The Hokies are riding high after closing out the first month of the season with a 3-1 record, and while Justin Fuente will have plenty of time to talk X's and O's during the bye week, the break is also giving him a chance to take a breath and address more weighty subjects.
Namely, Fuente finally got a chance to answer the question posed to just about every other coach in the country at this point: how would he feel if one of his athletes followed Colin Kaepernick's lead and took a knee during the national anthem?
To hear him tell it, it's a subject he's considered pretty carefully over the last few weeks.
"I have a lot of thoughts on a lot of different topics, first of all," Fuente said. "That's what I'd tell ya. I'm not always gonna share with all of you all and I hope you respect that because there's a lot that comes with standing up and voicing your opinion. Doesn't mean I don't have one. Whether it's the national anthem or some other cause, whatever it is, I would hope that our kids would want to come to me and talk about those things and figure out a way to genuinely help whatever cause it is that they feel strongly about.
"Give us the opportunity to discuss how it is that they can help that cause. Knowing that I'm gonna support them in their stance and what they truly believe in, but also, let's find a way to help that cause that maybe can help our football, or not cause huge distractions for our football team. (That) is the way I would hope that that got handled if it ever came up for us."
But Fuente stressed there are plenty of football-related issues for the team to address as they head into their last "get better" practices of the season.
In particular, Fuente is hoping to tighten things up in the passing game. Jerod Evans has put together a pair of superb performances the last two weeks, yet Fuente is hoping to use the bye to refine his touch on deep balls a bit.
"You bet (it's gonna be a focus)," Fuente said. "Well, that and a lot of other things...We have a pretty specific thing we ask them to do when throwing the ball down the field at quarterback, in terms of giving our guys a chance to catch the ball. We didn't do that on a couple of them which was kind of disappointing."
Perhaps one way to help Evans with that consistency of downfield accuracy is having more options in the receiving game. Wide receiver is a position that Fuente, admittedly, still isn't very comfortable with.
"We're still working on it every single day," Fuente said. "Kids are working hard, I'm not displeased with them. I think they know it and I think they're working to try and improve. They're just really, really young. They're just freshmen. But no, it's not a source of comfort."
As one of the more experienced members of the receiving corps, Cam Phillips is hoping to use that seniority to try and help move the younger guys along.
"I think all the guys have played well," Phillips said. "Those guys have done a great job in practice, all the way back to spring ball and fall camp. When they get out on the field, they make their reps count...If they have any questions, they come to me, Isaiah (Ford), or even Bucky (Hodges). We're all a family so we try to help each other."
But without consistent offensive line play, the receivers will be the least of the offense's worries. On that front, Fuente is hoping to use the week off to really hone in on the battle at center between Eric Gallo and Kyle Chung.
"It's still a work in progress for us, in terms of kind of ironing out the two-deep there at center," Fuente said. "That's part of this week's work. Continuing to evaluate and develop our thoughts and feelings about how we should be handling that situation."
Yet the Hokies can only look inward for so long — a road matchup against fellow Coastal contender UNC beckons for the Hokies after the bye.
"Both sides of the ball, we'll take an in-depth look statistically, in terms of alignments and who's in the game and tendency-oriented, that sort of thing to get a kind of handle on that," Fuente said. "We'll get a little leg-up on game plan in terms of North Carolina still (having) a game on Saturday, we'll add that to our breakdown. But we'll go ahead and move forward to breaking ourselves down and getting to North Carolina."
"Before I start, I do want to say something about DeAngelo Hall. Just (wanted) to let him know that our thoughts are with him. He's obviously been a fantastic ambassador for Virginia Tech. Great, great player and great personality. Had a chance to meet him earlier in the year. Such a nice man. Our hearts and thoughts go out with him as he is gonna recover from an injury. Also do wanna say something about last week's game. Just really proud of the team effort. I thought it was indicative of what we're trying to preach. The crowd was fantastic. Just a great example of Virginia Tech football or what our vision for what it is and what it can be. In terms of the crowd, playing a huge role, I love the fact that people show up for games here in order to be active participants in the game. I thought they were fantastic. We made big plays across the board on defense, on special teams, on offense, it was a lot of fun to play and a lot of fun to watch the film. Obviously we have a big challenge coming up, obviously a bye week this week, then we have North Carolina in North Carolina. Back in conference (play). It will be a tremendous challenge. They've got very, very good players, good coaches. We're looking forward to getting back on the field this week. Tuesday and Wednesday will be what we term "get better" practices, which are kind of the last two practices we can have like that in the season until the season's over. Really focused on development, young player reps, scheme — look at a couple of things scheme-wise — have some good-on-good work. After those two practices, we'll turn our attention to more of (a) game-prep mindset and then be ready to roll for game-week. We have a lot of work to do, a lot of things we can get better at in all phases of the game. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can improve on Tuesday and Wednesday."
ON IF THERE WILL BE ANY EXTRA TIME OFF THIS WEEK:
"We didn't practice yesterday. We're not practicing today. We won't practice on Friday or Saturday. The short answer is yes. (But) we're gonna get quite a bit of good work in."
