Hokies Carrying Excitement and Good Vibes Through The Midpoint of Spring Ball

Virginia Tech football scrimmage and practice report.

The Hokies are 10 days away from the spring game, and the mood in the locker room couldn't be better.

"The chemistry between both sides of the ball is getting better," said WR Tre Turner. "We all talk in the locker room. Like after practice I'll just stay in the locker room for like an hour just talking to people. It's different. Between last spring and the fall, it's just a completely different vibe in the locker room, and I'm liking it a lot."

There's certainly an inherent sense of anticipation and excitement that comes with spring football. It's the start of something new, a chance to redeem whatever happened last season. That's an opportunity that the Hokies are eager to take head on.

"Honestly, we're excited," said DE Tyjuan Garbutt. "Last season, that wasn't LPD [Lunch Pail Defense]. We all know it. That's just a mindset that we had to come together and realize because defense has been here. It's been here for years. Nothing that Coach [Bud] Foster's doing wrong. Nothing [DL] Coach [Charley] Wiles's doing wrong. If anything we need to mature, step up, and grow up. And I feel like this season we're gonna surprise a lot of people."

It's no secret the defense struggled last season. Virginia Tech ranked 93rd in defensive efficiency per ESPN's advanced metric.

"I feel, not only as a defense, but as a team people felt we were kinda weak last year," said Garbutt. "We hear it all, a bunch of twitter fingers, we get a lot of shots you know...but we keep everything in here. We keep everything 'N.B.A'...but y'all don't know about that one."

Take it as simple offseason talk if you will, but there definitely seems to be something in the air with this team that was simply non-existent last season. Players and coaches alike have been extremely vocal about how communication between players and coaches, both on and off the field, is significantly better this spring than it has been in past seasons. Communication and togetherness have been the major themes of this spring, and for a young group that may be just what they need.

Saturday's Scrimmage Featured an Improved Defense, but a Rusty Offense

The Hokies held their first scrimmage of spring on Saturday. The playbook for both sides of the ball was largely limited, but simplistic football can bring deficiencies into the light.

"I think we had some struggles, but you can tell we were trying to do the right thing," said H-Back/TE James Mitchell.

Justin Fuente was reluctant to comment too strongly on the scrimmage.

"There's a lot of work to be done everywhere," Fuente said.

If the scrimmage was scored anything like the previous spring games, which pins the offense against the defense, the defense seems to have won. Chammari Connor had an interception, and, according to backer Dax Hollifield, Gideon Driscoll, a redshirt freshman walk-on DT from Blacksburg, was "killing it".

"I don't even know how many tackles for loss," said Hollifield. "[Driscoll is] a very slippery dude. He was getting around blocks and he was making plays. I was turned up for him."

As far as quarterback play, Fuente did mention that most of the plays were runs. With the past as an indicator, expect the spring game to test the quarterbacks more and flame the QB competition.

James Mitchell, Tre Turner, and Other Young Guns Add More Weapons to the Arsenal

Everyone remembers the effectiveness of the 2016 Tech offense. Statistically they were better than average, No. 39 S&P+, not elite, but they had a trio of adept pass catchers which made it difficult to matchup against and stop. Similar pieces, a pair of big play WRs and a skilled TE, are emerging for the 2019 group.

Tre Turner did his damage towards the end of last season, filling in for Damon Hazelton. Hazelton is "full go" now according to Fuente, but Turner still occupies a huge role in the offense. Not only did Turner haul in 26 passes for 535 yards last season, he also ran for 101 yards on only 8 carries. Expect the jets sweeps to continue to compliment the offense.

"I think that'll be a direction we probably continue to go," said Fuente. "He's a guy that was effective running the football."

Turner understands the impact he had on the team at the end of last season, but the numbers don't cloud his approach to the offseason.

"I don't really think about statistics or anything from last season or how I came on late in the season," said Turner. "I just look at it the same way as when I first came in here, just come out here and make yourself known."

Along with last season's main contributors at wideout (Turner, Hazelton, and Hezekiah Grimsley), early enrollee Elijah Bowick has turned heads. The redshirt freshman duo of Darryle Simmons and Dejuan Ellis have been anticipated additions to the corps, and Jaden Payoute, a 4-star signee, enrolls this summer.

