Virginia Tech’s training camp opens next week, and as is the case every year, there will be plenty of competition for spots throughout the roster. Here are four position battles that could have the biggest impact on the regular season.
Whip LB – Jeron Gouveia-Winslow vs. Alonzo Tweedy, and maybe Ronny Vandyke
This will be the third-consecutive training camp in which Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is involved in a battle to be Virginia Tech’s starting whip linebacker. But now that he’s a redshirt senior coming off season-ending foot surgery, this represents the last chance for the former All Met defensive player of the year to establish himself in the Hokies’ lineup.
Considered a weak link back in 2010, Gouveia-Winslow had to earn his starting job back during last year’s training camp and emerged as a much-improved player until his 2011 campaign was cut short by a Lisfranc fracture last October. That allowed fellow redshirt senior Alonzo Tweedy to grab hold of the position, and his speed added a new dimension to Virginia Tech’s defensive scheme. But he also struggled with an ankle injury that largely negated his effectiveness towards the end of the year.
The wild card in this competition could be former South County All Met Ronny Vandyke, a redshirt freshman who was moved to whip linebacker this spring and made considerable progress. It’s hard to envision Vandyke overtaking Gouveia-Winslow or Tweedy this soon, but Foster has been in search of a consistent whip linebacker since Cody Grimm graduated after the 2009 season.
DT – Antoine Hopkins vs. Luther Maddy
This will likely be the most intriguing battle of training camp, because it pits experience vs. potential. Redshirt senior Antoine Hopkins is the elder statesman on Virginia Tech’s deep defensive line, and proved to be a dynamic, space-eating defensive tackle until he tore his ACL in the Hokies’ regular season loss to Clemson on Oct. 1. He didn’t participate in spring practice, so it remains to be seen how his knee will react to full contact again.
Sophomore Luther Maddy, a lightly recruited prospect from Delray Beach, Fla., has surprised coaches from the moment he arrived on campus last August and this spring he emerged as the Hokies’ most improved player on defense. Both should play plenty this season, but it will be interesting to see whether Hopkins’s size and experience (318 pounds) or Maddy’s quickness and potential wins out in terms of who starts.
RB – Michael Holmes vs. the field
Neither Coach Frank Beamer or running backs coach Shane Beamer has declared Michael Holmes the team’s starting running back on opening night, but he left spring practice as the favorite to earn the nod. Though the redshirt freshman is unproven in game situations, he showed off his vision and a unique ability to make one cut and reach maximum speed quickly this spring. Both will be valuable skills in Virginia Tech’s zone blocking scheme. But Holmes has plenty of competition in the form of freshmen J.C. Coleman and Trey Edmunds, and upperclassmen Martin Scales and Tony Gregory. Can he hold them off and cement himself as the next Virginia Tech starting running back?
TE – Ryan Malleck vs. Randall Dunn vs. Eric Martin
Tight end has never been a focal point in Virginia Tech’s offense, but the past two seasons both Andre Smith and Chris Drager developed into valuable weapons. The next in line could be Ryan Malleck, a sophomore whom coaches decided not to redshirt a year ago because they wanted him to become acclimated to the college game. But he’ll have to fend off challenges from seniors Randall Dunn, a potential force as a receiver, and Eric Martin, a strong blocker when healthy. Last week, however, Beamer described Malleck as “the most complete right now” because of his ability to catch and block.