Spring football, much like the season itself, is a time of renewal. We're eager to learn more about the new group of Hokies and how they can contribute and star in the program moving forward. At the same time, perhaps we overlook players who have been in the program for an extended period of time. Case in point is the Whip position. The Whip has been utilized so little since the Boise State game that many consider the nickel defense the "base" set for Virginia Tech.
Marshawn Williams enrolled in January with the intention of getting early playing time this year, and it looks like he's making the most of his reps.
In a recent post, VTGuitarMan asked "What defines a nose tackle? In my naive view, I always equated NT with the middle guy in a 3-man front, lined up over center. I'm guessing that's not true, or otherwise Foster's scheme modifies that terminology." As always, I am more than happy to oblige with an answer.
First, it is important to understand the difference between the name of the position and technique. The Hokies have four defensive line positions in their system.
When Scot Loeffler was hired it was understood by all that he was going to bring smash mouth football back to Blacksburg. Loeffler was going to focus on running the ball in between the tackles, something Frank Beamer teams were supposed to do. After all, Loeffler and his offensive line coach Jeff Grimes had had an offense at Auburn that had success running the ball from pro-style formations. Surely they would be able to duplicate those results here at Virginia Tech!
We all know how that story ended. The offense never did have any success running the ball despite the coaching staff's best intentions. Even when the team did run the ball well it did so out of spread formations, reading unblocked defenders instead of running them over. Is this the new schematic normal in Blacksburg?
I caught up with Lawrence Central (Indianapolis, Indiana) defensive tackle Eric Whitehead about his recruitment. The 6-1.5, 295 pound 2015 cycle prospect visited Virginia Tech for the first time on Saturday and went home with a scholarship offer. How did Eric feel about the offer? "I was speechless. I didn't know what to say."
According to the latest interview with Bud Foster on Hokiesports.com, Vince Mihota will get reps inside to back up Luther Maddy as the No. 2, three-technique defensive tackle.
"We're also going to probably look at Vinny Mihota some inside," Foster said in the interview while discussing depth along the defensive line.
Foster's initial stream of consciousness suggested that this is a short term move, necessitated by "class conflicts" with guys who may miss some practice time (I am guessing that would be Wade Hansen). He also said it gives the Hokie defensive staff an opportunity to get Mihota more reps and time on the field for evaluation.
Interestingly though, Foster finished the thought with, "He's going to grow into that [defensive tackle] position when it's all said and done."
The glass half full take is Donovan Riley, Chuck Clark, and Der'Woun Greene will get more much needed reps.
The glass half empty take is NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Seriously though, like with Kyshoen Jarrett, it's best to err on the side of caution. The secondary will be the strength of the defense, and Facyson's ball hawking game is an enormous asset fore that unit.
After reading and digesting what the coaches and players had to say, this is what stood out to me.
Last year's troubles with the kicking game are well documented, so it's no surprise identifying a reliable field goal kicker is a priority. "We went through several there last year and didn't make enough of them, so we're going to really put a lot of emphasis on that particular area," Frank Beamer said on a teleconference.
It seems as if the special teams guru has introduced a new practice technique to develop consistency under pressure this spring.
Usually each weekday morning Leesburg, Virginia resident Nick Johns travels about an hour-and-fifteen minutes to Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC. "It's a tough commute, but you get used to it."
Yesterday However, the 2015 quarterback took a trip to Blacksburg, his first since visiting for the Maryland game last season. Nick told me he has scholarship offers from Maryland, Virginia, and N.C. State, but Virginia Tech has not offered as of yet.
"I'm still waiting [on an offer from Tech], I was kind of expecting one today.
"Coach Loeffler came to watch me throw about a month ago, Coach Loeffler and Coach Moorehead. He said he was impressed. He wanted to get me down to school, and he wanted to pick my brain apart and see what I knew, see what I need to work on, and see how I had been coached up these past 3 years. I thought I impressed him a lot, our relationship is going to continue, and hopefully I pick one up soon."
Here we go folks. Spring football kicks off today with a 4:30-6:30 PM practice. There's an air of excitement around the Hokies. The hires of Whit Babcock and Buzz Williams have energized a fan base that has been in a state of malaise due to the perception that Virginia Tech athletics were stagnant. With additional resources being devoted to recruiting staff, and a gorgeous, state of the art indoor practice facility on the way, the only thing that could derail forward momentum would be a mediocre football season.
To the casual observer, a blah year is certainly a possibility. The Hokies have major question marks at quarterback, running back, defensive line, and linebacker. While the candidates to fill those positions are talented, none have game experience.