James Mitchell has filled in for perennial starter Dalton Keene at H-Back, who's been nursing his knee from an offseason procedure. His progress has been one of the major bright spots of the spring, and other players are noticing.

"He's gonna be good," said Hollifield. "I knew he was gonna be good when he first stepped on campus. He's very very fast, very tall. He's gonna be a good blocker. He is a good blocker now, but he's gonna get better. He's very very good with the ball. He's probably one of the harder guys to tackle because naturally he gets his pads down, and he's just good off tackles. People are gonna know his name here soon."

"He can run, he's got a good lower body," said Fuente. "He's really intelligent. He's been everything we could've hoped for."

Dax Hollifield: A Guided Missile

"[Hollifield] certainly has a great handle on trying to guide that missile. At times, he had been a little bit of an unguided missile out there," said Fuente. "I mean that as a compliment and that's the way you want him. It's a lot better to try to teach him to say 'woah' than to teach him to say 'go'. And he continues to get more comfortable with what we're asking him to do, which can allow him to play faster, maybe even faster than he actually is. I've seen him take large strides in that direction."

There's no question who the vocal leader of the defense is. With all that energy and tenacious play, Hollifield quickly made his mark on the team and the fanbase. That being said, he has a lot of room for improvement this offseason, which as far as his upside is concerned, is a bit scary actually.

"Last year I was very heavy, it was affecting my speed a lot," said Hollifield. "I came in really at 250 last summer, and I knew I needed to get down. So after this break in January I was like my goal is to get very lean, try to play between 230 and 235. But it's just body fat, try to shut that all off, all that baby fat. And I feel a lot better, a lot faster a lot stronger. I feel like just an overall better football player because of that. I weighed 233 today...I feel great.

"The game has slowed down a lot. Looking back I was very hesitant last year when I shouldn't have been. I was just flowing. If I could've been a little bit faster last year it would've helped me out in making some more plays. I was a step slow."

To be fair to Hollifield, he was thrown into the lion's den. Still, he was one of the best players on the defense. Hollifield recorded 62 tackles, including 10 against Boston College in what was his de facto coming out party as a starter.

The DB Journey is Inching Closer to its Destination

"I see 11-man football," said cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell. "Not just my guys, but I see more of a cohesive group of guys being assignment sound, feeling more confident about their responsibilities. Their mind is not tying up their feet. So guys are playing faster."

The cornerbacks are a group that lacked experience last season. Bryce Watts played his first snaps as a starter, and his counterpart, Caleb Farley, played his first snaps ever.

"It's a process, I don't look at it any way other than game by game," said Mitchell. "'How can we get better each and every day?' That's the approach I took last fall, and I think it's paying dividends now.

"Getting those game reps under their belt, seeing it, processing it, now the game is starting to slow down a little bit for them. Instead of just going out there and reacting now they can be a little more proactive."

The talented wideouts pushing, and therefore, helping to develop the cornerbacks shouldn't go unnoticed this spring either.

"It's important for our corner position that Damon Hazelton practices," said Fuente. "That they go against Damon, that they go against Tre, that they go against Phil Patterson. It's important for us to continue to facilitate that."

When Fuente stresses the need for eight or nine quality wideouts, it's not all about contributing on the field. Competing and challenging in practice in order to get the rest of the team better factors in too. With an influx of talent over the last two recruiting classes, the Hokies seemingly have depth at the WR position to elevate practices.

Farley, Watts, and Jovonn Quillen earned the bulk of the game snaps last season, so there's a plethora of experience back at corner. Jermaine Waller and Armani Chatman loom on the depth chart too. However, the most anticipated CB of the group is 4-star JuCo transfer Jeremy Webb.

Although his time at Virginia Tech has been plagued with injuries, Webb has solidified himself as a leader of the group.

"He carries a certain weight with those guys," said Fuente. "I don't think I've ever seen a guy that hasn't played carry as much weight with the younger players as I have with Jeremy it's kinda a neat thing to see."

Two Achilles injuries, one to either leg, have sidelined Webb since his arrival from Brooklyn ASA last year. But all that time away from the field has allowed Webb to soak in the defense, which makes his eminent return even the more exciting.

