Observations At The Turn

I was able to watch Virginia Tech scrimmage for the first time on Saturday. By now you've read all of the reviews and looked at the new depth chart (which I promise I'll get to a little later), and have gobbled up every little scrap of football news that you got your hands on. I don't blame you, I did the same thing.

After all my reading and finally seeing this new team in person, I felt that we should talk about what's been happening, and the trends that we are starting to see now over halfway through spring practice.

These are my five major themes of the spring so far, and on Friday I will ask the biggest questions yet to be answered.

1. Marshawn Williams is...Good god

It's time for a true confession. I watched a ton of Marshawn's tape before he came to Tech. He seemed to be a guy that most fans were much higher on than I was, and I wanted to see if there was anything to shake my doubt. Yet, every time I watched a clip I couldn't help but think two things: 1) that he looked like he had Darren Evans speed (not a good thing), and 2) that it's easy to bust runs in high school when your line gives you holes that are wider than an US Airways hangar.

When I'm wrong, I'll say I'm wrong, and I was wrooooooooong. Williams looks like a Mack Truck on the football field, in so many good ways. We've all seen the highlights: the stiff arms, power runs, and bulldozes, but that's only a little bit of his game. I've done such a 180 on Marshawn that I will even go so far as to say this: I have memories of Virginia Tech running backs going back to the mid-nineties, and he is both physically and stylistically unlike any other back that I've seen in a Tech uniform.

He's as big as Darren Evans, but don't compare the two because Marshawn's already shown more burst (sort of like Ryan Williams). Don't compare him to Ryan Williams, though, because he's already bigger (Ryan topped out at 202, Marshawn is anywhere from 225-230 depending on the day). Honestly, if I had to pick one guy that he physically reminded me of, it would be former Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. A big, physical guy who has more athleticism than you would give him credit for at first glance. Barring some sort of horrific injury, Marshawn's going to do some big things here.

2. Youth equals promise along the offensive line

Obviously I'm no French when it comes to offensive line review, but the youthful resurgence along the offensive line has been promising, especially along the interior. For the last two years, even the most novice of football people could tell that the tackle play was average-to-above average, while the interior play was well below that. Now, with Augie Conte, Wyatt Teller, and Alston Smith pushing Caleb Farris, Brent Benedict and David Wang for playing time, you would think that play would improve simply by the addition of talent. On Saturday, Teller and Conte started at left and right guard respectively, and the line held its own. I know that doesn't sound like much of a compliment, but considering where the line (and really the offense in general) has been the past few springs, holding its own is a dramatic improvement.

3. Don't forget lesson number one

There are only two absolute rules that Tech fans have learned over the past twenty years, the biggest of which is that you should never doubt Bud Foster. Every few years, the Tech defense loses a ton of talent from the year before, causing everyone to freak out about what the defensive coaches will do to replace them. Then, in mid-October, every fan confesses their doubt in front of the Altar of Bud, praying that he doesn't rip the heart out of their chest like they were in the Temple of Doom.

(What's the other absolute rule? It's never let Marcus Vick meet your sister, but that's another lesson for another time.)

Foster has never put a bad unit on the field. Even when things seemed rough, like in 2010, they were still an average defensive squad. Yes, the defense lost a TON from last year (Kyle Fuller, Tyler, Exum, Gayle, Hopkins, Collins, Wilson, Edwards), but think about who's replacing them. Corey Marshall and Ken Ekanem are 4-star guys, and are both having great springs. Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson both played like 5-star guys last year. Deon Clarke was a 4-star. Ronny Vandyke is an extremely talented player returning from injury. This defense is loaded with talent, and are led by a coach who can get the absolute best out of guys. Maybe I'm just taking it for granted, but I think the defense will be okay.

Side note: I know people are obsessed with the "stars don't matter" tagline, but you know what? They don't hurt. Sure, Luther Maddy and Rashad Carmichael were 2-star recruits, and they were (and are) great. Vince Hall, Xavier Adibi, Jason Worilds, Chris Ellis, Macho Harris, Jayron Hosley, Bruce Taylor, Jonathan Lewis, John Graves and Kyshoen Jarrett were all 4- or 5-star players coming out of high school. Not a bad list in the slightest. They may not always pan out (see Harley, Kris), but it definitely gives your team an advantage in terms of filling holes faster when you have highly touted guys around.

