The probable stars of Virginia Tech’s 2011 football season - players such as running back David Wilson, wide receiver Jarrett Boykin and cornerback Jayron Hosley - really have nothing to gain from a spring scrimmage like the one that will take place Saturday afternoon at Lane Stadium.
But for guys still trying to force their way into some playing time, like redshirt freshman cornerback Detrick Bonner, there is nothing bigger at this point. Bonner was an afterthought in 2010, forced to accept the realization that he would be a redshirt relegated to scout team duty.
He says now it was particularly tough because he had to watch his roommate, freshman Kyle Fuller, get significant action almost from the moment he stepped on campus.
“It was just like I should have been out there, too,” Bonner said Wednesday. “Being on the scout team, it’s like a downfall.”
But the spring has brought new opportunities to make another impression, and already secondary coach Torrian Gray has noticed just how much better Bonner is than he originally thought. Gray said Bonner is faster and tougher than he assumed, and now has the McDonough, Ga., native listed on the two-deep chart at cornerback behind presumed starters Hosley and Fuller
Bonner, who had a two tackles and a pass break up in the Hokies mini scrimmage on Wednesday, describes his style of play as, “I like the ball in my hands. I go for a pick before I go for a hit.” And he hopes that philosophy will help him make some big plays Saturday, which represents the biggest test of his college career thus far.
“I gotta make a name for myself,” Bonner said. “Just like Coach Gray said, he didn’t think I was gonna play. Now it’s time to prove myself. I look at [Saturday] as a real game. This is in front of the big crowd, so I’ve got to play as best as I can.”
Here are a few other lesser-known names you should be on the look out for heading into Saturday’s open scrimmage, which begins at 11 a.m. and is free to the general public.
Whip LB Alonzo Tweedy
A severe groin injury relegated Tweedy to special teams duty a year ago, but the athletic redshirt junior has emerged as the top threat to unseat Jeron Gouveia-Winslow as the starter at whip linebacker. Tweedy’s speed - he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash during winter testing - would be a huge plus for the Hokies pass defense as they attempt to shy away from the nickel packages defensive coordinator Bud Foster was forced to turn to last season.
“I couldn’t really run last year, but I’m healthy now,” Tweedy said. “I love playing pass coverage. There’s some fast receivers, but I don’t think there’s too many I can’t check … I’m gonna give the coaches a good look so they know I can play the whip spot.”
At the the other linerbacker positions, middle linebacker Barquell Rivers will make his return from a torn quad and should see a ton of playing time with both Bruce Taylor and Jack Tyler injured. At the backer spot, redshirt freshman Chase Williams (Loudoun County) is attempting to push current starter Tariq Edwards.
DE Zack McCray
The cousin of quarterback Logan Thomas, the 6-foot-5, 248-pound McCray has always been just the type of speedy and strong lineman Virginia Tech’s coaching staff wants in the defensive trenches. That, though, has yet to translate on the field for the redshirt sophomore. With a lack of depth along the defensive line, McCray has the opportunity to prove he’s capable of contributing in the fall.
“I’m anxious to see what Zack can give,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. “The thing with Zack is he’s still feeling his way a little bit thus far. He hasn’t really turned it completely loose yet. It’s still new to him. He’s learning a lot. I’m hopeful he’ll really start learning in chunks and turn his body loose a little bit more.”
Among defensive linemen, also keep an eye on defensive tackle Kwamaine Battle, a starter a year ago who will see his first live action since suffering a torn ACL in last year’s loss to Boise State. Wiles also said redshirt freshman Duan Perez-Means has done well this spring, so he could be in line for some extra playing time with a strong showing in scrimmages.
C Andrew Miller
Miller will be taking over for center Beau Warren this fall, the only change along Virginia Tech’s starting offensive line. The redshirt sophomore was impressive in mop up duty a year ago, and is used to snapping the ball to Thomas because the two worked together as part of the Hokies second team last season. Now, though, Miller must show he’ll fit in seamlessly with a veteran offensive line.
“It’s a little bit pressure, but I have to keep doing what I do,” Miller said. “I’m trying to work as hard as I can, so I’ll be good for this year. We’ll have a great line this year.”
Also pay close attention to how the Hokies reserve offensive linemen perform, particulary redshirt junior tackles Nick Becton and Vinston Painter. Both are expected to provide depth this year so the line doesn’t wear out as games go along in the fall.