"He's handling it like a champ," said Mitchell. "He knows his role right now, and that's to facilitate these young guys so they can be better football players. There's gonna come a point in time when he's gonna be on the football field and we're gonna see another long 6'3", 6'4" guy that's athletic that's gonna go out there and help us win some football games."

Miscellaneous

  • The QB competition may come down to who can throw the ball accurately when the receiver isn't wide open. It's simple, but it seems to be Fuente's big box to check in this competition. Something to keep an eye on in the spring game.
  • The search for a punt returner continues. "[Tre Tuner] and a long list of other people can return punts. Short of taking out an advertisement in the school paper and asking frat guys to show up and catch puts, we are having open tryouts," said Fuente.
  • Mitchell stated that his group of corners has yet to show up to anything late this spring. "They wanna be good...them boys are like sponges."

  • Tyjuan Garbutt is continuing to add some beef to his body this offseason. He's instructed to eat 3500-4000 calories a day. That takes about five big meals a day. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Garbutt can hit up B-Dubs for wing specials. That's a delicious way to yield #gains.

Comments

Thank you for this article! I really needed some non basketball content!

It really seems like that the chemistry of the team has improved significantly this offseason so far. As painful as our personnel losses have been, it may have been a necessary step to improve the team. This group should be much more interesting to watch this fall.

Short of taking out an advertisement in the school paper and asking frat guys to show up and catch puts, we are having open tryouts," said Fuente.

I know Fuente seems so low key and not fun but being around him in small groups jokes like this just come out.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

100%.

I only interact with Fuente in a non-football manner and he is friendly, funny & nice. I hope he figures out how to let the fans see him in a more personal way to establish more good-will. I presume when the spotlight is on, there is fear of saying the wrong thing.

Beamer certainly mastered the ability to be personable and talk for a couple minutes without saying anything memorable.

He's not wrong, honestly. If you keep making "funny" quips like this in the public eye, eventually you'll say something stupid that comes across the wrong way. It's part of being human, but the interwebs don't always see it that way.

Time will give you confidence to be more cordial with the fans......and a shitload of wins

Great article and appreciate the time writing it. I do not know why but football feels mmmmhhh right now given the recent bball tourney run. MMadness is way more exciting than 9-3, 8-4, or 6-7 records and crappy bowl games that are more and more meaningless.

I am a true college football fan first through and through. Played in high school and was lucky enough to attend VT between 99-04, but I am just not feeling this program, staff or anything VT football for that matter these days. Maybe if they would actually provide some access I could be assuaged and have some juice but right now -- I am reallllll dry.

How much of the 54 minute press conference did you watch?

Preach

Zero, as I wanted to avoid falling asleep with the expectation of extensive moderation and stale responses as directed by Fuente in all past pressers. Program openness, increasing access to players and engaging a national audience requires much more than holding a long spring practice press conference. He has dug himself too great a whole for at least me to think things will be any different beyond minor tweaks to policy.

Thank You for sharing the First real news I have seen this spring. Like everything you mentioned about the whole team and Attitude.

Jack R.

Caveat that it's spring ball, Vice moves around his guys, defense ahead of offense, etc...

Still not encouraging to hear a walk-on DT had a day against a perceived strength of the team, the o-line.

The curse of spring ball: "is defense doing great or does that just mean our offense sucks?"

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

To be fair, these "scrimmages" (and I use quotes because they're very controlled) are designed for the defense to win. A spread offense is based off tempo and running the exact right play at the exact right time.
When you limit that playbook to, let's say a bunch of simple runs and passes, the defense is going to win because there's no real physicality element against them. So basically, it doesn't mean the offense is badd or the defense is good.

for the offense to win they have to do EVERYTHING right and do it faster, stronger, smarter, and with more want to in spring ball. the defense is basically cheating the play "most" plays, they know what is coming and instead of playing fundamental, gap, read and react football, they are just jumping the play. weve all had those "scout team stars" id imagine that is what this kid is doing right now, not a knock on him at all, his effort is important for us to grow. While sometimes this can be frustrating for a coach its human nature for the player to try and make plays and if that means a little cheating the play to stand out, hey go for it. Its important not to overreact to these things for the Defensive coach or the offensive coach. When you see the film youll see more often than not that if the offensive coach had manipulated the defense in a game type scenario or called plays to attack the overzealous defender there are huge gaps that take place because of this type of "hero ball". At the end of the day if the offense can win against this type of play it means that they executed flawlessly and that is the ultimate goal of practice is to be able to go in and win plays and execute mistake free football and win even when they know whats coming. and that is how you develop HARD, SMART, TOUGH football.

