There's nothing quite like Virginia Tech Media Day for reporters, a chance to fill up the notebooks and ride out the few football-free days we have left.
By all accounts, Justin Fuente and company didn't break too much news at the event on Sunday, but, at first glance, it seems there are still a few bits and pieces worth noting from the big day at Lane Stadium.
The Hokies Are Ranked, Whether Justin Fuente Likes It Or Not
"Nobody believes in us" may be the most popular trope for any coach to adopt, but "rankings don't matter" is an awful big hit too.
In adopting that sort of motivational tactic, Fuente was certainly more than willing to downplay Tech's early love from his fellow coaches on Sunday — the first coaches' poll has the Hokies sitting at No. 22 in the country, though Fuente says the team managed that distinction without the benefit of his own vote.
Why not? He told reporters the Hokies "still need to earn that recognition." I would submit that every team on any preseason poll is in the same boat, but I understand the sentiment.
But for those of us in the speculation business, the polls and rankings are worth buzzing about, and we got more news in that department Monday, as the first AP poll shows the Hokies sitting at 21st overall.
Fuente's message is certainly valid at its core — I expect I'll have completely forgotten Tech's preseason ranking by the time we reach the end of the season — but it does represent an interesting way to take the temperature of the program's national perception.
The Hokies lost their starting quarterback, a bevy of talented receivers, and two starters on the defensive line, but the national media and coaches around the country still thought enough of Fuente's ability to rebuild large parts of his team on the fly to grace the Hokies with their first preseason top 25 since 2012 (a season that, shall we say, proved the worthlessness of a preseason ranking).
I'd guess that's due to the collective faith in Bud Foster's defense, and Fuente's ability to get an offense humming right away. It may not mean much in the end, but Hokies fans will get to enjoy seeing Tech appear in the ESPN crawl for "top 25 teams" for at least two weeks, which is its own form of reward.
That being said, Jacob Emert of ESPN (and my former colleague at Tech's student newspaper) does note that while the Hokies tend to finish the year ranked after starting it ranked, that doesn't mean they necessarily shoot up the polls by the time the year is out.
Brandon Facyson Healing Up
Bud Foster thinks his longtime starting cornerback "should be ready for the opener," and could get the cast off his injured wrist as soon as this week, a pair of positive news nuggets for Tech fans.
As I've previously discussed in this space, Facyson's absence wouldn't necessarily be devastating for the Hokies given the depth at DB, but it's still encouraging that he should be ready to suit up.
"He's out there doing as much as he possibly can with his limitations, what they put on that, the restrictions that the docs have put on him," Foster said, per Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times. "But I'm anxious to get him back where he can tackle and be physical and do some things to get his timing back, because that's a big part of playing defense."
Not awesome to hear that Facyson still hasn't been able to participate in full contact yet, but as Brian Mitchell noted previously, it's not as if he's some wide-eyed rookie out there. I'll be very interested in what the coaches think of his health once that cast comes off and he starts hitting again — after all, it's easy to be optimistic before the rubber meets the road and he can start testing out his wrist in football situations.
It's also worth noting that Foster revealed that Devon Hunter's been dealing with a concussion he suffered earlier this month, limiting his ability to get involved too much. If Facyson is a guy that doesn't need much in the way of live reps to get ready for the season, I'd imagine that a freshman like Hunter is in just the opposite sort of situation. Nothing huge, but good to keep an eye on as we watch to see how much the prized recruit can get on the field early.
A WR-Friendly Playbook?
There are plenty of good reasons to worry about Tech's depth at receiver behind Cam Phillips, but Norm Wood of the Daily Press outlines one prime factor working in the favor of all the freshmen vying for playing time out wide; the offense isn't all that complicated for a WR.
As someone who heard plenty of thinly veiled complaints about the complexity of Scot Loeffler's offense from players at all manner of positions, this quote from WR C.J. Carroll struck me as pretty telling.
"I've been in two offenses, but this one compared to (Loeffler's) offense is a lot easier to pick up," Carroll told Wood. "I mean, it's just more basic. You have one term to describe the whole entire play, so ... you don't have to think that much. You can just go out and play...This is what it's supposed to be like – a playbook that's not very big. It's easy."
That's no great surprise to hear, given the pace at which Fuente and Brad Cornelsen like to operate, but it is still interesting to consider as we fret over who among Tech's young receivers might be able to contribute this year.
There are plenty of things that can keep inexperienced WRs off the field — a lack of timing with the starting QB, perhaps, or trouble effectively blocking on the outside — but it's good to know that the sheer complexity of the offense isn't tying anyone up.
"The crux of it was to make it easy enough that young guys could play, because we had to play so many young people," Fuente said, according to Wood. "It does no good to have those guys standing on the bench because they didn't know what to do, so it's pared down pretty well for them. That doesn't mean that they're always playing the right way or doing the right thing, but I think it's pretty straightforward and pretty simple for them."
So while guys like Eric Kumah or Phil Patterson will inevitably have some advantage by dint of their extra year working in Fuente's system, this is perhaps the strongest indication yet that we should expect at least one freshman (or new transfer James Clark) to play a major role this season.
Cornelsen wasn't shy about praising Hezekiah Grimsley a few weeks back, and observers have long speculated Kalil Pimpleton's speed could help him make an instant impact.
In any case, while freshman WRs finding success wasn't unheard of under the old regime — in all fairness to the much-maligned Loeffler, he did play both Phillips and Isaiah Ford pretty much immediately, with great success — I'd fully expect to see some freshmen take plenty of snaps this season.
I'll send you off with ESPN's thoroughly weird comic book-style illustration of the Tech-WVU game. Why is the Hokie Bird so insanely buff? Why does the drawing make it seem as if the pair could be either wrestling or waltzing? We may never know.