National Signing Day certainly turned into a festival atmosphere for Hokie fans, with tons of positives coupled with some negatives to give both the most ardent homer and the most disaffected crumudgeon plenty to talk about.
The Hokies were able to secure two of their top three remaining targets in multi-talented athlete Joel Caleb and bruising defensive end prospect Ken Ekanem. Meanwhile, Koren Kirven disappointed Hokie fans by joining Nick Saban's NFL machine down in Tuscaloosa. Finally, the Hokie blogosphere and twitterverse went crazy as MARGINAL linebacker prospect Ja Wand Blue decommitted and headed down to the Harvard of the South in Coral Gables.
Despite these ups and downs, I think most Hokies are very satisfied with the recruiting haul, which addressed some areas of need while adding additional depth to strength areas, especially the defensive front seven (where the quality of recruiting had dropped tremendously following Jason Worilds signing.) Shane Beamer and the other young coaches have made a positive impact, and hopefully the Hokies can continue to make inroads out of state while building a fence around the top Virginia prospects.
A quick analysis of the day's highlights:
1) Kirven has the build and skillset to be a dominant two gap defensive tackle, which makes him even more dangerous in a one gap scheme if he learned the system. At the same time, if I was a defensive tackle with NFL dreams, I look at the Hokies (who only have two defensive linemen, not one; Jason Worilds and Darryl Tapp; playing in the NFL right now. Worilds just moved to OLB) versus Alabama, which has an NFL style multiple defense and a proven track record of creating ready made NFL talent under Nick Saban, coupled with the fact that the Hokies have four returning defensive tackles with starting experience (only one of which is a senior next year), a four star in Kris Harley who redshirted, and several other depth players. I thought Alabama was a sensible choice. Now, it will hurt if he becomes a star (and Nick Saban is a good enough coach to make it happen), but Kirven's decision didn't devestate the Hokies plans like Stephone Anthony's decision (prior to us learning that Tariq Edwards could play a little better than Jake Johnson and Lyndell Gibson.)
2) Don't fret Ja Wand Blue deciding to pursue his dream of being an Academic All American at the U. I watched a significant amount of highlight tapes of Blue. I have a rule of thumb on high school highlight reels. If I can't tell who I should be watching with my own eyes, then he isn't an exciting prospect. Blue looked like a decent athlete trying to play football instead of a good football player. He played with high pad level. He isn't instinctive or aggressive flowing to the football, and his tackling technique consists of him being a strong guy and grabbing and tossing guys. As a former offensive lineman, Blue is the kind of kid that you love to drive block on, if you can catch him. I think Laurence Gibson can catch him. CHOOO CHOOO big boy.
3) Joel Caleb is coming to Virginia Tech to be a wide receiver, but his entire highlight film is him playing QB (popgun arm). He looks like an outstanding athlete with great straight ahead speed. He isn't very shifty, but he has what looks like a top speed and then an extra burst. Watching him run a QB zone-read looks just like DJ Coles running a WR screen. Their body types are identical, and Caleb is defintely faster and more elusive. I could see him returning kicks right away, and even playing some Wildcat QB after Logan Thomas departs. Unlike Blue, when you watch the film you know who you are supposed to be watching without an arrow.
I have no idea if he can catch or tackle (no film of him doing either), but I guess the Hokie staff thinks they will be weaker when Coles, Roberts, and Davis leave than they will be in the defensive secondary. The kid defintely has five star tools. Can he pick up the nuance of the receiver position (route running, timing, catching the ball at the highest point, site adjustments?) The Hokie coaching staff doesn't have the best track record of making talented athletes better as receivers, so let's keep our fingers crossed. He has the ability to be a star wherever they put him, but can they polish his game? I'd love to see him as a ballhawking rover if he can tackle.
4) I had the opportunity to see Ken Ekanem play against Hayfield this year, and I have been able to watch a lot of film. He is a tweener OLB/DE who will defintely be an end in the Hokie system. Ekanem moves all over the field, and has an explosive first step. He has great shoulder lean (the ability to use the edge of the shoulder pad as a fulcrum point to change your passrush angle and turn into the QB without being pushed too far upfield. He plays with decent pad level and reminds me of a more explosive JR Collins. He also could play tight end in a pitch and is probably right now a more polished receiving tight end than any returning Hokie.
What does he need to work on? There are two holes I see. One, in person, he looked like he didn't have a really great motor. He worked his tail off on the pass rush and one playside runs, but when the play went away from him, he didn't work really hard to get across. My other concern is his hand play. He used his speed and shoulders to get off blocks and pass rush. He keeps his hands low instead of using them to shed blockers. That won't work against top level competition (Stephen Friday never did learn how to use his hands to shed a block.) Still the Hokie staff doesn't need Ekanem to step in right away, so hopefully both he and Jarontay Jones/Woody Baron can develop and be devestating bookends down the road.
5) Oh Matty Ports. Unethical, unsubstantiated reporting only serves to kill your own aspirations. Silly goose.