twitter @smithey_daniel
head scout BSP scouting specializing in north florida/ southern GA highschool football scouting

Probably not fair to discredit the kid when we have no access to the film. Your point is valid, but he still has to beat the offensive player to the spot and every defensive player in these scrimmages has that advantage. Let's wait until the end of spring ball and see where things fall. Hewitt is the only DT with any significant experience. The second DT and backup spots are wide open. We should be celebrating players like this for killing it in practice and making the most of their opportunities.

Tyrod’s Tailor

I agree not trying to discredit him. heck regardless of what the scenario is he is making our OLINE working and that's a win for us! good on good makes great! and knowing our history with walk ons I wont put it past anyone. But just from experience generally speaking and this is wayyyyy generally and he could very well be the exception to the rule, the defense has a strategic advantage on the offense in practice, often times coach have to purposely set up a defense to almost be out of position to stop a play just to get it run successfully in practice because the defense knows whats coming and its human nature to cheat the play.

that being said I hope with everything in me that our DTs are making strides and able to be uber productive against ACC caliber oline play. nothing would make me more happy if someone or multiple people emerge from the pile to ball out and provide depth and be a strength of our defense lord knows we need it at that spot right now.

twitter @smithey_daniel
head scout BSP scouting specializing in north florida/ southern GA highschool football scouting

I compare a report like this to reports from recruiting camps.

In the camps, HS players hoping for scholarships go up against each other. When we get a report that a possible recruit dominated other potential recruits, we get excited about offering or recruiting or signing him.

In this instance, we have someone going against actual P5 players in a simulated game setting and having a real good day...multiple TFLs. And we get the report from a good player playing right behind him.

Sounds incredibly similar to the curse of playing FSU as an opening game.

(add if applicable) /s

I'm bracing myself for the inevitability that we are just not going to be good again this year, and probably are in the midst of a slow and agonizing downward spiral. Nothing going on around VT football is inspiring much confidence, and if a defense that struggled so bad last year is having a field day against the strength of our team, consider me concerned.

Why would that concern you versus encouraging you? The weakness is improving. Bud has a pretty good track record of course correcting.

"with all due respect, and remember I’m sayin’ it with all due respect, that idea ain’t worth a velvet painting of a whale and a dolphin gettin’ it on" - Ricky Bobby

I watched him play at bburg high and while it's not top level competition, he did dominate. Fingers crossed he is a diamond in the rough.

John Engelberger was a walk-on and he had 60 tackles and 6 sacks his freshman year. Jack Tyler his R-Fr year was making big plays in an ACC championship. We should know better than to discount a kid for being a walk-on. But you're right this sounds like typical spring ball where the defense is feeling it and the offense is still trying to find its footing. Also i'm assuming he wasn't doing this against our experienced guys.

15 Straight

Thank you for this article, taking our minds off of BBall!

Truly it is great to hear positive talk of the football teams unity and positive growth.

Especially good to hear about leaned up Dax flying around all over the place

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

I'm baffled by the lack of a punt returner. I feel like we've got 5 slot receivers on the team. I think Tayvion will turn some heads there when he shows up this summer.

We went an entire season with a vocal segment of the fan base hating what may be the schools second best ever punt returner. It takes a special person.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

Did fans really hate DeAngelo or Eddie Royal? Serious question cause those are the top two that come to my mind.

I heart Eddie Royal and I don't care who knows it.

Amateur superstar and idiot extraordinaire.

I think he's referring to Stroman who certainly had his share of haters.

He also had a terrible first year as a punt returner. Stroman grew into greatness through hard work after a rough start.

If you're reading the above post and thinking, "is this guy serious?!?," you can safely assume I'm not.

His freshmen year average would have been 36/37th best this past year. His worst year still top 3rd in the nation.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

Am I remembering wrong about the number of times he dropped the ball or ran backwards for a loss? I know he had some explosive plays, but there were some really nasty results as well. It's only because of how good he became that the first year seemed so poor by comparison.

