When the news of Braxton Miller's injury became official, many Virginia Tech fans exhaled a short sigh of relief. It's an unfortunate injury for a talented player. With Miller sidelined not only will Tech have one less Buckeye weapon to stop, but projected quarterback J.T. Barrett will only have one game of experience, his first start, before facing a defense designed to obliterate quarterbacks.
While the optimism is understandable, there is one thing that I personally want to say: settle down. A lot of things need to happen between now and September 6th for Tech to come out of Columbus with a victory, one of the biggest being the ability to move the football. After today's media session, it seems like the offense is taking a step in the right direction.
There were three big takeaways from today:
1. The Wild Turkey package sounds like it could actually be a thing.
Today was the first time I've seen freshman quarterback Chris Durkin in person, and the initial observation is that he's a big dude. I know that when you hear the words "big dude" right next to "Hokie quarterback" you probably think Logan Thomas. While I understand that's where your mind probably takes you, it's not the same at all.
The best way I can describe Durkin is that if I had to choose a guy to run through a 20-foot block of ice, it would be him. He's thick and looks like he's just ready to destroy someone at a moment's notice.
While it's pretty obvious that Durkin won't play quarterback this year, getting on the field isn't out of the question. The Wild Turkey is something that has come up a lot during offensive interviews, and his name has been thrown around a lot.
"That was kind of the offense that we ran in high school, was a lot of wildcat stuff, and a lot of passing off that Wildcat package. So I think coming in here, doing it for four years in high school, I feel comfortable doing the Wildcat package here," Durkin said. "Coach Loeffler knows what he wants to do with that, knows the guys he wants to put in there. We've got faith in him that he's going to do that right thing when it comes to that."
Like most things on this offense, however, it doesn't sound like much has been decided about who will be in the package this season.
"I don't know, it's all up to coach. It's a battle at the wildcat position, at the quarterback position, and you know we're all just grinding it out every single day to see who can get that spot."
Durkin said that three guys have been working out of the that role in practice, and they are him, Bucky Hodges and Brenden Motley.
That's a little surprising because Motley hasn't been a name that has surfaced much in the Wild Turkey discussion. Scot Loeffler didn't have much to say about the formation today, but hearing Motley's name thrown out there did make me think of something that Loeffler said on Saturday after the scrimmage.
"It's [Motley's injury] is disappointing. You know, we're 10 or 11 days into this deal and being out so long...Mot's going to have a role and Mot's going to be...he's so much improved too.
"We're going to work with him and try to bring him along as fast as we possibly can. But being out for so long, it's just a really unfortunate situation for him, something that's completely out of his control."
I know a lot of that is simply feeling badly for a guy that gets hurt, but if Loeffler and Frank Beamer have basically admitted that Motley isn't in the running for the starting job, what role is he going to have? Now he could just mean a role as a valuable backup, but maybe it could be as Wild Turkey quarterback?
I wouldn't be shocked if that was the case.
2. Whether or not Trey Edmunds is as healthy as he says he is, the running backs will be much deeper than last season.
While much of the focus has been on the freshman backs, arguably the most important question is whether or not Edmunds is back all the way from that gruesome broken leg that he suffered against Virginia last November. Frank Beamer insinuated on Tech Talk Live that Edmunds wasn't quite back from the injury yet, so Trey was asked, is he still a little gimpy?
"At times. If I had to say as a whole, I'd say I'm more on the back ready side than I am not being ready," Edmunds said. "I guess at times it is a little gimpy, as he said, but I feel like I'm ready and I'm ready to go."
One would wonder then, how taking some hits against Tech's defense in practice would go. On that note, Trey thinks it's going pretty well.
"Oh most definitely. Going against our defense you're going to take hits, you're going to take lots of hits. So you know it was definitely good, I was happy to get out to the line of scrimmage and just get hit and get back up, get hit and get back up again. It definitely was a feeling of comfort."
Now for the part that will make everyone wring their hands. When asked about the running back rotation and what he planned to do with his guys, Shane Beamer let everyone know that the process was still ongoing, but that he's prepared to have a lot of guys available for carries.