4. Motley vs. Brewer

This is premature. I mean, really premature, but considering the way everything has panned out so far I think this is how the quarterback battle finishes down the stretch. I know this seems a lot less bold after the latest depth chart release, but let's think about it even further. What do we really know about Scot Loeffler, and more specifically Scot Loeffler's offense? Other than the chance that he could possibly be a robot, we don't know much about him and we really don't know what he wants to do in year one post-Logan. Loeffler has said from the very beginning that this will be a wide open race, but doesn't it all depend on what he wants to do schematically? In that regard, let us look at the two QBs I mentioned at the top of the section.

Motley is the athlete. The guy who can stand in the pocket and make a throw, but can also improvise if protection breaks down, an ability that is paramount in today's college football. You don't necessarily need a big time athlete in the backfield, but you can't have a tree standing back there either. Motley can create things offense with his arm (as he did many times on Saturday), but also with his legs, as he's shown multiple times on a new speed option play that Loeffler has thrown into the mix. He's built like a guy that makes a lot of sense to play the position, especially if you want to run spread packages similar to last season

(He also ran a Wing-T offense in high school. I chose not to say it because it's been brought up so many times in recent weeks that if I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase "Wing-T" I could buy the Richmond Times-Dispatch solely to make Mike Barber's byline picture this meme.)

Now Brewer on the other hand is an unproven commodity. I've never seen him play a down of football, and couldn't tell you his playing style if I tried. Let's think about some things though, shall we? He was recruited by many teams with spread offenses around the country because they all thought that he was capable of running their offense. He's smaller, but can still run certain packages designed for him and could theoretically improvise if the need arose. Most interestingly, he has spent the last few years at Texas Tech, a team known for keeping the tempo at 11 at all times. Remember that "sonic" package that Mason talked about?? The fast paced no-huddle that the team ran? Yeah, something tells me that Brewer would have less trouble than others picking that up.

All of this leaves a guy like Mark Leal out in the cold. He has neither the speed or the stature to make anyone fear him physically, he has no advantage over Motley when it comes to learning Loeffler's system and he has the particular disadvantage of being a senior. If the competition is really close in August, would Loeffler really pick Leal, the senior, knowing that he'd have to do this again next spring? I have my doubts.

As for the freshmen, I think both will redshirt. Mason wondered last week whether or not Bucky Hodges' "Wild Turkey" package is really just a placeholder until freshman Chris Durkin comes to town. While I think that's an interesting thought, would a Wildcat package (probably resulting in 0-3 plays a game) really be worth a potential year of eligibility? I say no.

5. Who takes the top off?

We've been asking this question for over a year now. Who is going to take the top off of a defense and create a big play? Say what you will about Marcus Davis, at least the guy provided the potential for a 50-yard bomb any time he was on the field. Last year there were no such threats, and the offense relied on the short passing game. It is essential for the Hokies to find someone, anyone, to provide the potential for a big play. Tech has two very reliable receivers in Josh Stanford and Willie Byrn, but neither of those guys strikes fear into the heart of a safety helping over the top (though I don't think we're remotely finished seeing Stanford develop).

One of the guys that is always brought up in this category is Demitri Knowles. Knowles is a redshirt junior now, and a guy who needs to play up to his own speed. We all know how fast he is, and haven't forgotten the play he made against Georgia Tech two years ago.

We also know that he wasn't ready to be a number one guy last year and was still maddeningly inconsistent throughout the year, directly causing a few of Logan's interceptions. Now a year older, and coming into a season with lowered expectations, will we see the guy who I once said had the ability to be Logan Thomas' version of Andre Davis? (Yeah... I may have jumped the gun on that one a little bit).

The other guy in the speedster conversation is Carlis Parker. Personally, I love what he could bring to the table, but what can we expect from a player who didn't redshirt, yet didn't record a catch all season? Right now, he's more of a wildcard to me than anything, someone who will be in a battle for the fourth receiver slot (with Deon Newsome, Charley Meyer and at least one of the freshmen), but nothing more.

