Reading about the football team's depth chart six months before the team takes the field always feels a little bit silly — particularly when Buzz Williams is about to take the Hokies to Pittsburgh for their second straight tourney.
But, if you're anything like me, you can't help it. Those few bits of position battle minutiae trickle out on Twitter, and all of a sudden, football season feels closer than ever.
So don't fight that impulse! Justin Fuente and the rest of the staff just spoke to the press for the first time in weeks and there are all sorts of goodies to sort through.
After all, the spring game will be here before you know it. Go take a few minutes to learn all about Bama's basketball team ahead of Thursday, but keep this tab open.
The Tidbits are back — for the spring, at least.
Hooker in the Spotlight
Look, the only thing anyone cares about this spring is the QB competition (or, perhaps, lack thereof). You know it. I know it. Fuente and company surely know it too.
We were in this boat just last year, if you'll recall! If you'd told me that Josh Jackson would lead all freshmen quarterbacks in the country in some statistical categories on the way to a 9-4 finish, I surely wouldn't have thought this is all we'd be talking about once more.
But it's hard to deny that Jackson's performance down the stretch left the door open for this eventuality, and Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson have received more than enough hype to justify an open competition in the offseason. Plainly, that's how Fuente is approaching the matter — he certainly offered reporters a vote of confidence in Jackson, but it wasn't a wholehearted, resounding statement of "he's the guy," either.
Fuente on QBs: "If we played tomorrow, Josh [Jackson] would be the starter." But noted that competition is open. Hendon Hooker and Ryan Willis will get in there for reps. #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) March 12, 2018
As you'll note, there's no mention of Patterson; the Hokies won't get a look at him until fall camp.
Realistically, the spring will be an audition for Hooker. If he can even start pushing for a number of reps on par with Jackson, that will tell us that Fuente is serious about giving a real shot to the other QBs, and will portend an even wilder summer.
If Jackson remains firmly in control, then we know that Hooker hasn't shown enough, and that will also be a strong signal that Patterson has a very large uphill battle to earn more than just a nominal shot at unseating Jackson in the fall.
Yet I'd caution against simply overlooking Hooker's chances at throwing himself into the mix. I'm old enough to remember when he seemed like the hot young prospect at quarterback last spring, and the coaches weren't shy about heaping praise on him Monday.
"Hendon's a guy we've been excited about since we've been here," said OC Brad Cornelsen. "Came in as an early grad, a high school kid and pushed for the job....He's still learning the game, learning what to do, fine-tuning his game, but he's going to be in the mix. It's going to be a fun spring."
Injury Bug Bites the WRs
In another repeat of last year's fall camp, the Hokies have plenty of uncertainty around who will catch passes, beyond just who's throwing them.
Only this year, Fuente and Cornelsen don't have Cam Phillips to fall back on. To make matter worse, the Hokies are looking at plenty of injury-related absences among the players who are returning.
Topping the list is Ball State transfer Damon Hazelton, who coaches were quite enthusiastic about when he arrived last year. After spending a season sitting out, the Hokies were surely anxious to get Hazelton integrated into the starting line-up's routine, particularly because his experience makes him an instant favorite to pick up some of the slack left by Phillips' departure.
Instead, the Hokies will be left wondering what he can do — Fuente said he won't be able to participate at all in the spring, though he declined to identify an exact injury keeping him out.
To make matters worse, Eric Kumah will also be limited for the spring, as will incoming freshman Tre Turner, another player the Hokies buzzed about upon signing him.
All those absences means there's plenty of room for unproven players like Phil Patterson and Hezekiah Grimsley to get plenty of reps, but it's a bit of a nerve wracking situation for the coaching staff all the same.
#Hokies OC Brad Cornelsen on so many WRs being hurt: "It hurts. I wish we had all those guys. ... That's still a position where we have the most growth ahead of them."— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) March 12, 2018
Caleb the Cornerback
Careful observers will notice that Caleb Farley's name is not among those competing for time as a wide receiver — that's because, as rumored, he'll be spending time on the defensive side of the ball this spring.
The team made the move official Monday, confirming that Farley (who had the poor luck to blow out his knee ahead of the season, following a promising spring) will indeed play cornerback instead. Fuente says the recovery from that injury will still limit Farley, but he seemed to think that the need at corner was great enough to justify the decision.
"He won't do much and I'm still holding out on the fact he could play offense," Fuente said. "I would like to play him on offense as much as anybody, but the bottom line is where we are out in the secondary right now, between our youth and some older players who have been less than consistent for us, we feel like in the long run that is his best spot. The number one thing for Caleb right now is to get healthy."
Certainly, the team's depth at cornerback leaves a lot to be desired. Adonis Alexander has one spot locked down and, from there, it's anyone's guess — is Bryce Watts ready for more? Jovonn Quillen? Even freshman Jermaine Waller?
It would seem the coaches are anxious enough to start casting about for other answers, and Farley is getting his shot. There's nothing to say he couldn't spend some time on offense still if CB doesn't work out, or perhaps even get time in the return game, where he looked so impressive last spring.
But plainly, the defensive staff wasn't ready to give up on him just yet.
Defensive Depth Chart Comes into Focus
Beyond CB, there are plenty of big question marks about the depth chart on defense.
At defensive tackle, the big news is that Vinny Mihota is officially moving inside to take over for Tim Settle, a neat instance of things coming full circle after rumors about him playing DT started swirling just about as soon as he got on campus.
But he'll also be out for the spring, giving Tech some time to test out the players who will rotate in behind him, and Fuente named Jarrod Hewitt in particular as one he's anxious to see more from. It's worth noting that freshman Joe Kane won't be among the options at DT; Fuente also announced that he made the move to OL once he got on campus.
Mook Reynolds is also missing (yes, it's an injury-laden spring in Blacksburg) and that will open up some playing time at whip. You might recognize one of the names Bud Foster is considering for the spot.
Foster says #Hokies will give Devon Hunter a look at whip/nickelback this spring. Says DJ Crossen is another option there. Mook Reynolds is out for this spring.— Ricky LaBlue (@RickyLaBlue) March 12, 2018
Both linebacker spots also have plenty of uncertainty, and that's without any injuries. Foster says redshirt freshmen Rico Kearney and Rayshard Ashby will start off playing mike, while sophomore Dylan Rivers, redshirt freshman Jaylen Griffin and freshman Alan Tisdale will play backer.
You'll notice there isn't a whole lot in the way of game experience among that group, particularly as they look to replace vets like Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds. Bear in mind that Dax Hollifield will surely shake up this competition when he gets on campus, but this group has a ton of uncertainty, and Fuente knows it.
"You don't have a junior, let alone a senior," Fuente said. "Nobody that's played a meaningful rep at linebacker, which is certainly a challenge. But I like the guys that we recruited. I like the way they're approaching it. There's opportunity for the guys that we've got here and the guys that we've got coming in in the summertime to make their mark and move forward."
I know, it's all a lot to take in. The Tidbits will be with you for the next few weeks to sort through it all.
Before we wrap up, extend a hearty welcome back to Bud's press conference one-liners.