Media Day is nearly upon us, folks, and that means we're so close to football season that you can practically taste your first Lane Stadium turkey leg.
We'll have tons of quotes from players to sift through after Sunday, but for now, a few items of note from Justin Fuente's presser and around the ACC.
Dalton Keene With a "Great Chance" to Start
Fuente didn't make much news in his Friday chat with reporters, but I did want to flag his comment about the true freshman, since it does fit with a lot of what of fans and observers have predicted basically since he signed with the Hokies.
Our very own French wrote back in February that Keene could easily step in and replace some of what Sam Rogers brought to the offense, and the news that Steven Peoples has increasingly been working at tailback rather than H-back seemed to further suggest that the Hokies were grooming one of their less experienced players for the role.
Chris Cunningham got a lot of attention last year for his skill in the red zone — scoring four touchdowns on just six catches makes quite the statement, after all — but Fuente's confidence in the early enrollee indicates that Keene has enough athleticism in open space to warrant a larger role.
Fuente cautioned that he's "not guaranteeing that he's going to start the very first game," according to Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times, "but I'm telling you that he's done really well in a really tough position."
Interestingly, Fuente emphasized that H-back is "one of the most important positions in our offense" because "they have to do everything," so it's no small statement about Keene's ability that Fuente would trust him to play as a freshman.
Enrolling early plainly has its benefits, and if you're wondering if Keene has the size and strength to be effective so quickly — well, a picture is worth a thousand words:
Fuel for the Endless Mihota-to-DT Rumor Mill
Look, Vinny Mihota is a hefty dude. You don't just stand at 6'5" and 270 pounds without people assuming that you're either gonna play OT or DT at some point.
But Charley Wiles and Bud Foster have long believed Mihota is better suited at DE, and except for a few brief practice flirtations, that's largely where he's stayed. He had a fine first year as a starter, and seems like a sure bet to improve in his second season.
All that being said, I fully expect to see some #hottakes pop up about Mihota's suitability at DT, given some of what Fuente's said about the team's depth at the position, and I'm ambivalent about that prospect.
Tim Settle and Ricky Walker are an exceptional starting pair, but few positions need capable back-ups like the big uglies on the line.
So when Fuente says, per Bitter, that "we need better play out of that whole group," I fully expect the old questions about Mihota to surface. The head Hokie says a pair of redshirt freshmen, Jarrod Hewitt and Jimmie Taylor, are the prime players getting back-up reps, and there aren't a ton of other options on the roster — Darius Fullwood, now a redshirt sophomore, is still around, but that's it in terms of experienced help.
So why not move Mihota over? Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch asked him about the prospect toward the bottom of a feature on the starting DEs, and Mihota didn't seem opposed to the idea.
"I feel pretty comfortable," Mihota told Barber. "I still remember all the stuff. It's a lot of the same techniques...And I'll do whatever my team needs me to do. So it's something I feel like I have no problem doing."
That's all well and good, but envisioning some scenario where Mihota gets reps at DT (without a major injury involved) requires imagining that the staff is itching to get someone else on the field at DE. Fuente praised both Emmanuel Belmar and Houshun Gaines Friday, but is either one good enough to force his way onto the field? I doubt it.
Bottom line is, the Hokies are better suited to get Hewitt or Taylor some reps, as they'll certainly be needed sooner rather than later. I'm not saying it'll happen, but Settle has the sort of size to make NFL scouts drool, and he's a redshirt sophomore so he'll be draft-eligible once the season's done.
If Taylor and Hewitt truly aren't up to the task, then I suppose Foster and Wiles will figure something out. Just count me as skeptical that Mihota goes anywhere.
Bad News for the Bees?
It seems that the other (worse) Tech in the Coastal has lost its leading rusher from a season ago, with the team announcing Friday that they've dismissed B-back Dedrick Mills for a violation of team rules (a meaningless phrase that's ever-popular among college coaches)
Ironically, the Yellow Jackets lost their leading rusher from 2015 to a transfer back in November, so it would seem that Paul Johnson will be searching for an entirely new option in his backfield this year.
Johnson suspended Mills for a total of three games last season, so perhaps this wasn't a complete surprise for the coaching staff there. In quite the revealing report, Ken Segura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also notes that Johnson had taken to calling Mills "Big Chub" following an offseason weight gain (which, while a tad mean-spirited, feels very in character for Paul Johnson).
But despite all that, Mills still led the team in both yards and touchdowns in only nine games, and (when combined with the departure of QB Justin Thomas) all three of Georgia Tech's leading rushers from a season ago are now off the team.
Yet it's never entirely wise to predict that Johnson will have trouble generating yards on the ground, and David Hale of ESPN (as always) has a useful statistical representation of that.
A bit more nuance... Looking at GT's rushing vs opponent average. In the 8 FBS games Mills played, he avg 5.07/rush. Other GT backs, 5.06. pic.twitter.com/NFzTDJUwOK— David Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) August 18, 2017
Even still, losing a key offensive contributor just a few days before the season starts isn't the best of news for the Jackets, and that will inevitably impact the Hokies.
Anyone who says they have any clue what will happen in the Coastal this year is lying, and even if GT doesn't compete for the division, they're experts at making life hell for its contenders (and if you haven't looked at the schedule recently, take a peek at where the Hokies have to travel the very week after the big road matchup with Miami).
Point is, the division is unpredictable — every meaningful Coast contender but Duke is breaking in a new starting QB — and this news only adds to that uncertainty.
This may be a football blog, but I leave you with the ever-unsettling sight of bearded, non-bald Buzz.