Training camp is never really about the stars, or even the established veterans. And it’s no different for Virginia Tech as the Hokies prepare to hold their first practice of the summer on Thursday.
Barring injury, we already know cornerback Jayron Hosley is perhaps the best defensive playmaker in the ACC, and that running back David Wilson could very well become a breakout star this fall. Or that wide receiver Jarrett Boykin will soon become the most prolific wide receiver (statistically) in school history, and that Bruce Taylor has the talent and track record to emerge as the best linebacker in the conference.
Even the Hokies’ biggest unknown heading into camp — just how good is new quarterback Logan Thomas? — will probably go unresolved until the real games begin next month. That, though, isn’t the case for the entire roster.
There are still issues that need to be confronted before the Hokies open the regular season against Appalachian State on Sep. 3. After the jump, you’ll find eight questions that could define Virginia Tech’s training camp.
Offense1. How will the wide receiver rotation shake out?
During the ACC kickoff, Coach Frank Beamer said the wide receivers have “a chance to be the strongest point of our football team,” but the distribution of playing time remains a mystery. Boykin will likely start at split end, but after redshirt junior Marcus Davis lit it up this spring, wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman said Davis and senior Danny Coale are co-starters at the flanker spot.
There’s also senior Dyrell Roberts, who will return to the field after missing spring practice while he continued his recovery from the compartment syndrome he suffered during last year’s win over Virginia. Another potential contributor could be 6-foot-4 redshirt junior D.J. Coles, a highly-touted recruit out of high school who has yet to play much outside of special teams.
2. Who will be the backup quarterback?
Before spring practice, it seemed like a no-brainer that redshirt junior JuJu Clayton would be Thomas’s primary backup behind center. But redshirt freshman Mark Leal had a strong spring while Clayton looked out of sync — and subsequently, Beamer and quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain have declared the competition wide open. Washington native Ricardo Young (H.D. Woodson High) could also factor into the race after missing most of spring practice with a foot injury.
3. Are the reserve offensive linemen ready?
Virginia Tech’s coaching staff spent a lot of time this spring talking up the amount of depth the Hokies will have in the offensive trenches, and with news that starters Blake DeChristopher and Greg Nosal will miss the start of camp, those statements will be put to the test early. Are guys like Nick Becton, David Wang, Michael Via and Vinston Painter capable of filling in for spot duty, or perhaps more if DeChristopher and Nosal are slow to return?
4. Will a legitimate tight end emerge?
Tight end Andre Smith was already a solid run blocker, but he became quite the weapon in the passing game last year, especially in the red zone. The Hokies might have some trouble duplicating that success this year. Senior Chris Drager moved from defensive end to tight end during the spring but had some unanticipated growing pains re-acclimating to his old position. Redshirt junior Randall Dunn and redshirt sophomore Eric Martin will also have a chance to earn some playing time.
Defense1. Who will play whip linebacker?
This was one of the team’s main questions heading into spring practice and it remains unanswered. New position coach Cornell Brown has intimated that redshirt juniors Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Alonzo Tweedy would split time at whip linebacker, but during the ACC kickoff Beamer declared Gouveia-Winslow the leader heading into training camp. Will either emerge as the clear-cut starter, allowing defensive coordinator Bud Foster to use the base package he prefers?
2. What sort of depth emerges?
The starting lineup is mostly set on defense, but the reserve roles are up for grabs. Linebacker Barquell Rivers, two years removed from a 96-tackle season, was cleared to work out fully this summer for the first time since suffering a torn quad that kept him on the sidelines for the entire 2010 campaign. Redshirt freshman Detrick Bonner emerged as a legitimate No. 3 cornerback during the spring, but the Hokies are very thin at safety. Virginia Tech also must figure out what reserve defensive linemen will figure into the rotation once the season begins.
3. Which freshmen are ready to contribute?
Last year, the Hokies’ nickel package got a huge boost when cornerback Kyle Fuller showed he was prepared to play right away, and Virginia Tech is hopeful a couple players from its 2011 recruiting class can provide some depth. The three most likely candidates are cornerback Kyshoen Jarrett, safety Ronny Vandyke (South County High) and defensive tackle Kris Harley.
Special teams1. Is Cody Journell ready to kick field goals, and who will punt?
Given the amount of importance Beamer has always put on special teams, it was not surprising to hear him lament last week the uncertainty facing the Hokies when it comes to kicking and punting. Virginia Tech has made a habit of breaking in new kickers recently, and the same will be true this year. Redshirt sophomore Cody Journell appeared to be the most reliable kicker this spring, but a poor training camp could open the door for Justin Myer or Murray State transfer Tyler Weiss. As for the punter, that competition is completely wide open; Beamer is even considering a wide receiver (Coale) for the job.