This December will mark the 10th anniversary of Bryan Stinespring’s ascension to the role of offensive coordinator for Virginia Tech’s football program. For a faction of fans, that’s cause for frustration considering the amount of scrutiny routinely given to Stinespring’s job status.
But this season will undoubtedly be unique from any other the coach has had since starting on Coach Frank Beamer’s staff as a graduate assistant in 1990. For one, the Hokies are coming off a season in which he orchestrated the highest scoring offense in school history. More significantly, Stinespring has ceded his play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain and will take a more active role in recruiting and coaching the teams’ tight ends and offensive tackles.
Both Stinespring and O’Cain have downplayed their new roles, but it remains to be seen how that dynamic plays out. We’ll perhaps get a glimpse Saturday afternoon when the Hokies hold their first full scimmage of the preseason. But Stinespring believes that other than who calls the play to new quarterback Logan Thomas, nothing of consequence will actually change.
“It’s been a little bit more of a team effort than people understand, even between series,” he said. “Mike’s been involved in the play calling, [former quarterback coach and current Boston College offensive coordinator] Kevin Rogers has been involved with the play calling, and I was before I was a coordinator.”
O’Cain said last weekend Stinespring remains the conceptual architect of this offense, and to that end Stinespring said he’s “already constructed some plays and parts of our offense to better suit Logan.”
When asked what his favorite play call of all time is, Stinespring went silent for a few moments and then declared that, “right now,” it’s Thomas’s third-and-17 completion against Miami last year.
“It was more than just a playcall. It let the young man know that regardless of the situation, his coach had confidence in him,” Stinespring said.
So what exactly does he like about the Hokies’ new starting quarterback, who he recruited out of the Lynchburg area?
“I think his height [6-foot-6] creates additional vision for him on the field, and I think he’s got presence back there and I think he’s got a strong arm,” Stinespring said. “His poise, in general, is well beyond a first year starter. I think people will see that.
“If he throws an incomplete pass or turns it over, obviously there are gonna be people who ask how’s the young quarterback gonna respond, but I’m very comfortable in the fact that’s not gonna be his mindset. I think he’ll be a right back to the next play kind of guy and I think his supporting cast knows that, too.”
The big question is how much Stinespring will allow Thomas to throw the ball given Virginia Tech’s run-first approach. Last year with senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor behind center the Hokies averaged more than 200 passing yards per game, sending out five receivers at times while throwing more on first down, and still ran the ball more than 62 percent of the time.
Stinespring said that approach was the result of “being more seasoned up front and having a seasoned quarterback. Things like that have to match up pretty well for you.” He will continue to maximize the talents of running back David Wilson in the passing game, but otherwise Stinespring says he’s simply striving for a balanced attack on offense.
As for his position groups – the offensive tackles and tight ends – Stinespring was more direct. He said this year’s veteran-laden group of offensive linemen is “viable,” but that they still need to prove it can dominate opposing defensive lines.
“I’ll let you know how good they are at the end of the season,” Stinespring said.
Replacing senior tight end Andre Smith could also involve a collective effort. Senior Chris Drager, who started at defensive end last year, remains the frontrunner for the job despite a rougher than expected spring getting re-acclimated to tight end. But Stinespring thinks redshirt sophomore Eric Martin, a strong blocker, and redshirt junior Randall Dunn, a better receiver, could also figure into the mix.
“It might be to get the full effect of what Andre was able to do, it may be a little bit by committee,” Stinespring said. “But the guy will be Chris.”