Virginia Tech football looks to toughen up as spring practice begins


“I want this to be the toughest football team we’ve had here at Virginia Tech,” Frank Beamer said. (J. Meric/GETTY IMAGES)

Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer’s management style is all about delegation. He believes autonomy fosters passion and a sense of responsibility. So since he overhauled his offensive staff by hiring three new assistant coaches this offseason, including offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, Beamer has stepped back and allowed them to manufacture ideas and schemes on their own.

But last week, with the Hokies in the midst of five straight 6 a.m. offseason workouts – they’ve never done them in a row like that before – Beamer gathered his team and made clear how he intends to rebound from his program’s worst season in 20 years.

“I want this to be the toughest football team we’ve had here at Virginia Tech,” Beamer said Monday.

This is the theme of spring practice, which the Hokies begin Wednesday with a focus on “getting back to running the football the way we’d like to,” Beamer added.

Last season, when Virginia Tech went just 7-6, freshman J.C. Coleman rushed for just 492 yards, the fewest by the Hokies’ No. 1 tailback since 1971. Although there is little doubt quarterback Logan Thomas regressed in 2012, especially in terms of accuracy, the lack of a consistent running game may have hampered him more than anything.

Coleman and last year’s opening day starter, redshirt sophomore Michael Holmes, are back in the mix at tailback. But perhaps the most intriguing player this spring will be freshman Trey Edmunds, a highly touted recruit whom Beamer decided to redshirt last fall even after comparing him to former Hokies great Kevin Jones.

Beamer hopes to have a clear “pecking order” coming out of the spring, unlike 2012 when the coaching staff never could settle on a featured running back. He described Edmunds as “right in the middle of it” in terms of the competition.

Any discussion about Virginia Tech’s less-than-stellar running game also revolves around an offensive line that failed to consistently open up running lanes a year ago. New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes’s first task is to find two tackles after Vinston Painter and Nick Becton graduated.

Beamer said redshirt junior Mark Shuman will start out as the No. 1 left tackle but will get competition from redshirt freshman Augie Conte. At right tackle, redshirt junior Laurence Gibson is listed as the No. 1 option to begin the spring, but redshirt freshman Adam Taraschke has done well in the weight room this offseason and should get a look as well.

The only problem, especially with two-time defending national champion Alabama on deck in next year’s season opener, is that those four have collectively played 66 offensive snaps in college. No matter who wins either job, the Hokies will be breaking in a first-time starter at both tackle positions.

Other story lines to watch

The candidates at CB – Senior Antone Exum won’t be available this spring after tearing his ACL while playing pickup basketball this offseason, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be available when Virginia Tech opens the season against Alabama. That has opened the door for others to impress at cornerback opposite senior Kyle Fuller. Sophomores Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes, as well as redshirt freshman Der’Woun Greene and walk on Carl Jackson and Nick Bush will all get a chance to prove themselves. They’d be wise to make a favorable impression now, because Virginia Tech’s top incoming recruit, All-Met cornerback Kendall Fuller of Good Counsel, arrives on campus this summer.

Wide open at WR – Virginia Tech lost its top three receivers from 2012 to graduation – Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts – and the search for their replacements will start with a familiar face. Senior D.J. Coles, who will be 24 by the time next October rolls around, returns to the fold after a knee injury forced him to take a redshirt last season. Coles was one of Virginia Tech’s best blocking receivers in 2011 and finished with 36 catches, 480 yards and three touchdown, all career highs. The rest of the possibilities are relatively unproven. Redshirt sophomore Demetri Knowles had 19 catches for 240 yards and one touchdown last year, but must show improved route running to go along with his blazing speed. Redshirt freshmen Joel Caleb and Joshua Stanford, as well as walk on Charley Meyer and former All Met E.L. Smiling will also be in the mix to earn significant playing time.

Logan and Loeffler – After a disappointing second season starting under center, Logan Thomas decided to return for his senior season and he now has a new play-caller and quarterbacks coach in Scot Loeffler. Their relationship will be vital going forward, because Thomas could use a confidence boost after some of his struggles a year ago. He threw 16 interceptions and completed just 51.3 percent of his passes.

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