ON IF HE LIKES WHERE THE BYE WEEK FALLS THIS YEAR:
"I like it. (It) provides us a nice break, right now, to kind of take stock of where we're at, both schematically and personnel-wise. Gives our guys a chance to heal up, kind of for the long haul. We've got a pretty significant stretch that we're staring at with two Thursday games and quite a few games on the road here coming up. I think it falls at a good time for us to take stock in where we're at. Get a good evaluation of some things personnel-wise and scheme-wise."
ON IF HE WAS TELLING JEROD EVANS TO GET DOWN ON THE TOUCHDOWN RUN:
"His ankle is fine. I did not yell for him to get down, I yelled for him to protect the football. I was good with him running it, I just didn't like the way the ball was kind of flopping all over the place."
ON HOW COMFORTABLE HE IS WITH THE TEAM AFTER THE FIRST MONTH:
"That's an interesting way to put it. I feel like we've played well the last couple of weeks. I don't believe that previous performance is an indication of future performance. I don't believe in momentum from week to week. I believe in 12 one-game seasons. But I also do believe that there is something else there that does carry over from week to week in terms of confidence and belief in what we're doing, understanding the process, those sorts of things. I do think there's another level we can get to, but I do think that we have made some progress in those terms. Guys are feeling better about what we're asking them to do."
ON IF HE'S NOTICED ANY ISSUES WITH EVANS ON DOWNFIELD THROWS:
"You bet (it's gonna be a focus). Well that and a lot of other things. We've got a lot of things to work at. We're gonna put him in some situations that you've gotta work on that maybe haven't come up yet. Third down situations, that sort of stuff that we'll put in this week to continue to try to improve his development. We have a pretty specific thing we ask them to do when throwing the ball down the field at quarterback, in terms of giving our guys a chance to catch the ball. We didn't do that on a couple of them which was kind of disappointing."
ON IF HE'S COMFORTABLE WITH THE WIDE RECEIVER DEPTH:
"No. We're still working on it every single day. No, I'm not comfortable with it at all. Kids are working hard, I'm not displeased with them. I think they know it and I think they're working to try and improve. They're just really, really young. They're just freshmen. But no, it's not a source of comfort."
ON IF HE'S NOTICED IF GREG STROMAN APPROACHES RETURNS DIFFERENTLY THIS YEAR:
"No, not really. He's just (a) trustable, dependable person. We've trust him since we've been here. I haven't really seen anything different. If you look back at the return, I think that, Greg did a great job, but the other 10 people on the field did a heck of a job, too. There was nobody within a long ways of him. He had plenty of room in there, which is great. It's what the whole unit should take pride in, in those things. But I haven't seen anything really different."
ON IF THERE'S A DIFFERENT APPROACH FOR ROAD GAMES:
"This will be our first 'true' road game. The Bristol game was obviously a different situation. It is a little bit different. When you go on the road, you're minimalist. You just bring what you need in order to get the job done. In my opinion, at times in my career, I have seen seen that galvanize or focus the team. Gives a chance to just bring the people you know are gonna participate in the game, obviously we have travel restrictions for the ACC and that sort of thing. There's not a lot of extra when you go on the road and you're going into someone else's place. You also don't have ticket requests and a lot of other things to worry about that you can do at home. I'm not suggesting that I would rather play on the road than play in Lane Stadium. I'm just saying there's kind of another dynamic there that I think can work to help focus the team."
ON HIS THOUGHTS ON KEN EKANEM'S SEASON SO FAR:
"Ken's been fantastic. That's great for him (to be named ACC defensive linemen of the week), it's a well deserved award. Ken is a very good leader, very competitive, good worker, highly intelligent football player that I'm glad to see get recognized for his hard work. I've been really pleased with really our entire defensive front and how they've played and attacked the games. Coach (Charley) Wiles and the job he's done getting those guys rockin' n rollin', they've done a good job."
ON IF HE CAN RECALL BEING ON THE FIELD FOR A NATIONAL ANTHEM IN HIS CAREER:
"No. I remember the anthem in Bristol because they had it on the TV in the locker room. But I can't remember, I'm not saying I never have been, I just can't remember a scenario when a football team, whether ours at TCU or at Memphis or in my short time here, where we have been on the field for that. It may have happened at some time, but I can not recall."
ON HIS FEELINGS IF A PLAYER WANTED TO TAKE A KNEE:
"You had to go there didn't ya? I have a lot of thoughts on a lot of different topics, first of all. That's what I'd tell ya. I'm not always gonna share with all of you all and I hope you respect that because there's a lot that comes with standing up and voicing your opinion. Doesn't mean I don't have one. Whether it's the national anthem or some other cause, whatever it is, I would hope that our kids would want to come to me and talk about those things and figure out a way to genuinely help whatever cause it is that they feel strongly about. Give us the opportunity to discuss how it is that they can help that cause. Knowing that I'm gonna support them in their stance and what they truly believe in, but also, let's find a way to help that cause that maybe can help our football or not cause huge distractions for our football team. (That) is the way I would hope that that got handled if it ever came up for us."