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Posted at 12:48 PM ET, 04/20/2012

Virginia Tech spring game preview: Five things to watch

Just before spring practice began last month, Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer announced a reversal of sorts when he decided to allow ESPN3’s cameras to film the Hokies spring game for the first time. But that won’t be the only change when Virginia Tech faithful descend on Blacksburg Saturday at 4 p.m. for the annual Maroon-White game that marks the conclusion of spring practice.

In years past Beamer has split up his starters, playing some on one team and others on another. But this time the first-team offense and defense will play for maroon and the white squad will be spotted a 21-0 lead to start the game. You can check out the full maroon roster here and the full white roster here.

The scoreboard hardly matters in this glorified scrimmage. Instead, the focus will be on the progress of the entire program heading into fall training camp in August. With that in mind, here are five things to watch if you make it down to Lane Stadium or catch the broadcast online at ESPN3.com.

1) The running backs

Position coach Shane Beamer has been reluctant to name a leader in the battle to replace David Wilson, and as expected, it will likely extend into the summer. But it appears as if redshirt freshman Michael Holmes is the leader at this point. He has had several scrimmage performances that have drawn Frank Beamer’s praise.

Coaches have been impressed with true freshman J.C. Coleman’s mental acuity – he rarely botches an assignment, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said – but he has yet to show off the quickness and speed that made him a human highlight reel in high school. He could use a breakout showing Saturday. The competition will get tougher in August when classmates Drew Harris, Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus arrive on campus.

Converted fullback Martin Scales also has become an intriguing figure in this race. He has shown quick feet and a powerful running style thanks to his 226-pound frame.

2) The Offensive Line

Virginia Tech will feature four new starters on its offensive line next year. Though the defense won’t be allowed to tackle quarterback Logan Thomas, it would comfort a lot of worried Hokies fans if they have a productive afternoon.

3) Kyshoen Jarrett

Virginia Tech’s secondary experiment appears to have been a success. Junior Antone Exum has taken well to playing cornerback, punctuating a couple of scrimmages with big hits in run support. Converted safety Detrick Bonner, meanwhile, has embraced the communication requirements of playing rover, and coaches are comfortable with him after he received significant playing time last season. But his partner in the defensive backfield, former cornerback Kyshoen Jarrett, hasn’t been tested as much this spring and remains something of an unknown at free safety. He has elite cover skills, but it’s unclear whether Jarrett is a sure tackler and can make pre-snap changes on the fly.

4) The Pistol

After an offseason visit with Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, one of the masterminds behind Boise State’s offense, the Hokies have been experimenting this spring with spread-based schematic changes to increase the tempo of their offense. The most prominent new wrinkle is the use of the pistol formation, in which Thomas lines up in a modified shotgun stance with a running back behind him and two others on either side. Holmes ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run out of the formation during an open scrimmage last weekend, and it would seem to be a good way to provide extra blockers for an inexperienced offensive line. Whether it will become a prominent piece of Virginia Tech’s offense next season or just a change of pace is up in the air.

5) The recruits

The spring game is always a huge recruiting weekend for Virginia Tech, and this year is no different. Many of the top recruits from Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region are expected to come watch, including All Met cornerback Kendall Fuller and quarterback Bucky Hodges of Salem, Va. Last year, the Hokies secured a verbal commitment from Coleman during the spring game and from safety Desmond Frye a day later. Chances are Virginia Tech will snag someone as a result of Saturday’s festivities, which will go on as scheduled despite a forecast that’s calling for an 80 percent chance of rain.

By Mark Giannotto  |  12:48 PM ET, 04/20/2012

 
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