Virginia Tech’s spring practice begins Wednesday, and with the start of a new season comes new challenges to overcome. Last year attention focused on quarterback Logan Thomas, but this time around the Hokies have holes to fill all over the field. Here’s the first in a series of blog posts trying to answer the various questions that face Virginia Tech this spring.
Question No. 1: Who will replace David Wilson, the Michael Holmes edition
Preoccupied with preparing tailbacks who were slated to play in games last season, position coach Shane Beamer rarely got to see running back Michael Holmes in action since he was taking a redshirt year and relegated to Virginia Tech’s scout team.
The coach would peer over to the defensive practice field from time to time, but that wasn’t nearly enough to form an accurate evaluation on the player some believe is the favorite to replace running back David Wilson in the Hokies’ backfield next year.
But then Beamer would come in from practice, and he would hear defensive coaches consistently rave about Holmes’s performance. So as the rising redshirt freshman prepares for spring, even defensive coordinator Bud Foster is interested to see what Holmes is capable of now that the Hokies are in search of a new starting tailback.
“I think he’s got a chance to be pretty special, and I’ve said that about a few kids here over the years and they’ve turned out to be that way, and I think Mike’s one of those guys,” Foster said this week.
Last year when Wilson stepped into the starting lineup after Ryan Williams and Darren Evans left school early for the NFL, he had something of a track record and even led the Hokies in touchdowns with Williams and Evans still around the program.
For the most part, though, Holmes is an unknown. He was a two-time Group AA Virginia player of the year at Harrisonburg High, where he’s the school’s all-time leading rusher after gaining 2,877 yards and scoring 41 touchdowns as a senior.
Listed at 5-11 and 212 pounds, Holmes has impressed Foster with his ability to “jump-stop and then get back at top speed right away. For a big kid, he’s got good athletic ability, good explosiveness, good vision, great change of direction.”
Beamer said a good comparison for Holmes would be the types of running backs Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan has preferred over the years – downhill runners who make one cut and burst through holes created by a zone blocking scheme. Holmes isn’t going to wow in the 40-yard dash like Wilson, Beamer added, but he’s more elusive than fast.
“He’s one of those guys whose got the ability to make a cut at the line of scrimmage and then he can get vertical and get going north-south in a hurry, if that makes sense,” Beamer said. “I think a lot of guys it kind of takes them a minute to wind back up. Mike’s got a great ability to make you miss and then get vertical again, and you don’t see a lot of guys his size that are able to do that.”
Every compliment thrown Holmes’s way comes with a disclaimer. Like his competition at the running back spot, he hasn’t performed under the brightest lights yet, against the likes of Clemson, Florida State and Miami.
For that reason, both Beamer and Stinespring said this week that the decision on a starting tailback — or whether the team will go with a by-committee approach — likely won’t occur until fall training camp in August.
Holmes’s main competition this spring will come from true freshman J.C. Coleman, but a bevy of talented recruits — Drew Harris, Chris Mangus and Trey Edmunds — will arrive in the fall. The team has also moved fullback Martin Scales to running back this spring, and veteran Tony Gregory will be back in the summer after recovering from offseason knee surgery.
But Beamer is pleased that Holmes seems to be a student of the game to go along with his unique skill-set. Whether he lives up to Foster’s lofty praise, though, is one of the biggest questions the Hokies coaches need to answer when spring practice begins Wednesday.
“In high school he might get the handoff in the backfield and kind of stop, look around and figure out where he was going to go and make a cut. It doesn’t quite work that way here at this level,” Beamer said. “You better get that ball and go, and he’s learned to do a better job with that and we’re continuing to work on that.
“But he’s got really good vision. That’s probably what I’m trying to say. He’s got a good ability to see things, something you don’t think is there he kind of sees on the back side of plays. He’s able to make a couple plays in our scrimmages doing things like that, so he’s a steady guy that’s not gonna lose you yardage, I think, and will get better each practice I hope.”