm. That, though, was secondary considering the impression he made on Virginia Tech’s coaches.
“He’s driven to get on this field and he’s not going to be denied,” Stinespring said.
***All that offense was mostly at the expense of Virginia Tech’s second-team secondary. It was a rough afternoon for the Hokies’ contingent of unseasoned defensive backs, particularly freshman cornerbacks Donaldven Manning and Donovan Riley.
Foster said the Hokies played more man-to-man defense to better evaluate how their young defensive backs covered and tackled, and whether they had the “thick skin” required when one has move onto the next play after getting beat.
“You go out there with a freshman group across the board, let’s be realistic about it,” Foster said. “The only way they’re gonna get better is if they can go out there and play and see themselves on film.”
Foster wasn’t exactly thrilled with his first-team defense, either. Aside from Coleman’s run there were no major breakdowns, but “I didn’t see a lot of emotion out there. You can’t play great defense if you’re not playing with great emotion,” he said.
***On the injury front, linebacker Tariq Edwards was walking with crutches and didn’t look close to returning to the field after minor surgery last week to remove a screw from his knee. Beamer said the team would begin to implement its game plan for the season opener against Georgia Tech without Edwards. “I think he’s doing better all the time, but I think we just have to go ahead and get our preparation going.”
Defensive end James Gayle (ankle), wide receiver Demitri Knowles (neck strain), wide receiver Mark Irick (hamstring) and cornerback Davion Tookes (hamstring) also sat out Saturday’s scrimmage because of injury.
***Here are the notable stats:
PASSING – Thomas 8-15, 112 yards, TD; Mark Leal 6-16, 111 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; Trey Gresh 8-8, 94 yards, 1 TD
RUSHING – Coleman 4-54; Trey Edmunds 8-45; Tony Gregory 5-36, 1 TD; Michael Holmes 3-21; Daniel Dyer 2-13; Martin Scales 2-11; Chris Mangus 2-5; Leal 2-4; Dyrell Roberts 1-4; Joshua Stanford 1-2; Kevin Asante 1-2
RECEIVING – Asante 4-79, 1 TD; Fuller 3-68, 1 TD; E.L. Smiling 2-46, 1 TD; Stanford 2-38; Duan Perez-Means 2-26; Roberts 2-8; Randall Dunn 1-12; Ryan Malleck 1-12; Greg Gadell 1-9; Marcus Davis 1-6; Malcolm Westbrook 1-5; Dyer 1-5; Joel Caleb 1-3
PUNTING – Hunter Windmuller 3-74 (24.7-yard average); A.J. Hughes 3-161 (53.7-yard average)
KICKING – Cody Journell 2-3 (Good from 32 and 25 yards, missed from 40 yards); Brooks Abbott 1-2 (Good from 41 yards; blocked from 37 yards); Michael Branthover 1-1 (Good from 30 yards)
DEFENSIVE STANDOUTS – Zach Snell 6 tackles; Ronny Vandyke 5 tackles; Desmond Frye 4 tackles; Exum 4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup; Bruce Taylor 3 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT; Donovan Riley 3 tackles, 1 pass break up; Kyle Fuller 2 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass break up, 1 blocked FG; Alonzo Tweedy 2 tackles, 1 sack; Alston Smith 2 tackles, 1 sack; Antoine Hopkins 2 tackles, 1 sack; Ken Ekanem 1 sack; Luther Maddy 1 sack, 1 QB hurry; Jeron Gouveia-Winslow 1 tackle, 0.5 tackle for loss, 1 QB hurry