A spring practice unlike any other Coach Frank Beamer has conducted will come to a close Saturday when Virginia Tech holds its annual spring game at Lane Stadium.
The Hokies have begun the adjustment to new offensive coaches and schemes and, in the process, new faces have emerged as potential contributors when Virginia Tech takes on two-time defending national champion Alabama to start the 2013 season on Aug. 31.
With that in mind, here are a few things to keep an eye on, whether you’re live at Lane Stadium on Saturday or monitoring events on ESPN3.
Positions to watch
Beamer went into spring practice saying he wanted to establish a clear pecking order at tailback after using a plethora of (mostly) unsuccessful options in 2012. That, though, won’t be the case, as running backs coach Shane Beamer said last week a clear No. 1 will not be named out of the spring. Instead, it appears to be a three-horse race between redshirt sophomore Michael Holmes, sophomore JC Coleman and redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds.
Holmes was the opening day starter a year ago, but struggled and saw his role decrease toward the end of the season. But armed with a new orange hairdo, Holmes has been the most consistent running back this spring, according to coaches. Coleman led all tailbacks with 492 rushing yards last season, but his diminutive size could prove to be a hurdle in his quest to be the team’s every-down back. Edmunds, a highly touted recruit out of Danville, Va., had a 50-yard touchdown run in Virginia Tech’s closed scrimmage earlier this week. All three could enter training camp with some serious momentum with a big performance Saturday.
Virginia Tech lost its three leading receivers from a year ago, but senior D.J. Coles will be expected to fill some of that void now that he’s back from an extended absence because of a knee injury suffered during the 2011 season. Who lines up with him remains something of a mystery. Redshirt sophomore Demetri Knowles has shown glimpses this spring that he has become a more effective route runner, in addition to his track speed. Freshman Joshua Stanford has also emerged as an intriguing prospect after impressing coaches last August during his initial training camp on campus. Other candidates include redshirt sophomore Kevin Asante, walk-on Charley Meyer, former All-Met E.L. Smiling and redshirt freshman Joel Caleb. A strong showing Saturday could provide any of them with a boost in the quest to become one of quarterback Logan Thomas’s main weapons next season.
Players on the rise
Freshman Jonathon McLaughlin – A late signee out of Fork Union Military Academy, McLaughlin has quickly thrust himself into the coaching staff’s good graces after enrolling early for spring practice. Heading into Saturday, he has moved ahead of redshirt junior Mark Shuman as the team’s No. 1 left tackle. His long arms and 306-pound frame have proven to be assets already. Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes hasn’t committed to a starting unit yet and has spent much of his spring shuffling the lineup. Center Andrew Miller is now playing right guard, redshirt sophomore Caleb Farris is at center, redshirt junior Brent Benedict are competing to be the first team left guard and redshirt junior Laurence Gibson is the starting right tackle.
Redshirt sophomore Dadi Nicolas – The Delray Beach, Fla., native has been a force all spring because of his pass-rushing ability. Nicolas missed all of training camp and the beginning of the fall because of legal troubles last year, but he has surged up the depth chart ever since. Even though he missed a large chunk of practice time last year, Nicolas still earned his way onto the field late in the season and he hasn’t slowed down since. He’s currently challenging redshirt senior J.R. Collins for the starting defensive end spot opposite James Gayle, and with redshirt senior Tyrel Wilson out Saturday because of a knee injury, Nicolas will have plenty of opportunities to make a final impression in the spring game.
Freshman Brandon Facyson – The 6-foot-2 cornerback enrolled at Virginia Tech early for spring practice and hasn’t wasted time emerging as a potential option should senior Antone Exum miss the start of the 2013 season because of ACL surgery. Facyson’s long arms, height and ability to break on the ball have impressed defensive coordinator Bud Foster, but perhaps more importantly, he has not played like a true freshman going through the first college practices of his career. Right now, Virginia Tech has him playing only boundary cornerback behind starter Kyle Fuller. With Exum out, sophomore Donaldven Manning has assumed the No. 1 field cornerback position. But one final strong showing by Facyson could prompt the Hokies to give him a larger role heading into training camp.
New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler on the offensive line: “We want to find the chemistry. We want to find the best five. We’re gonna put pressure on people to fight for a spot. I like it. I love it right now. Now, do I like it Week Two of training camp? No. You gotta start having a unit out there working together. But for right now, put pressure on people, make people accountable, try to find the right chemistry.”