BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech wide receiver Joel Caleb and linebacker Josh Trimble cracked their helmets together last Saturday, eliciting a loud roar from the Hokies’ players who had encircled them. The Oklahoma drill, which ended warmups before a full-scale scrimmage, once again set the tone for what Coach Frank Beamer hopes will go down as the hardest-hitting spring he has overseen in 27 years leading this football program.
“Whether we brought in three new coaches on offense or not, we knew we needed to get back to what Virginia Tech football was all about: being tough, being physical,” said Shane Beamer, Frank Beamer’s son and the team’s associate head coach. “And I’ll be the first to admit we had gotten away from that last year.”
To re-establish that identity after the Hokies’ worst season in 20 years, Frank Beamer re-tooled his offensive staff, hiring new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and offensive line coach Jeff Grimes from Auburn and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead from Stanford this offseason. With them has come a new, physical approach to the spring.
The Hokies now conduct an Oklahoma drill – Beamer calls it “toughness time” – to start every practice. Beamer also increased the live hitting and, at the defense’s request, even allowed cut-blocking during drills involving starters for the first time in his coaching career.
Those measures, Beamer said last week in an interview ahead of Saturday’s spring game, were instituted in response to last season’s lackluster offense, which sputtered as Virginia Tech finished 7-6. The Hokies were ranked No. 83 in the country in total offense last season and didn’t have a tailback lead the team in rushing for the first time since 1965.
“There was a perception, whether it’s somewhat right or all the way right or partially right, there was a perception that the offense wasn’t as efficient or effective as it needed to be and we had a hard time making that perception go away,” Beamer said. “It seemed like when we’d lose games, it always came back to the offense, and our offense a couple times came down and scored [at the end of games].
“We just needed something to jolt us.”
Beamer would not specify when he determined coaching changes were necessary after the Hokies finished last season with an ugly 13-10 overtime victory over Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl. But he made a conscious decision to stick with his run-first principles and allow his new offensive coordinator the freedom to hire some of his own staff, parting ways with play-caller Mike O’Cain, offensive line coach Curt Newsome and wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman.
Loeffler has taken a different approach than former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring, who remains on staff as the team’s tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. Rather than install an array of packages this spring, Loeffler has focused on mastering a singular running play and progressing from there.
“We won a lot of games with the three guys that were here before, but Jeff, Scot and Aaron, it’s just a lot of youthful energy on a day-in, day-out basis,” said Shane Beamer, who noted last year’s disappointing campaign made the staff more receptive to new ideas. “Scot’s just on everybody from the time he wakes up probably until he goes to sleep. Coaches, players, he knows one speed.”
A noted quarterback guru, Loeffler has fixed his attention on signal caller Logan Thomas after he threw 16 interceptions in 2012, working on nuances such as foot position when throwing the ball and the tempo of Thomas’s drop-back. Loeffler has even begun tape-recording his pupil’s cadence and tone in the huddle.
“Coach [Frank] Beamer told us to be ourselves and that’s the way I’ve coached,” Loeffler said. “It feels like home.”
It also means dealing with new expectations. After Saturday’s scrimmage, in which the offense performed well, Loeffler sat behind a table rubbing his fist and grimacing. He wasn’t pleased with how the Hokies executed in short-yardage situations, a point of concern last season as well.
That attitude, though, is exactly what Beamer and company went in search of this offseason.
“They brought a lot more intensity, a lot more focus. Every practice has been hard and full speed ahead and no reps off. I think that’s what we’ve needed to take the next step,” Thomas said. Loeffler is “a quarterback and quarterbacks strive for perfection.”