Position Battles Take Center Stage As Hokies Camp Opens

Coach Frank Beamer spoke to the media after Virginia Tech's first practice of August.


The 2014 edition of the Virginia Tech football team is a lot like the indoor practice facility being built in the shadow of Lane Stadium — it's still very much under construction.

As workers diligently laid the foundation for the new building that will cover nearly half of the Hokies' practice field, the coaching staff opened fall training camp yesterday with an eye on sorting out several key positions.

The construction forced the team to alter their practice routine slightly, moving into Lane Stadium for the second half of the session for some much needed breathing room, but head coach Frank Beamer is trying to look at the positives of the change.

"It's difficult, but it's worth it to get this indoor facility built," Beamer said. "Once we get that done, I told our donors I'm not going to ask them for another dime, we've got everything we need here."

That last comment came with a wink and a smile from Beamer, but the coach is taking the prospect of adding a slick new facility seriously.

"There's not many places where you can sit in my window and see every facility that you've got," Beamer said. "The stadium, the lounge over here, the dressing room, it's really neat. There's not many places like this."

But when the staff stepped on what limited field space they have, they were confronted by a variety of vexing position battles.

The one on everyone's mind was, of course, the competition at quarterback, expected to mainly feature Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and spring starter Brenden Motley.

"I thought Michael Brewer handled himself well for a first practice at Virginia Tech. He had a couple throws he might want to get back," Beamer said. "Motley I thought was very consistent out there."

The staff also gave Mark Leal, Andrew Ford and incoming freshmen Chris Durkin and Travon McMillian some reps at the position, but Beamer expects them to whittle down the rotation as soon as possible.

"(Offensive coordinator) Scot (Loeffler) and I both have said we need to make our decisions pretty quickly and get moving and I think we will," he said.

The Hokies also have a plethora of options at running back to sort through. Although the program will be losing Chris Mangus, Beamer is still trying to find the right balance between likely starter Trey Edmunds, veterans J.C. Coleman and Joel Caleb and freshmen Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie.

McKenzie earned the first mention from Beamer, and his recovery from ACL surgery last fall seems to be going well.

"I was impressed with McKenzie, it was the first time I've seen him on completely (healthy) knee," he said. "He made a cut there in practice one time, just very natural."

Williams is another name that seems to be on the tips of fans' tongues after a big spring practice, followed by some confusion over his readiness for the season.

Beamer said at ACC Media Days that Williams' weight was a concern this summer and Williams recently tweeted that he's weighing in at about 229 pounds these days.

However, the coach wants to see him a little bit slimmer.

"We're going to shoot for 225," Beamer said. "He's gotten down a couple pounds since we talked, but we've got him a goal to get to."

There was more confusion over a media release that said he'd be out for 3-6 weeks after undergoing hernia surgery on July 25, but Williams denied that on Twitter.

Beamer downplayed the injury, but certainly still reacted as if Williams would be missing some time.

"Marshawn, we're going to get him back before too long," he said.

It's an odd situation, to be sure, and certainly one to keep an eye on given Williams' potential importance to the RB rotation.

Another battle to watch is the one brewing on the offensive line.

The team's new depth chart lists Laurence Gibson as the starter at left tackle, after he spent last season on the right side. Meanwhile, Mark Shuman is the starter at right tackle, with former blind side starter Jonathan McLaughlan behind him.

"I think Gibson is an athletic guy that can protect the backside," Beamer said.

But fans shouldn't take this new alignment as gospel quite yet.

"McLaughlin, we can challenge him a little bit and make sure he knows it's always a battle," he said. "I think competition will get that crowd better."

So it would seem the new order is mainly aimed at providing a little motivation for McLaughlin, as well as giving the team a chance to work in three different tackles at times.

"Gibson should be a little bit ahead there, but McLaughlin or whoever the third tackle is can probably go back and forth a little bit," Beamer said. "But it's early, so we need to figure out who's who."

And, true to form, Beamer is also keeping an eye on the kicking situation.

