I initially wrote this article a few weeks back, but lost it to the HTML sharks.
The hot topic around Hokie Town and its blog-o-sphere has been what changes should/need to be made in light of the thrashing we experienced at the Orange Bowl. Posts have run the gamut from “Fire Frank Beamer” to “Spread Offense FTW” to “Why the hell does Coach Newsome have a job”. What I’d like to do is take a second to address the potential changes we could see in the off-season and determine just how likely they are.
1. Changes in the coaching staff – likelihood: 0%
This is a debate inherent to Virginia Tech football, focused on the offensive side of the ball. Year after year we were subject to bottom-20 offensive finishes, glossed over by top-5 defensive finishes. It astounds me to look back and realize just how bad our offensive line play was circa 2007-2008. Sean Glennon may have not been a great QB for the Hokies, but no one is going to look good when they have less than three seconds to get rid of the football. It was like opposing team’s defensive tackles were playing with chainsaws.
Nothing will change this year. We saw a football team that had the best offensive output in years, decent offensive line play (if you ignore the bookends to the season), and a spotty defense that ended up bearing most of the blame for the losses. Brain Stinespring has earned his job security for one year. Not that he is immune from intense scrutiny (shotgun running plays on 2nd and 14, an appalling lack of Darren and Ryan on the field at the same time, inability to call pass routes for the middle of the field, etc.), but we did see some impressive offensive output. Whether or not it was maximized, that remains to be seen.
Since CFB values loyalty above all, it’s unlikely that Newsome gets the ax either. He has 80% of his line returning and a dynamic back to block for in 2011. If we see similar folds on the line next season, then I’d like to think Newsome is history. But we’ve seen VT coaches do a lot less with a lot more and keep their positions, so who knows. Since this coming recruiting class has targeted about 14 tight ends, I’m hoping that the plan isn’t to Ed-Wang most of them into offensive lineman. Offensive lineman playing south of 280 lbs isn’t going to be the answer when you match up against a big, physical defensive line.
2. Changes in player positions/depth chart: 15%
That figure may be the natural pessimist in me, but there’s a few players I’d like to move around who won’t. Whether it’s the coaching staff, loyalty to players, or stubbornness, who knows. I may be way off the mark here, since my only experience involves moving outside linebackers to safetys and playing Logan Thomas at tight end for part of the season in NCAA 11, but here’s what I’d like to see happen:
Blake DeChristopher – tackle to guard – no chance at this, I know, since Blake’s started here for 3 years. But he is big, and slow, and gets eaten alive by speed rushers or guys that outmaneuver him. I think he’d be a better fit to plop in the middle of the line and eat up the Terrance Codys of the world.
Jeron GW – whip to bench – his struggles are well-documented, and maybe even forgivable given his youth, but I watched in person as JGW completely and utterly whiffed on a open-field tackle in the ACC Championship. 13 games into the season. There’s no excuse for that. I don’t even trust him as the gunner on special teams since that requires a lock-down tackler. Let him be a Matt Reidy-type or the third-team rover, but keep him off the field when things matter. Get Exum, Patterson, Nick Dew, or Cris Hill at the nickel back when you need it. End bitterness.
3. Changes in uniforms – 110%
I'm waiting for Nike to roll out their environmentally-friendly Green Pro Combats for the Hokies. Or Red/White/Blue Pro Combats in honor of Veteran’s Day.. Nice to be a part of these programs, not nice to have sold our souls to Nike. I remember at the 2009 Pro-Combat unveiling, Frank specifically asked the crowd to purchase Nike products. Sigh. I love the throwbacks, but my favorite will always be this. Wish we could K.I.S.S. when it comes to this topic.
4. Changes in defensive scheme – 70%
I think this will be the only semblance of change we will see. The Virginia Tech defense has thrived on ball-hawking defensive backs, intuitive linebacker play, and undersized-but-fast defensive lineman. All we really had to rely on this past year was our secondary – no need for change there. Fuller showed great instincts to play opposite Hosley, Exum should thrive at rover, and Jarrett/Aromire/Farrow can probably contribute early to the team.
What I’d like to see is a “heavy” package in the 4-3 utilizing three traditional linebackers. Basically, scrapping the whip position. We have a ton of talent and depth at this position, and playing the whip with JGW or Tweedy means getting only two of Tyler/Rivers/Edwards/Williams/Taylor/Gibson/**Anthony** on the field at most times. If the Bud defense is built to funnel the ball to the linebackers, then we need reliable tacklers to make the play. Athletic types like Edwards or **Anthony** could play the abandoned whip spot in order to not lose anything in coverage. This would not only give VT a better size match-up against power-run teams, but help stop the recruiting whispers from opposing teams that we are not a “pro-NFL” defense for the front seven.
In the end, I don’t think CFB will change much as the team pushes to spring practices. He lost two star running backs, a franchise QB, a bell-cow defensive tackle, and several other key components. With a 4th grade schedule to play in the fall, I look for the Hokies to start off slow and simple. Lean on the run game, play-action pass, punt and let the defense go to work. The 10-game winning formula, as tired as I am of hearing about it as a justification for poor play and coaching, is tried and true. If the Hokies are fortunate enough to play well and make it back to the BCS, then hopefully they bust out the 2010 Orange Bowl tape and see how well “going with the flow” worked there.