BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer hears the criticism everywhere. From the fans. From the online message boards. From reporters. From Hokies offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. From his father and boss, Coach Frank Beamer.
For the second straight season, Virginia Tech’s once-vaunted rushing attack proved unreliable in 2013 and, more so than the continuing battle to be the team’s starting quarterback this season, its potential return will likely determine the success of this offense. At the very least, Shane Beamer seems intent on avoiding another repeat performance.
“To be 13th out of 14 in the ACC in rushing last year is embarrassing, and it’s a sense of motivation for all of us,” Beamer said Wednesday. “Now, we don’t sit around thinking about last year. We’ve moved on. But Virginia Tech prides itself on running the football, and to not have done that over the last couple years is embarrassing for me and something we know we all have to get better at, the whole offense. . . .
“When teams respect our running game, it opens up so much more and allows Scot to sleep better at night, because he doesn’t have to sit around and devise a million different ways to move the football.”
Loeffler took the reins of Virginia Tech’s offense in January 2013 hoping to implement a power rushing attack. But over the course of the year, he lost tailbacks and tight ends to injury and suspension. He inherited an unproven offensive line. Ultimately, Loeffler completely scrapped his initial approach.
The Hokies finished the year ranked 109th in the country in rushing yards per game and averaged just 3.15 yards per carry.
“I keep going back to the vision that we have, what we want to be like at the end of the day, is what you guys saw at Miami,” Loeffler said.
In that Nov. 13 game, Virginia Tech racked up 183 yards on the ground in a 42-24 win over the Hurricanes. Tailback J.C. Coleman carried the ball 14 times on one 16-play, fourth-quarter drive to ice the clock and starter Trey Edmunds averaged 5.3 yards per rush while scoring a career-high four touchdowns.
It was the start of a productive three-game stretch for Edmunds to close his first season as the program’s featured back, one in which he finally felt more comfortable in Loeffler’s offense after being bothered by a hamstring injury midway through the season. But at the start of the fourth quarter at Virginia in the regular season finale, after he had gained 93 yards on 11 carries, Edmunds landed awkwardly while being tackled and broke his tibia.
Less than nine months later, though, Edmunds has been cleared by doctors to participate in training camp with no restrictions.
“Trey’s wired differently than most human beings. He’s a machine. He’s a great kid, and to be out there practicing after the type of injury that he had not that long ago is amazing,” Shane Beamer said. “The thing we want to see is does he have his speed back? Does he have his make-you-miss ability back? . . . I thought he looked better Day 2 than he did Day 1.”
Edmunds, who finished with a team-high 675 rushing yards last season as a redshirt freshman, remains atop a crowded running back depth chart, with Coleman, redshirt sophomore Joel Caleb, sophomore Jerome Wright and freshmen Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie also battling for playing time. Beamer said he’d ideally like to trim the rotation to two or three main options as training camp progresses.
This, though, has felt like an entirely new experience for Edmunds even after winning the job last offseason. He had never dealt with rehabilitating a major injury before — “I’m glad that part is over” — let alone one similar to what NBA star Paul George recently suffered.
But there is still another hurdle to climb in the coming days if he is to be the one that reinvigorates Virginia Tech’s running game.
“I’m just looking forward to getting hit and getting back up. When I get hit and get back up the first time, I’ll know I’m back to my regular self,” Edmunds said. “I feel like with the group of guys we have this year, we’re definitely going to make a change.”