Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer has changed his philosophy over the years when it comes to playing true freshmen. For the most part, he still believes the closer a player is to the line of scrimmage, like a linemen or a quarterback, the harder it is for them to get on the field right away.

But after watching several skill position players leave school early for the NFL after a redshirt year, Beamer now realizes he must take advantage of his most talented players’ skill sets early and often, or risk losing them after just two seasons on the field.

That won’t change this year, where several Virginia Tech freshmen could be poised to make an impact on the 2012 season.

WR Joel Caleb

Even without record-setting wideouts Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, Virginia Tech doesn’t suffer much drop-off in experience with seniors D.J. Coles, Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts atop the wide receiver depth chart these days. But the Hokies are still in search of a consistent fourth option, and Beamer confirmed recently that Coles has been slow to recover from offseason knee surgery.

That has opened the door for Caleb, one of the Hokies’ top prospects from the 2012 recruiting class. He played quarterback his last two years of high school and returned to full health from his own knee injury only in the past month, so there will be an adjustment period. But at 6-3 and 205 pounds, Caleb could emerge as a valuable option for quarterback Logan Thomas if he can beat out senior Corey Fuller and redshirt freshman Demetri Knowles in training camp.

“I’ve still got to do a lot of work. This is college. This ain’t high school anymore,” Caleb said earlier this month. “I feel comfortable out there with all the guys, all the competition that’s out here. Basically, it’s about learning the playbook.”

RBs Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman

For this exercise we won’t count redshirt freshman Michael Holmes, who heads into training camp as the favorite to be Virginia Tech’s starting running back. Besides, with ACC player of the year David Wilson in the NFL now, the Hokies plan to return to a committee approach in the backfield and both Edmunds and Coleman could figure into the mix. Coaches have raved about Edmunds since national signing day, and he’s coming off a senior season at Dan River High in which he rushed for 2,596 yards and 33 touchdowns. Coleman enrolled at Virginia Tech early for spring practice, and though he didn’t wow anyone with his quick feet yet, the 5-7 tailback did impress coaches by not making many mental mistakes.

CB Donaldven Manning

Virginia Tech is poised to be dominant on defense this year, but the one obstacle in Bud Foster’s way is a secondary that is very thin beyond the starters. Manning also enrolled in school early for spring practice and emerged as the most likely candidate to be the Hokies’ third cornerback in nickel situations. His aggressive, instinctual style has endeared him to the defensive coaches already, but it remains to be seen how Manning’s 5-9, 155-pound frame holds up over the course of an entire season.

FS Dahmon McKinnon

McKinnon came to Virginia Tech expecting to be a whip linebacker, but since the Hokies came out of spring practice with no viable option at free safety behind projected starter Kyshoen Jarrett, McKinnon has been moved to the secondary for training camp. McKinnon’s combination of size and coverage skills in space made him a desirable recruit for Virginia Tech, and it appears he will get every opportunity to prove those abilities transfer over to the defensive backfield. If he succeeds, McKinnon could be in line for significant playing time should the Hokies run into any injuries this year.

Honorable mentions: Punters A.J. Hughes and Hunter Windmuller (Flint Hill). Both are preferred walk-ons who will compete to be the starters at a position the Hokies never got settled last season.