When the Hokies Have the Ball

Even with Kevin Jones playing in the NFL, the Hokies are going to keep the ball in the running back's hands as often as possible. That's where the most talent lies on an offense with an alarming lack of experienced backups. And running back seems somewhat shaky because starter Cedric Humes only participated in the last of three preseason scrimmages while recovering from a broken left leg and ankle ligament damage suffered during the first scrimmage in the spring.

Also, backup Mike Imoh will be suspended for the first three games, the result of his late-May conviction on three misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. If Humes is not at full strength for the opener Saturday against top-ranked Southern Cal, redshirt junior Justin Hamilton will get the bulk of the carries with freshman George Bell in reserve.

Quarterback Bryan Randall has had a fine fall and will make his 26th straight start in the opener. The catch is that none of the wide receivers has shown much since high school. The leading returning receiver is Hamilton, who had 23 catches last season. But he was switched to running back after Humes went down. The next most productive wideout, Richard Johnson, with 13 catches, has missed time in the fall because of injuries.

The coaches have been impressed with a corps of true and redshirt freshman receivers, among them Washington area natives Eddie Royal and Josh Morgan. Royal also has been used on kickoff and punt returns during scrimmages. And Randall figures to be throwing more to gifted tight end Jeff King.

On the line, tackles Jon Dunn and Jimmy Martin, and right guard James Miller were starters nearly all of last season. So was Will Montgomery, but he is expected to line up at center instead of left guard. Junior Reggie Butler should open the season at left guard.

None of the fullbacks, Jesse Allen and converted tight end John Kinzer, has any game experience. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Pace has been more consistent on field goals lately in practice as he replaces four-year letterman Carter Warley.

When Opponents Have the Ball

The lack of obvious firepower on offense puts more pressure on a defense that often folded down the stretch in the past two seasons. The line figures to be strong if the tackle rotation is able to hold up on the run and also put pressure on the quarterback from the inside.

There were two major position changes, cornerback Vincent Fuller to free safety and free safety Jimmy Williams to corner. Williams is confident and talented, and also will be in the mix returning punts. Fuller seems more comfortable at safety and has shown the sort of nastiness in practice that the coaches admire.

Of the linebackers, only Mikal Baaqee in the middle has held his starting position. And he is pushed by redshirt freshman Vince Hall, who was impressive during a scrimmage Baaqee was forced to miss with an injury. Redshirt senior Brandon Manning started 25 games at one of the outside linebacker positions the past two years but currently is running third team.

Redshirt junior Blake Warren (Centreville) moved into the other outside linebacker position in the spring, but is being pressed by Xavier Adibi, a redshirt freshman. Adibi and Hall are the most notable members of a redshirt freshman class Coach Frank Beamer and his staff hope will blossom quickly.

As for the rest of the secondary, strong safety James Griffin and cornerback Eric Green seem dependable. Griffin had 180 snaps on defense and participated in more than 100 plays on special teams last season after transferring from Pasadena (Calif.) City College in January 2002.

Green won a leadership award during the spring after starting five games last season. Coaches complained about his inconsistency last season. His best game was against Miami, when he returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown and also had eight solo tackles and a quarterback hurry.

Vinnie Burns returns for his fourth straight season as the punter. He was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award the past two years.

-- Ken Denlinger