Remember how last week in this space I discussed feeling at least a pang of guilt about paying attention to football during March? Consider that fully out of the picture.
Buzz's bunch got bounced, Virginia AND my new favorite Maryland school are both out of the tournament, and the NFL draft still feels eons away. Outside of a few interesting basketball matchups left, this is all we've got in the world of college sports.
And I say that's fine by me. If somehow you haven't noticed, Justin Fuente had a lot to say when I caught up with him last week (and I'd urge you to read part one and part two of that interview if you haven't already), and spring practice is in full swing.
Let's start with the most quintessentially spring story possible: a shuffle on the offensive line.
The Eternal Kyle Chung, Back at Center
Perhaps the biggest announcement of Thursday's media session is that the Hokies are trying out a familiar face at center: Kyle Chung.
Vance Vice entered the offseason knowing he'd need to find a replacement for Eric Gallo, who held down the center spot for 38 games over the course of the last three seasons. He wasn't always Tech's best starter on the line (and I will not miss his tendency to launch snaps over the heads of Tech quarterbacks in important moments) but consistency at the position is important, and finding a replacement for him has to be a huge part of Vice's job description this spring.
That brings us to Chung, who secured a sixth season of eligibility after earning a medical redshirt. Chung is certainly no stranger to Blacksburg (he's been at Tech since the good ole days when I was still in college), yet he's not exactly a grizzled veteran either. Last year was his first starting a full 13 games; his previous season high was two.
The coaches raised a few eyebrows last offseason by moving Chung to right tackle, after talking up Tyrell Smith for the spot for a while. Now, it seems, Chung will be returning to his roots as an interior lineman — he largely played center, and even a little guard, before moving to the outside last year.
The move is certainly a logical one for Vice and company. There really aren't many interior linemen on the roster with a whole lot in the way of experience, so Chung definitely seems like an obvious choice in many ways.
The question with him, as it has been for so much of his career, will be one of health.
Let's hope he's right. He certainly did a lot to combat his reputation as a brittle player with his durability last year.
Does he have enough experience snapping to still be effective? And will that good health last? Those will be the key questions Vice will have to answer before the fall arrives.
Right Tackle Tango
Chung moving to center opens up a starting spot at right tackle, which was a bit of a revolving door last offseason as well.
Smith seems like a natural contender to be in the mix over there, considering what the coaches saw from him last offseason before he lost out to Chung. Fuente says he'll have some competition, however.
Dzansi and Jackson are both quite interesting prospects. If you'll remember, Dzansi spent a year at the prep level (at Tech's preferred destination, Fork Union Military Academy) before redshirting last year.
Jackson, meanwhile, saw light work last season (his first after a redshirt year), and was one of the more intriguing prospects Tech signed a couple classes ago. At 6'6", 335 pounds he certainly has the size to play tackle, but when he signed he was a virtually unknown prospect after largely focusing on basketball in high school.
Plenty of guys have gone on to succeed with those sorts of backgrounds. Lest we forget, Yosh Nijman spent a semester at Fork Union and his recruiters targeted him more for his athleticism than any belief he'd succeed at one position or another back in the day. Now, he's reliable starter on the blind side.
The question will be whether either Dzansi or Jackson have enough experience to credibly challenge Smith. In a perfect world, Jackson has the frame and athleticism to take over for Nijman at left tackle for some day. Will he get a jump on that process by earning reps on the right side this season?
Another very intriguing matter for Vice to chew over this spring.
Oh, and don't forget that the Hokies have three offseason linemen joining the class this summer: tackles Luke Tenuta and Walker Culver and guard John Harris. I'm not really expecting any of them to make an impact right away, but of the three, Tenuta's got the sort of frame to raise eyebrows.
In any case, I hear from recruits all the time about how Vice preaches a "we play the five best guys" philosophy, regardless of set positions on the line, so expect to see more (not less) offensive line shuffling before the offseason is out.
Rivers Step In, But Who Else?
Dylan Rivers is an in-state kid who picked the Hokies via a late flip from Penn State, playing at the same position as a guy who could very well end up as a first-round draft pick; suffice it to say, there are some expectations about what he'll accomplish at Tech.
By all accounts, Rivers is going to get the chance to show what he's made of this season. Based on his time playing special teams last year (rather than redshirting), it makes a whole lot of sense that he'll step in for Tremaine Edmunds at backer this year. So, ya know, no pressure.
"I'm just trying to be my own player right now," Rivers said, via Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "Tremaine is a freak. You can't take anything away from the guy. He was awesome. But I'm just trying to be the best player I can be right now and learn from Coach Foster."
Certainly, the history of successful players at the position (when combined with Bud Foster's renown for coaching top-flight linebackers) means that Rivers has some big shoes to fill. I'm definitely anxious to see what kind of progress he shows this spring.
But Rivers is the big name recruit, and it seemed a sure bet that he'd open spring as the presumptive starter at backer. Perhaps the larger question is who will join him at mike.
Given the way Rivers talked about it, it seems Rayshard Ashby is the answer for now, which jives with a quick glance at the linebackers on the roster.
"It's definitely weird going in and sitting in Tremaine's spot and having Rayshard Ashby sitting next to me in Andrew (Motuapuaka)'s spot," Rivers said, discussing the new arrangement in the linebackers' meeting room without last year's starters.
Ashby's always been on the smaller side (he's currently listed at 5'10" and 228 pounds) but Foster has made it clear over the years that being a freakish athlete is hardly a prerequisite to starting at mike. With Tavante Beckett no longer with the team, Ashby is also among the more experienced linebackers on the roster.
The elephant in the room, however, is Dax Hollifield. The highly touted recruit may be closer in size and athleticism to Rivers or the youngest Edmunds, but, as Fuente himself put it to me, the Hokies aren't going to let adherence to one position guide them in making a decision on starters.
So, the question becomes: does Ashby's extra experience help him hold down the spot? Or does Hollifield displace him quickly when he arrives on campus this summer? Hollifield certainly has more hype, but it's no small matter for a freshman to take over a key spot leading the defense.
I leave you today with a small reminder that Tom Brady dropped a pass and lost the Super Bowl, this time courtesy of Kyle Chung.