"You could conceivably dress six. We'll make some decisions on those guys. I know as soon as I say that, all of our fans will melt down the message boards about the fact that we're playing six tailbacks. That may be the case, may not be the case. Each guy kind of has a unique skill set and there's ways, if we do play Travon [McMillian], that we want to get him the ball. There's ways if Shai plays, we want to get him the ball.
"And I think we've got to go into each game and figure out what each guy does well and things like that. So we're not going to come out of the William and Mary game or come out of the Ohio State game and say 'only these two guys have played, and they have played every snap of the game'. I'm sorry, but we're going to get other guys in the game. Some guys are better on third down. Some guys are better at running pass routes than other guys, some guys you trust more in protection than other guys. So we want to do what each guy does well.
"But yes, I know the big question. We're going to have it narrowed down as to who our primary ball carriers are. But there's other guys that we want to get involved in different ways as well, as we go week to week."
That may not be exactly what most of you want to hear, but think about it this way: last year, there were times that both Edmunds and J.C. Coleman were dinged up and there was a big dropoff between those two and the next group of players. This year, Tech's going into the season with two backs (Edmunds and McKenzie) coming off major injuries and another (Marshawn Williams) coming off surgery that he had in late July. If the running game is really going to improve they're going to need, you know, healthy running backs.
3. It seems like Travon McMillian will be a factor.
McMillian said that there were three main guys who are in the mix for kick return duties, with him, J.C. Coleman and Deon Newsome, and it seems like McMillian's speed could be very versatile for the team.
"I think the transition to running back is going to help the team," McMillian said. "Using my speed to get across the edge and everything, it's going pretty well.
"They're going to also line me up at receiver, get mismatches and things like that."
Both Loeffler and Shane Beamer have seen the versatility, and hinted that there could be some playing time in his immediate future.
"We'll see where that goes. He's got explosion, he's got speed," Loeffler said. "If he plays on special teams, which I know he will, we'll obviously have a role for him on offense so we're not wasting a year."
Beamer was a little more even, giving the freshman praise, but still not promising contribution this year.
"He has a unique skill set on offense and does a lot of things really well.
"He's got a knack for making people miss, and he's good in space. Can he help us on special teams? That's what we're trying to find out. You know, if he's going to play four plays a game on offense to try to get him in space, but he's not helping us on special teams, we're not going to play him. He needs to show that he can help us on special teams and that he can continue to come along and help us on offense. He's another one that that Friday scrimmage will be big for, and let's see where he is."
Two slightly differing takes, but if you read between the lines it seems like McMillian is going to be a contributor for Tech this season.
A few other notes:
It sounds like Stacy Searels is pretty comfortable with 4/5ths of his line, with Laurence Gibson at left tackle, Caleb Farris at center, Augie Conte at right guard and Jonathan McLaughlin at right tackle. Searles said that David Wang, Wyatt Teller and Alston Smith are all vying to start at left guard.
The big news last Friday was that Mark Shuman would be retiring from football after tearing his meniscus. Who will step in an replace him as the swing tackle is a big question now, but Searles spoke highly of a few guys, converted defensive tackle Wade Hansen in particular.
"I'm really pleased with Wade, He's a natural competition, which you like that first of all. And he has good feet, he's got good hands. When he's not thinking, he's a lot better as a player. He's trying to grasp our offense, on the first day you just throw him out there and say 'block that guy' and he naturally does it, then I start coaching him up and it goes to crap [laughs]. I just told him 'do what you can naturally do,' but the kid's going to be a good player, he's a competitor."
On Saturday it sounded like the offense was able to hit a few long runs, so I asked Searles what he saw from his line during the scrimmage.
"Saturday I was excited about it. We did some things, of course it's a live situation, but we did some things that we hadn't been able to accomplish through camp or even the spring. I think the backs were running extremely hard, and the harder they run, the more confidence our guys get up front. It all sort of feeds off each other, and I think that's what they did in that scrimmage."
If anything, that sounds like a positive development.