"I like our new kickers," he said. "Joey Slye, he's a good kicker and a really good kickoff guy.
(Michael) Santamaria was very good, (Carson) Wise was very good. Three new guys that were impressive for the first day."

He's been talking about the prospects of the new players at the position for some time now, but he also allowed that some returning players could get in the mix as well.

"A couple of the guys that have been here really seemed much better today, better than when they left in the spring, so that's going to be an interesting competition," he said.

There are 25 days left until the season opener for the Hokies to make some decisions and resolve some of these position questions. Fans will have to hope that the building process goes as well in the next few weeks as it did yesterday.

"The practice we had today I thought was really, really good. I really thought we had great energy out there," Beamer said. "I thought we got a lot accomplished, probably as much as any first day practice as we've had around here."


Personally, I'm really rooting for Slye in the kicking game for no other reason than because he's from my alma mater and I want him to earn a scholarship after all he and his family have been through. The guy lost his brother after a year and a half battle with Lukemia this past Spring. He has my support.

Here's a leg for a fellow Stafford County schools grad!


Everyone seems to overlook DJ Reid when talking about the tailbacks. 247 had him as a 4 star recruit and from his high school film, he looks to have a good combination of speed, power and vision. Why is everyone so down on him?

I don't think it's a matter of being down on him but rather higher on what people have seen. Shai and DJ aren't out of this yet by far. You'd have to think that one or more of the Reid, Shai, Williams group will RS though.

"We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior" Stephen M.R. Covey

“When life knocks you down plan to land on your back, because if you can look up, you can get up, if you fall flat on your face it can kill your spirit” David Wilson

Maybe not "down on" but he is certainly overlooked. Most articles/posts about the backs talk about Shai, but don't even mention DJ. It's just surprising for a guy that was a pretty bit get two years ago.

It's just surprising for a guy that was a pretty bit get two years ago.

Joel Caleb welcomes him to his world.

Fanbase has just forgotten about DJ Reid, not because of DJ Reid, but because of Shai looking good on the knee, Marshawn's spring, and Trey is now back.

This fanbase is so hungry for a couple of stud tb's that if DJ gets it done, he will be on everyone's mind.

Tweedy can run like a dadgum antelope or whatever. I like to use scalded dog. Do antelopes lumber? Cheetah, OK. He runs like a cheetah. He's fast. - Bud Foster

This is huge!!! I mean if 1 tailback was to get it completely this year then praise Hokie Gods! Trey looked like he was seeing things from the Miami game on and it looked great. Sadly the injury happened and we will see how it goes, but we finally have #ALLofTHERB'S and we need 1 to be the workhorse and then we can use the other two as change of pace or bruisers. I am interested to see what JC does.. Every year he seems to get a little better but not 100% healthy. Hopefully this is the year and he can provide some good yards

"I'm high on Juice and ready to stick it in!" Whit Babcock

I honestly don't care who emerges as the best RB. Once we find him, I'm not too worried about what happens to the guys who didn't step up. Sure, I hope they practice and get better, but the stars and recruiting hype go out the window if you can't fight your way to a starting spot.

DJ is going to be a monster, but that position is so crowded right now, either him or Shai are bound to RS. We may have a very bright future at that position

"Go Hokies!" - Thomas Jefferson

I am not. I think he is more of an unknown quantity and we have much more film and information on Williams and McKenzie.

McKenzie is the guy who could break out, especially with Williams not being healthy. IF his knee is right, he could be spectacular. Western PA HSFB is pretty dang good and nobody was laying a finger on him.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

DJ and Shai are both going to be great RBs here at Tech. Personally I think Shai has the highest ceiling out of any back on our roster right now. I love his vision and most of all his patience as a runner. As a high school player he would wait for his blocks to develop, put his foot in the ground and explode up the field. He didn't just rely on his speed and athleticism to run by and around people as many high school backs do. He used his blockers better than most high school RB's tapes that I have seen. The cuts that he makes are so fluid and natural to him that it's scary. Plus he has a nasty stiff arm. I hope he returns to be that back that he was pre-ACL tear. None of this is to take away from DJ or Marshawn, both are outstanding football players. I just think this is all more of a testament to Shai's talent as a runner.

