Football season started to feel real when camp first neared, but things are different, as of today.
Why? The pads just went on, and the tackling has started.
Yes, that's the stuff. The Florida State game may still be painfully far away, but it doesn't feel quite so bad when you see news like that.
Tech's coaches were kinda light on the news during today's media session (thankfully TKP has you covered with an exclusive with Justin Fuente, should you have missed that).
But there were still some goodies to wring out of what we got.
Mihota's Big Move
After missing spring ball, fall camp will offer us our first look at Vinny Mihota, newly minted DT.
Considering he's now listed at 6'5" and 297 pounds, he'll plainly look a bit different out there.
#Hokies DT Vinny Mihota said he had to rehab his ACL and gain 40 pounds this offseason to move from DE back to the interior. He said his goal was to add a pound or two per week during the offseason to keep on "good weight" and get to 300 pounds.— Norm Wood (@normwood) August 9, 2018
Rumors swirled for years about Mihota moving to DT someday, so it does feel a bit strange to write that it's finally happened. Now, we get to see just how it'll all turn out, and I think it's safe to say that's yet one more unknown in a sea of them for Bud Foster.
Sure, Mihota has a ton of experience on the line, and there is every reason to think the transition will go smoothly. Fuente and Foster have both repeatedly expressed full confidence in Mihota and Ricky Walker as the anchors of the defensive line — and perhaps the defense as a whole, given the sudden dearth of experience at every position.
But it's still got to be a little bit nerve-wracking that one of your guys is recovering from an injury, adding a bunch of new weight and adjusting to a new position (on a full-time basis, at least).
There's not much in the way of depth behind Mihota and Walker, either, which only complicates matters further. Fuente has had lots of good things to say about Jarrod Hewitt this offseason, and Xavier Burke seems locked into the fourth DT spot (though it's not as if he has a ton of on-field experience either).
Without Cam Goode, there's no obvious fifth DT. I don't think the position is as much a cause for concern as cornerback, but I don't know that fans should simply look at the depth chart, see two familiar names and assume that everything is locked in with no uncertainty.
As with everything on defense this year, take nothing for granted, and hope that Bud has it all figured out.
Rocky Steady on the OL?
On the other line, however, things seem positively peachy.
I expressed some skepticism in the spring that Silas Dzansi would stick at left tackle over a guy with experience at the position like Yosh Nijman, but it sure seems like that's exactly what's happening. And that, to me, is a very promising development!
As I've written here before, if the Hokies have caught lightning in a bottle with Dzansi, that is going to be huge for easing the transition to the next generation of offensive linemen. If the guy really is good enough to take over on the blind side as a redshirt freshman, that is excellent news for both this year and (perhaps more importantly) the next two years.
Suddenly, this OL group is the position I feel best about on the whole team — quite a departure from even two or three years ago — and clearly I'm not alone.
There are certainly questions left to answer on the line as well — as ever, Vance Vice says he'll "play musical chairs in a heartbeat" if he doesn't like what he sees, even with all the experience he has on the line.
But it seems there's considerably less for the coaches to sort out over the next few weeks than there is at just about every other position. A solid offensive line will certainly help the Hokies, say, find new playmakers on the outside or sort out the running back rotation.
Let's hope that all this preseason optimism is justified.
Red Zone Wilting
Because things were so light on news today — seriously, this section was almost about punt and kick returners, which are shaping up to be C.J. Carroll and Caleb Farley, respectively — thought I'd take a bit of detour.
ESPN's David Hale is of course a must-follow for any ACC fan, and he's been cranking out some noteworthy stats as the season draws closer.
This one, from a few days back, really stuck in my mind.
Worst red-zone TD rates among P5 schools last season:Baylor - 45%Syracuse - 47.9%Duke - 49.1%Illinois - 50%Virginia Tech - 50.9%Nebraska - 51.1%Virginia - 51.4%— Hidden Agenda Generator (@DavidHaleESPN) August 8, 2018
Any time you're joined by the likes of UVA and Illinois in some rating of offensive efficiency, that seems...bad.
But I think it also illustrates nicely a lot of the problems Tech had on offense last year, particularly later in the season when the offense really hit a wall.
If you look at Tech's offensive production in a vacuum, you'd get the impression that they were an above average team, generally. After all, the Hokies ranked 53rd in yards per game — far from top notch, but also well above where the program ranked back in the late Beamer years.
Yet looking at just how inefficient the team was in the red zone demonstrates why the big improvement in pure yards per game wasn't accompanied by a scoring boom, and it speaks to many of the problems the coaches have spoken about recently.
Fuente has spoken at length this offseason about receivers not winning one-on-one battles on the outside, or running backs not making the unblocked man miss. When the field shrinks, I fully expect that those shortcomings are magnified.
Certainly, the improved offensive line I alluded to above can help with that. But this is where the rubber will really meet the road in seeing whether the offense can take a step forward this year.
We conclude this week with a reminder that Kyle Chung has been a Hokie for justttt a little while.