Virginia Tech football: Running back could be team’s most intriguing position battle


Junior J.C. Coleman, shown in 2012, is one of six tailbacks up for playing time for Virginia Tech. (Don Petersen/AP)

Virginia Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer prefaced his answer with a warning Wednesday. He knew from experience that the message boards frequented by Hokies fans might “melt down” after he mentioned the possibility of dressing six tailbacks this year. Beamer even laughed as he noted “each guy kind of has a unique skill set,” one of his go-to lines in 2012 when Virginia Tech never settled on a featured runner.

But as many await word on who will start at quarterback when the Hokies begin the 2014 season on Aug. 30 against William & Mary — offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said a final decision will be made following a scrimmage Friday afternoon — the battle for carries in Virginia Tech’s backfield might be more intriguing at this point.

“You can’t play six and I’ve said that to these guys and I’ve said that in staff meetings,” Beamer said. “We can’t play six guys.”

During Monday night’s “Tech Talk Live,” the athletic department’s weekly radio show, Coach Frank Beamer said redshirt sophomore Trey Edmunds, last year’s leading rusher, still looks “gimpy” as he recovers from a broken tibia suffered in the 2013 regular season finale at Virginia. Loeffler said Wednesday he’s unsure if Edmunds will start against William & Mary.

As a result, Shane Beamer said many of his nights in bed are spent wondering how his running back rotation will work once the season gets underway.

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“I’m sorry, but we’re going to get other guys in the game,” he said. “Some guys are better on third down. Some guys are better at running pass routes than other guys. Some guys you trust more in protection than other guys. So we want to do what each guy does well. But yes, I know the big question.

“We’re going to have it narrowed down as far as who our primary ballcarriers are, but there’s other guys that we want to get involved in different ways as well as we go along week to week.”

A group of talented newcomers have made the decision more difficult. In addition to veterans such as Edmunds, junior J.C. Coleman and redshirt sophomore Joel Caleb, freshmen Shai McKenzie, Marshawn Williams and Travon McMillian have forced their way into the conversation for immediate playing time.

McKenzie, just 11 months removed from tearing his anterior cruciate ligament as a high school senior, might be the biggest surprise. He was one of the stars of last weekend’s scrimmage, breaking off a 50-yard run and then scoring a touchdown in a goal line situation. The Washington, Pa., native said his knee still feels sore at times, but his quick comeback has caught the attention of coaches.

“You get tired of tackling that ol’ boy,” Frank Beamer said Saturday. “Whew. He’s running strong.”

McMillian began training camp at quarterback, but was quickly moved to running back. Loeffler has been enamored with his skills in the open field since National Signing Day and he could factor in on special teams. The 227-pound Williams was the talk of spring practice because he brought the sort of power-rushing element Virginia Tech lacked in recent years. But only recently rejoined preseason practice after undergoing surgery for a hernia last month.

Shane Beamer said part of the reasons the coaching staff elected to cancel a scrimmage scheduled for Wednesday and move Saturday’s scrimmage to Friday was so that Williams would be fully cleared to participate.

For his part, Edmunds isn’t ready to give up the starting job just yet after rushing for a team-high 675 yards in 2013. Though he begrudgingly agreed with Frank Beamer about being “gimpy,” Edmunds countered that he’s “closer to the ready side than not being ready.”

“I knew it was a long process ahead,” he said. “I tried not to think too far ahead. I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight or over a week or something like that. But it’s definitely a process . . . and you just got to be patient. I’m definitely eager to get back out there with my guys, and just to get back out there full speed. And like I said, I think I’m there.”

But all of these potential options have weighed on Shane Beamer, and made his job over the next 10 days, “tough, but in a good way.”

“They’re all good enough,” he said. “I really like the group. It’s not so much are we going to be good running the football. It’s going to be how are we going to work that rotation. We’ll get it worked out.

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