From Justin Fuente to Bud Foster, I feel like I've heard various members of Tech's coaching staff stress just how young this team is about a hundred times so far this spring.
You've got to talk about something in the mid-spring doldrums before the spring game really appears on the horizon, right?
But I'll tell you, you look at this roster, and they are not kidding. Even diehard fans would have trouble recognizing too many names.
A lot of that is driven by all those draft defections on defense, but even on offense, you're talking about replacing everyone from Cam Phillips to Wyatt Teller.
Try and construct a depth chart sometime yourself if you're not sure of this. Fuente has already gone on at length about the lack of depth at DB and LB, but it is truly nothing but untested guys all over the place.
That's far from being all bad; after all, there are a lot of former 4-star guys, especially on defense, who we just haven't seen take the field in any serious way just yet.
So, no pressure on the coaches this spring, right?
Let's get into it.
Foster's Plan for a 'True Early Signing Period'
Foster and Fuente didn't offer much in terms of big news about position changes or injuries Tuesday, but Foster's comments on the new recruiting landscape are worth highlighting, all the same.
The early signing period got all the ink when the powers that be approved the change last year, but a lesser known change was that juniors are now allowed to take official visits in the spring, rather than waiting until the fall and winter, when they're seniors. For example, four-star RB Devyn Ford has a string of spring official visits set ahead of an early decision date.
I'm told @NSWolverines 2019 star RB Devyn Ford @TsunamiFord will take official visits to @PennStateFball @OhioStateFB and @HokiesFB in April and will announce his college decision on his grandmother's birthday, May 18— Taft Coghill Jr. (@tcoghilljr) March 27, 2018
The Hokies have hosted some scattered unofficial visitors here and there, and the spring game is sure to bring even more visitors (official and unofficial) to Blacksburg. Plainly, the topic is weighing on Foster's mind because he didn't hold back when given the chance to expound on the matter.
"If we're going to have early official visits, in my opinion, we need to have a true early signing period," Foster told reporters. "Because you can bring a kid in for April 14, for the spring game, then he doesn't sign until Dec. 20. That is a long time, as opposed to official visits start in December, then they sign the first Wednesday in February...There's a big void in time right there where a kid can change his mind and do some different things, particularly if they're already committed to you. If they're all in, they're all in and let's go ahead and have a true early signing period."
Foster even went so far as as to say that he doesn't believe the late December deadline is a "true early signing period," thanks to the new official visit standards, suggesting that a Sept. 1 deadline might be more appropriate.
With that sort of change, Foster said he'd be more in favor of the early official visits, noting that a good number of his colleagues are currently opposed to the early signing period as it's currently constructed — even Fuente griped a bit around bowl season about the inconvenience of having a signing deadline in the midst of bowl prep.
Foster has a point here, and it's interesting that he decided to use his megaphone as one of the top defensive coordinators in the country to make it. Every recruit is different, but surely there are plenty who'd be glad to sign even before their senior seasons begin in earnest and not think about the process anymore.
There's no telling whether Foster's idea will gain traction, though surely the NCAA is listening to people who've been around the game as long as he has.
However, the creation of the early signing period in the first place would seemingly signal that Mark Emmert and company are now more willing to change the recruiting calendar ever more frequently. The early signing period itself is not without controversy, considering how many barriers the NCAA still throws up to player mobility, but it does at least show officials are willing to listen to the concerns of people intimately involved in the recruiting process.
And as public opinion increasingly turns against the NCAA's stance on amateurism, it's worth monitoring just how responsive Emmert proves to be to concerns of those working within the existing system — it certainly might seem like a more attractive option for them to answer their concerns rather than watch the system get completely upended.
Hunter Home at Whip?
As I mentioned up top, the downside of a young roster is all the uncertainty that comes with who exactly might fill out the depth chart. That goes double when some prominent players are hurt for the spring, like nickel/whip Mook Reynolds.
The upside? Blue-chip recruits who once burned up the message boards like Devon Hunter get real practice time.
The Hokies have made it clear that they're ready to see what Hunter can do this spring, after he only got limited playing time on special teams last year.
However, it's notable that Foster added that Hunter likely won't spend much time at safety this spring, even though that seemed like a natural spot for him to step into the starting lineup.
"We could move him back, depending on Mook's situation and whatnot," Foster said. "But right now, trying to develop the next guy at that position (whip/nickel) is really, really important."
This could represent a bit of real down-the-road planning — the Hokies get to simultaneously see what they have with Hunter at whip, where he could take over permanently once Reynolds graduates, and test out other candidates at free safety. Khalil Ladler especially comes to mind, particularly after he spent some time filling in for Terrell Edmunds once he got hurt last season.
But Foster's insistence on playing Hunter at the whip/nickel spot, long a pivotal position on his defense, makes me wonder whether he envisions him taking over that starting role there right away. Perhaps Reynolds can slide to safety, or corner? Foster has never been shy about shuffling positions in the secondary, especially with an inexperienced group, as he has now.
Maybe he's just curious to see what he has in the former 4-star, and is using the spring to experiment. Or maybe this is the start of some big changes in the secondary to be revealed as the offseason progresses.
Hooker Packs on the Pounds
We've heard surprisingly little about the quarterbacks this spring, even for a coaching staff notoriously tight-lipped on the matter.
Even with Hendon Hooker and Ryan Willis speaking to reporters today, there isn't much in the way of tea leaves to read about whether or not Josh Jackson is in real danger of losing the starting spot anytime soon.
Yet Hooker did say at least one thing worth noting Tuesday.
A 20-pound gain isn't wildly uncommon for anyone spending their first year in a college strength program, but that is a notable change for an athletic QB like Hooker.
Last spring, he was noticeably smaller than Jackson; he was fresh out of high school, after all. Hooker's strength coming in was his potential as a running threat in a way that Jackson wasn't, but without ACC size, playing right away would be a tough sell.
Now, the two are listed at the same weight: 216 pounds, according to Tech's spring roster.
We are a long way from knowing whether this competition will be a serious one, or just fodder for idle talk during spring ball. But I would also caution anyone against dismissing Hooker out of hand, even as we anxiously await Quincy Patterson's arrival.
I'll close by noting that Justin Fuente likes Devon Hunter well enough to drop a little Italian on the media.