The Hokies begin preseason practice on Thursday. Aside from the games themselves, August camp is when we learn the most about the players on the team. A the end of camp we'll know how good or bad we are from listening to the coaches, reading practice reports and watching the scrimmages.
But how do we stand right now? Here's my modest attempt at ranking each position. For the most part, I'm trying to avoid the hype and positive prognostications and evaluate each positional unit based on actual on-the-field evidence as the average sum of its parts. Experience and depth matter the most.
The quarterbacks are all talented, have wowed us in practice, but have very little actual game experience. The unknown scares me. It's perfectly acceptable to be impressed by freakish athleticism and dominance in exhibitions. However, quarterbacks proves their worth by how they perform in games, under pressure while taking it in the chops.
Joey Phillips proved he could open holes during goal line situations last year. He'll be fine handling the starting duties this season. Martin Scales adds the necessary depth.
I believe David Wilson and Josh Oglesby will compliment each other quite nicely and uphold Tech's tradition of a dominate rush attack. However, for a position that's seen more than its fair share of injuries over the last two seasons there's little depth. Tony Gregory has a bright future, but hasn't taken a hit since tearing his ACL last fall and James Hopper didn't become a household name during spring.
Wide Receivers: A+
A quartet of players with a diverse skill set who've all hauled in balls during crunch time.
Tight Ends: C
I think Drager will be fine transitioning from defensive end back to tight end, but a second tight end needs to assert himself, hard. Our zone runs are extremely effective when they're run out of two-tights sets.
Offensive Line: C
Four senior returning starters; this should be a position of strength. However, the last couple of seasons the line has bloomed late, and has lacked the viciousness that dominate lines play with.
Defensive Tackles: B
Tech really likes to rotate defensive linemen so a fourth tackle needs to join the Brothers Hopskins and Kwamaine Battle for this to be a complete unit. Incoming freshman Kris Harley could be the answer.
Defensive Ends: C+
It's James Gayle and the gang. Some of the other defensive ends are going to have to step to the front of the stage. Drager's move back to tight end probably means the coaches are sure there are some diamonds in the rough to polish.
Bruce Taylor is one of the best middle linebackers in the country. Former starter Barquell Rivers and coaches' favorite Jack Tyler are capable, can play if necessary, and provide legitimate depth.
During spring Whip didn't look quite as foreign as last season to Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Alonzo Tweedy. But they have a long way to go before either make us forget about the play of "Death Backer" Cody Grimm.
Tariq Edwards, Telvion Clark and Chase Williams all have the potential to be great backers. Right now the job is Edwards' to lose, and I think Clark and Williams will push him for the benefit of the entire unit.
Exum got a great deal of playing time last year as Tech's nickel back. He can hit and play in space. I'm optimistic. If they had to, I'd think the coaches would shuffle around personal instead of playing Boye Aromire, he just hasn't had enough time to develop.
Defensive Secondary: A-
Jayron, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Whitley were all starters last season and held down a shoddy, by Bud Foster's standards, defense. The backups are spotty and I don't know how any would fare if they had to play full-time.
I should be more panicked that we're replacing our kicker for the fifth straight season and our best punter is a wide receiver. The returners are an asset though and help avoid a 'D' grade.
These grades are fluid and undoubtedly the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the team will change as camp progresses. I'll examine these grades before the start of the season.
For now, what do you think?