One player that I don't think get's enough credit for his potential to be a deep threat, however, is new tight end Bucky Hodges. I know that everyone has been heaping praise on him ever since he made the move to his new position, but think about what he brings. He's a big body who can also run, and will be matched up constantly with either a linebacker or a safety. Now, think about how some of the more productive NFL teams use their tight ends to get chunk plays up the seam. Why can't Bucky be that guy for the Hokies? You don't always have to use a receiver to stretch the defense, especially not if you have a big bodied target in the middle of the field who has the potential to do it for you.

So here we are, halfway through the spring with more positives than there have been the past few years (especially on one side of the ball). Soon, I'll write about the remaining questions as we head into the last two scrimmages open to the public.

Contact the editor about this post anytime by phone: (703) 646-1931 or mail: 3057 Nutley St Suite 633, Fairfax, Virginia 22031.

Comments

Good write-up!

As far as Marshawn goes, I've never seen a Tech RB with his combination of skills, size, and strength, and I've been watching Tech football since 1967.

TE Bucky Hodges is also a rare blend of size, speed and athleticism - we've never had a Tech TE with those attributes before.

Could be an exciting year!

I also think this is a good write-up. And, man, did you ever call it about trying to Gobble up every little bit of news. Granted I only saw a couple of hudl/youtube videos on Marshawn "Juice" Williams, but no way would I have ever compared his speed to Darren Evans. That burst you talk about was in the highlight film I saw. And I'm beginning to like Searels style as he realizes what a back like Juice can do for the confidence of his linemen. And imagine healthy and more mature Edmunds and McKenzie as further weapons behind that very capable line. This coming season will be interesting and we will be competitive. I'm looking more forward to 2015 and games such as OSU at home.

We shall return!

If Loeffler isn't a robot, I'd imagine he's sleeping better this spring

Have you seen the bags under his eyes in the interviews Andy Bitter has been posting? He looks like a guy who is running on 2-3 hours of sleep. Per week.

Not the bagman VT deserves, but the bagman VT needs right now.

Was it on this board where someone said he looked like an ad for Nodoze (sp)? Got to admire him because apparently he is working hard. Frank will probably set him down soon and remind him of the value of sleep. Go Loeffler. Go Hokies.

We shall return!

(What's the other absolute rule? It's never let Marcus Vick meet your sister, but that's another lesson for another time.)

I laughed

"I promise you I will keep getting back up as long as you keep pushing forward." -Michael Brewer
"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

Barring some sort of horrific injury, Marshawn's going to do some big things here.

KNOCK ON WOOD KNOCK ON WOOD KNOCK ON WOOD

I laughed. Enjoy your turkey leg

Carry Me Back

Thanks!

turkeygif

Now that's dedication. He doesn't stop waving it to take a bite.

"Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."
-Ron Swanson

"If you watch TV news you know less about the world than if you just drank gin straight from the bottle."
-Garrison Keillor

A glass of bourbon in the other hand, and he would fit in perfectly at Lane Stadium

hahaha it's like he suddenly realizes there is a turkey leg waving infront of his face and attacks!

FOSTERS: Australian for defense

1) I like the fact that Scot loeffler is one hard working offensive coordinator. He gives his QB equal chance to succeed. This year, hes earning his checks. Hopefully, the QB he selects this season will produce better statistical results on the field to validate Loefflers hard work.
2) Dadis been seen holding the lunch pail this spring, if he can put 10-20 pounds like Ken, Buds defense will be scary for opposing teams.

How does Marshawn compare to Oxendine, especially Ox when he was younger? (He lost a step as he got older, but he still ran with power. See 156 yards vs. a great Nebraska team in the Orange Bowl)

Knowles could very well have had a big year last year if not for all his drops. There were a couple in the Bama game alone that would have gone for big plays that went through his hands.

"Does it get any better than Thursday Night in Blacksburg?" - Reece Davis
"People who like to brag about how smart they are, are never as smart as they claim." - Colin Cowherd

It seemed like early on last year Knowles could not catch a ball coming in over his shoulder. If he was on a comeback or crossing route and could look the ball in he caught it. It also seemed like his routes were adjusted for this fact as the season went on.