"These people are losing their minds" - Mike Patrick

I disagree, while I think Shai will be fantastic I believe Marshawn is going to be our best back, once he gets his weight under control.

Some people spend their entire life wondering if they made a difference, Marines don't have that problem

On the topic of new players. I may have missed he posts earlier in the off season and was wondering where is the 4th OL guy we signed (with Petit, Gallo and Mitchell) and the TE Burke. Prep? Grayshirt?

Hey Wiley. Smith and Burke are going to FUMA I believe.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Thanks was just wondering while looking at the Roster.

I imagine there's a ton of this during the construction

True Hokies STICK IT IN!!!

STICK IT IN Army of Virginia Tech


"Real Hokies chop with axes. Chainsaws are for Hoos."
-- Aaron Moorehead

EDIT: I concede the points below.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

We don't love dem Hoos.

I was going to upvote this for the first sentence, but there's something wrong with the second sentence. Nail clippers are for Hoos. Chainsaws are much too manly.

"Our job as coaches is to influence young people's lives for the better in terms of fundamental skills, work ethic, and doing the right thing. Every now and again, a player actually has that effect on the coaching staff." Justin Fuente on Sam Rogers

Shouldn't it be - 'Scissors are for hoos'? Preferably the blunt tipped ones, in case they fall off their ponies. Again.

Second that

I think you slightly misheard:

"Real Hokies chop with axes. Chainsaws Cheese knives are for Hoos."

Hoos hire a tree guy.

...and then sit on the porch with a spritzer and complain about the noise.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

But but Virginia Tech and technology...and engineering...and chainsaw technology engineering...

True Hokies STICK IT IN!!!

STICK IT IN Army of Virginia Tech


Like the new practice facility, when the Hokies football team is done constructing, it will be elite.

Good stuff, excited to see how these position battles take shape.

Touchdown Tech - Bill Roth

I think people are overlooking the battle at LB. Right now we have Clarke and Williams as the starters but from everything that I read/saw in the spring, it looks to me like both of them could easily lose their spots. I know McKinnon has been right on the heels of Clarke ever since the start of spring practice. I really like their athleticism at the position and Clarke seems to be a playmaker. But with his history of off the field issues I'm worried if he is the leader that we need at that spot. It's a very important role in Bud's scheme as he and Williams will be making all of the pre-snap calls on the field. Either way I think that position battle shouldn't be overlooked. While on the subject of LB's, RVD has had an injury riddled career so we should also be keeping an eye on our depth at Whip and what subpackages(Nickel) we may be forced to use should he get injured again.

"These people are losing their minds" - Mike Patrick

Just look on the bright side, lots of big and fast LB's will make for solid group of special teams players

"Go Hokies!" - Thomas Jefferson

Gonna disagree with you a little here on that.

This spring, the coaches (Bud in particular) could not shut up about how good Clarke can be. In my mind, they see McKinnon as an athletic guy with potential down the line, but I very much got the impression that Clarke separated himself in a big way once the spring started, with McKinnon falling out of the competition very early. They also repeatedly stressed that the off the field stuff isn't an issue any more after he and Marshall personally apologized to Beamer, and I believe them.

As for Williams, his hold on the spot is probably more tenuous in terms of ability (as French has long contended) but in the spring they were also very adamant he'd get the starting spot, and they gave him the lion's share of the reps. Part of that is likely due to Motuapuaka being nicked up, but regardless, Williams seems an excellent bet to start on August 30.

While it might not surprise me to see Williams lose some playing time once the year gets started if he slips a little, I don't think this is a real battle any more. Barring some injuries, Clarke and Williams are your starters against the Tribe.

"He'll get after ya"- Frank Beamer, repeatedly.

I think "injury-riddled" might be overstating it a little bit for RVD. He looked great in 2012 before his shoulder injury cost him 2013. So long as that shoulder has healed up properly in the past year, I think he'll be good to go.