Yesterday, Hokiesports.com released the initial spring football depth chart. There were few surprises. However, the depth chart hints at story lines to watch this spring.
Like last recruiting cycle, there's elite defensive line talent in the Commonwealth of Virginia for 2015. Six-foot-three, 295-pound, Thomas Dale defensive tackle, tight end, and right tackle Darvin Taylor is a blue chip prospect that the Hokies are trying to land to bolster the interior of their defensive line. As of right now, Darvin has 19 scholarship offers and according to his father, Darvin L. Taylor, he's visited nine different colleges over the past year-and-a-half, including visiting Tech 3 or 4 times. Darvin and his family plan on visiting Tennessee, Clemson, and Virginia Tech this spring/summer before he commits.
Darvin told me last Friday he'll chose to play in a, "Place that kind of feels like home ... a place that I could see myself living for four to five years."
Additionally he's looking to play for a position coach that's, "More like a father figure, not like a friend." Someone he can trust.
By now everyone has been energized by the buzz emanating from the rebooted athletic department. OK, almost everyone has.
The following quote was part of Whit Babcock's opening statement from his press conference last Monday.
"We are prepared, within reason, to invest for a favorable return. Sometimes you have to spend to acquire talent in this profession and we're prepared to do so if it's the right person and right fit. We won't spend frivolously, but we must be aggressive if this opportunity presents itself."
It's evident he's a man of his word.
Wait, is that too casual? Mr. Williams? Coach? Dad? I'll call you whatever you prefer to go by, as long as you promise to actually show up and coach the Virginia Tech basketball team.
Forgive me if I sound a little skeptical, it's just that four days ago I was drafting a column that detailed realistic candidates for the men's basketball vacancy (a list that you were not a part of), and you took the job a day later. Did you kill a piece chock full of jokes about Mick Cronin's Napoleon Complex? Yes, but let's not get off on the wrong foot. I'm not mad that I had to scratch the column, it just still doesn't seem real that you actually agreed to coach the Hokies.
Even though Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards were only full time starters for two seasons, their dependable play week in, and week out, made me feel like they were in the lineup forever. As spring practice kicks off, Bud Foster finds himself with perhaps the most inexperienced group of linebackers he's had since Barquell Rivers and Jake Johnson started against Alabama in 2009. Tyler and Edwards set a high standard for preparation, communication, and execution which are all paramount for a system in which every player must defend their appropriate gap or watch the ball carrier go off to the races. Chase Williams, Deon Clarke, Andrew Motuapuaka, and Dahman McKinnon are each talented players, but they have big shoes to fill behind a defensive line that only returns one starter.
Whit Babcock announced the hiring of Buzz Williams on HokieSports.com. There will be a press conference on Monday, March 24 at 6:00 PM on the floor of Cassell Coliseum. It will be open to the public and is free. That's brilliant marketing.
ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman is reporting it's a seven-year deal is worth almost $18 million.
In his press conference earlier this week, Whit said it might take a week, or until the Final Four to hire a new coach. He also cautioned against believing media reports. However, Pat Forde is a reliable reporter.
Y! Sources: Buzz Williams poised to become next coach at Virginia Tech— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 21, 2014
Yesterday, I watched new Athletic Director Whit Babcock win his 40-ish minute press conference on the future of the men's basketball program. That's the last time I'll prefix "new" to his title, even though his appointment as AD began on March 1st. After firing James Johnson, Whit's sleeves are already rolled as he searches for Virginia Tech's next basketball coach.
Even though he was engaging with the media, it felt as if he was speaking directly to the fans. Without divulging specifics and compromising the search, Whit did an excellent job of outlining the process, expectations, and possible outcomes. If you're considering investing in the program, i.e. donating to the Hokie Club, his candidness, forthrightness, and transparency has to make you feel better about stroking a check. The honesty from up top during this period of transition is refreshing.
The CliffsNotes are as follows:
Despite winter's last ditch attempt to keep its bitter grip on the weather, spring football is just around the corner. Virginia Tech begins spring practice on March 27th, with the practice sessions culminating with the Maroon–White Game at 2:00 PM on Saturday, April 26th. In the weeks leading up to the game, I will take a short break from the Class of 2014 First Look series to preview position battles critical for any potential return to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game. A successful season requires continued improvement on the offensive line. Coach Jeff Grimes left Blacksburg for LSU in the offseason, and Coach Stacy Searels has been hired build on the solid foundation that Grimes put in place.