He has, indeed, been a great example of the difference between track speed and football speed. Those terms are usually thrown around when a guy is "sneaky fast," i.e. his actual speed according to the stopwatch is middling but when he plays he seems faster than you expected him to be. Knowles has had the opposite effect: a guy who can run really fast, but who can't translate that foot-speed into effectiveness on the field. It's as if he can either run fast or play well, but he can't do both on the same play.

Yes, Knowles very well could have had a big year if he had been a better receiver.

I was trying to be kind

"Does it get any better than Thursday Night in Blacksburg?" - Reece Davis
"People who like to brag about how smart they are, are never as smart as they claim." - Colin Cowherd

Are any of the incoming freshman receivers a deep ball threat?

Cam Philips is fast, but Kendrick Holland is 6-4. Both could push for time. Bradshaw will probably redshirt.

Isaiah Ford should be one.

Kendrick Holland is my sleeper pick. He has all the makings of a great deep ball receiver.

What do we really know about Scot Loeffler, and more specifically Scot Loeffler's offense? Other than the chance that he could possibly be a robot

this looks familiar

"I like to hit a home run early" ~ Whit "knows how to create a Buzz" Babcock

Re: question #5, I hope she's hot.

@seanhoganvt

Was confused, scrolled up, saw section title, laughed.

Turkey leg for you.

heh

RIP Stick It In

For this, I can only leave you with a quote from Ron White:

Some friends of mine asked me if I wanted to go to a strip club, and I didn't...want to go. But I ended up going, 'causeback me up on this, fellasonce you've seen one woman naked, you...pretty much wanna see the rest of 'em naked. It can be an old biker chick, you know they're gonna hang down to here. "Wanna see my titties!?" "Yeah, I do!" [cringes] "All right, that's enough, roll 'em back up, sweetheart!" [imitates her rolling her breasts back up and sealing them in place.] The things that make you go [shudders]

I think Newsome out of the slot is going to cause some problems for defenses. If we use him like Clemson used Sammy as a freshman, the field should open up real quick. I also think Bucky down the seam is going to be a big threat and will really open things up too. I think our offense might actually be fun to watch this year!

Could Newsome become our punt returner? Not only has Kyshon not been great at it (seems more of a problem of poor blocking) but Ky is really valuable to our secondary.

Marshawn reminds me a lot of watching Montee Ball from Wisconsin.

Rob Peterson
VTCC
Charlie/Hotel Company
Class of 1999

^^^This!!

Pain is Temporary
Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever
Let's Go Hokies!!

I can't wait to see Juice Williams in person. From everything I've been reading, it seems to me you just have to see this guy to fully appreciate his potential. I think we may be in for a fun (but sometimes frustrating) season.

Go Hokies

Oh, he is a big guy. I see him in West End a lot and that head of hair makes him look even bigger!

He and Vinny Mihota get Qdoba all the time in Turner, and they are both just massive human beings.

VT 2016
Go Hokies

Under new NCAA rules, they get unlimited Qdoba... wish we all could.

"And it is caught, it is caught for a touchdown"

Aww man, Qdoba with queso burritos. Unlimited...

#thingsiblamethemvsfor

The Giants are expected to draft Ebron in the 1st Round. I hope Bucky Hodges will be our beastly version of Ebron.

It's all about The VPISU
VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804. Also go Keydets, Army Black Knights, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and ATL Braves.

Williams looks like a Mack Truck on the football field

I'm no French when it comes to offensive line review

Just kidding, none of us are...

confesses their doubt in front of the Altar of Bud, praying that he doesn't rip the heart out of their chest

Foster has never put a bad unit on the field.

Bud forgives you:

the more productive NFL teams use their tight ends to get chunk plays up the seam. Why can't Bucky be that guy for the Hokies?

Of course it will happen...

Pain is Temporary
Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever
Let's Go Hokies!!

(What's the other absolute rule? It's never let Marcus Vick meet your sister, but that's another lesson for another time.)

My little sister is 19, which means she is about 5 years too old for Marcus' taste. Whew, should be good...