Spring football practice is the time of year Virginia Tech’s coaching staff looks forward to most: a month on the calendar focused on teaching, with the pressures of game day removed. But as offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring scanned his roster earlier this month, he admitted that the reality of what the Hokies must accomplish once they hold the first of 15 practices Wednesday evening “is a tad scary.”
Though Virginia Tech returns 10 starters from a defense that finished the 2011 season ranked among the top 10 in the country and had its finest performance of the year in a Sugar Bowl loss to Michigan in January, the offense is in the midst of a major retooling.
ACC player of the year David Wilson left school a year early for the NFL draft, and record-setting wide receivers Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin and tight end Chris Drager graduated. Perhaps more significantly, the Hokies must replace four starters along the offensive line.
A year after the focus of spring practice centered on the development of quarterback Logan Thomas, he’s about the only certainty remaining after breaking Virginia Tech’s single-season record for total offense in his first year as a starter.
“I’m not gonna sidestep the issue: This is one of the more serious undertakings in my 20 years at Virginia Tech from an offseason standpoint,” Stinespring said.
The most interesting battle will be between two unknown running backs — redshirt freshman Michael Holmes and true freshman J.C. Coleman.
Holmes spent last season on Virginia Tech’s scout team going against the Hokies’ defense in practice, and defensive coordinator Bud Foster said earlier this month, “he’s got a chance to be pretty special” because of his combination of size (208 pounds) and quick feet.
“I’ve said that about a few kids here over the years and they’ve turned out to be that way, and I think Mike’s one of those guys,” Foster added.
Coleman, who is 5 feet 7, enrolled early at Virginia Tech to participate in spring practice after a prolific career at Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va. Coach Frank Beamer said Monday that other than former Hokies wide receiver Eddie Royal, Coleman “had more long plays on that highlight reel than anyone I’ve ever seen.”
The decision on who will start likely won’t be made until August when Virginia Tech brings in three more running back prospects, but position coach Shane Beamer said Holmes and Coleman could distance themselves from the pack with strong performances this spring.
The Hokies have proven commodities to fill the void at wide receiver in seniors Marcus Davis, Dyrell Roberts and D.J. Coles — although Coles will miss the spring recovering from offseason knee surgery — but the offensive line bears watching. Virginia Tech gave up just 17 sacks a year ago, and Stinespring and company haven’t had to replace this many linemen during one spring since 2007 — a season in which they gave up 51 sacks.
So even though Thomas no longer has to deal with questions about his capabilities, there will be much more on his plate in 2012 and he seems to realize that. Thomas spent his spring break in San Diego working out with quarterbacks coach George Whitfield, who has also trained Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger in recent years.
Whitfield raved about Thomas’s potential, calling him one of the top quarterback prospects in the country this year. But Whitfield also emphasized that the redshirt junior will need to focus on “the management of chaos. The better you get, the more anxious defenses are to put a hit on you. You gotta embrace it and have a plan against it.”
“The make up of our offense is very much different, but Logan’s carrying himself a little differently now,” Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain added. “Last year he was very much a leader for us any way, but now because of the way he played, because of the faith we all have in him, he’s able to go out and be more of a leader.”