Coming into spring ball, I had every expectation that this batch of practices would be an eventful one for Justin Fuente's bunch — instead, we've gotten mostly radio silence.
Of course, the potential for a QB controversy is the thing everyone's wondering about. I hardly expect Fuente to go blabbing about Josh Jackson getting benched right off the bat or anything, but I would've expected something, anything to come out about the most closely watched position battle (or lack thereof?) on the roster.
But outside of a few quotes here and there from Jackson and Hendon Hooker, we've gotten pretty much nothing. And for the other big position battles, particularly when it comes to replacing the bevy of NFL soon-to-be draftees on defense, we've heard similarly little.
Some of that I chalk up to Fuente's naturally guarded nature around the press. Even more, I suspect, is due to the press conference format where players and coaches trudge up to the podium to answer questions one at a time.
I know, it may be hard for you to shed a tear for the poor sports reporters, but take this seriously. Putting young athletes without much experience talking to the press at the front of a room so reporters (most of whom they've never met) can hurl questions at them is not a format for generating insightful answers.
It creates a ton of pressure on each guy who walks up there not to cause a scene or say something notable, rather than helping them feel comfortable and build a rapport with the people they're talking to.
I understand, of course, why the team does this: it's in their interest for people outside the program to know something as consequential as, say, who the starting quarterback will be only when they're ready to reveal it. Exerting more control over the media's access to the team reduces the chance that somebody says something they shouldn't, but also restricts just how freely coaches and players share the small stories that give people real insight into the locker room or a look at how the squad is coming together.
So should you feel as I do, that we know precious little about this team with the spring game just 11 days away, consider this factor when mulling why this spring has been so quiet.
Now that I've fully dismounted my high horse, on to what we do know from Tuesday's presser.
Admonishment for Adonis?
When Fuente opened the spring by expressing his concern about the team's young DBs, one of the the first things I remember thinking is: I wonder how Adonis Alexander factors into this?
Alexander has long drawn the eye of NFL scouts thanks to his lanky frame, but his trouble...well, staying out of trouble is likely a big reason he's back for his senior season. Maybe he didn't stand out last year the way he did his freshman and sophomore campaigns, but his status as the lone experienced cornerback on the roster has to give Fuente, Bud Foster and company some confidence.
And yet, that is not exactly the vibe Fuente has given off thus far.
Fuente notes that CB Jovonn Quillen has improved a lot this spring, but that he needs to see more from the other older guys at corner. Mentions that he's not singling out Adonis Alexander when he says that. #Hokies— Ricky LaBlue (@RickyLaBlue) April 3, 2018
When you mention that you're not singling out a certain player, I'm not sure if that's more or less meaningful than simply not mentioning him at all. But then, Fuente went on to say the following, when asked what he needs to see from Alexander this year:
I love Adonis. I love all our kids. But they all have their own things they've got to overcome and handle. Each guy is different. He's not the only one, by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not going to get into a public admonishment of each player that we're working through things, but he has a lot of great qualities, he enjoys being a part of this football team, as do some of those other guys I'm referring to, and hopefully they'll continue to do right in all areas of their lives so they can be a part of this part.
Plainly, if Fuente had full confidence in Alexander for the coming season, he would not have delivered that kind of quote. That's no guarantee that anything is amiss, mind you, but it is a useful insight into where Alexander stands in the coaches' minds these days.
Fortunately for Fuente, he says Jovonn Quillen has started to show some promise at corner, as has Bryce Watts. CBs coach Brian Mitchell even said Tuesday he hopes that JUCO CB Jeremy Webb will be able to compete for a starting spot at corner as soon as he gets to campus this summer.
But all that progress and potential still leaves an awful lot of youth and inexperience at the position, and the Hokies will need Alexander to stabilize things. Here's hoping he comes through on that front.
Right Tackle Remains a Mystery
I wish I could tell you that the coaches shed a bunch of light onto who might earning the starting sport at right tackle Tuesday.
Unfortunately, I confess I am more confused than ever.
OL coach Vance Vice and Fuente both had plenty of nice things to say about Silas Dzansi, after Fuente mentioned earlier in the spring that he was working at tackle with T.J. Jackson.
They had plenty to add about how well prepared he was at Fork Union Military Academy, long a favored seasoning ground for the Hokies.
Then Vice turned around and dropped this nugget about one of the other competitors at tackle.
#Hokies OL coach Vance Vice said OT Tyrell Smith has probably graded out higher than anybody else in practice in the last week. Said the high ankle sprain Smith suffered last August really held him back, and Kyle Chung just beat him for starting right tackle job.— Norm Wood (@normwood) April 3, 2018
So if Tyrell Smith was indeed an injury away from earning the job last year and is now smoking guys in practice, presumably he's a good bet to start at RT?
I'd be inclined to think so, but then, why all the talk about Dzansi? I suppose having multiple viable options at tackle is a positive, not a negative, so none of this is bad, just a bit confusing for those of us looking to read the tea leaves.
Finding a Home-Run Running Back
If you'll think back to my interview with Fuente to open the spring, you'll remember that he lamented that the offense "didn't make the unblocked hat miss nearly enough at running back" and missed out on "home-run runs."
That's a bit of a coach-speaky way to say he'd like to see more explosive plays made by his running backs, and plainly that's become a focus for the guys likely to see time at the position this year.
Between Jalen Holston and Deshawn McClease, I fully expect Tech's running backs to deliver a bit more in that department this season. It'll be interesting to see how the team adapts without Travon McMillian as well — does the rotation get shorter to include only the experienced guys, or does McMillian's absence open up space for more RBs to earn snaps?
Fuente talked up the performance of Terius Wheatley, in particular, noting that he's shown some flashes coming off his redshirt year. Holston even joked that his speed made him want to be faster, so Wheatley could be a candidate to provide some of that explosion Fuente is looking to see from his RBs.
I'll wrap up this week by pointing out an...interesting bit of phrasing from Vice.