If you're reading the above post and thinking, "is this guy serious?!?," you can safely assume I'm not.

Ah that makes more sense.

Just to clarify, I'm not "hating" on any of the players returning punts. I'm surprised that the a reliable player hasnt emerged in 18 months given the number of really talented receivers we have on the team.

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

Is that the crowd of frat bros for the open tryout for punt returner?

If Dax can stay at 230-235 and be a step quicker as he suggests then that will pay huge dividends for him at either ILB spot, but especially at Backer.

Glad to hear the ample praise for James Mitchell. It sounds like he will be a real playmaker for us.

Garbutt's quotes are encouraging because they suggest a level of ownership from the defense. Sounds like we are beefing him up to be our bigger end. If he has a breakout season (particularly in applying much needed QB pressure) that would pay huge dividends for our pass defense. I hope to hear a more in depth report on where House is at soon.

After finally catching Bowick's film around NSD, I cant say I'm surprised he is turning heads. He is built like a RB and runs very well. Despite his stocky build he also shows great body fluidity and catch range. Our WR recruiting looks like it will yield our deepest receiving group in years.

Still a lot I'm nervous about with this team, particularly the OL, where we need to see that recruiting translate to some nastiness in the run game, the DL at all positions, and the secondary. However, I am very happy to hear that the locker room and practices have a "new" vibe to the previous year. That mental stuff is important too.

Bowick's QB, Drake Maye, is a 2021 with offers from everyone. Would think UNC (Mark Maye's son, Luke Maye's brother) would have the inside track but it wouldn't bother me to see if we could get a visit.

I long for the day when the OL isn't a cause for concern and worry.

Great insights sir.

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Don't know what Sam had to do to get this stuff past the info police:

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.

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But I think you are being overly optimistic:

I hope to hear a more in depth report on where House is at soon.

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.and Whit puts on his batting gloves and steps up to the plate....

Great to see that everyone is optimistic. The team bonding is definitely a step (or 3) in the right direction, but right now it's all talk. Will be interesting to see what happens when they find themselves in a challenging situation.

Twitter me

The content of this article is otterly ridiculous and awesome because, almost football season

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
β€œI served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

The discussion of the duck pond new resident otter continue.

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

Yes that's the joke

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
β€œI served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

When reading about the walk on DT all I could think of was "God damn O'Driscoll!!!"

N.B.A...No bitches allowed?

No bitches allowed. That's what I thought. I honestly read the quotes from Dax and went looking at the roster. Driscoll is listed at 6-5 and 270lbs. I found myself thinking, maybe we got something hear. Time will tell, but he is considerably different in body shape than our most recent, more lauded recruits.

I hate rude behavior in a man. Won't tolerate it.

How he was not recruited even remotely, I'll never know. He received offers from Concord, St. Francis, Charleston, and UVA-Wise. I get recruiting is a finicky game, a lot of guys fall through the cracks...but guys who are 6'5" and 270 lbs are usually pretty good at football.

Southwest Virginia does not get near enough attention in recruiting. I know it doesn't have the same amount of high quality players as some of the areas in the rest of the state has, but the cream of the crop in this part of the state doesn't get enough credit.

15 Straight

Was gonna say the same. Very dependent on coaches from swva to market their players to get attention and sadly many coaches in this part of the state don't have interest or the know how. Kids don't know what they're supposed to do to get attention and almost completely reliant on the coach.

Believe me I played for one who would huddle all the seniors up at the end of their senior season and say "ok who is trying to play in college? Ok let me give you copies of your game film from this year's games so you can put together whatever you need to"; and that was the extent of said coaches involvement.

He's a bid dude!

Good stuff this... thanks for sharing.

"What are you going to do, stab me? - Quote from Man Stabbed

WOW... great stuff

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

JHam is special. Watch this guys progression as a member of our defensive coaches. I see big things from him.

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

Thanks for turning us on to that. Agreed, he seems like the real deal.

Also, production value was pretty solid on that video. If you can find them, and/or get them to play on hokiesports, I think the media quality has really taken a step forward in the last year or so.

Good article, appreciate getting a little football news. In the waning Beamer years I remember similar springs where there was a "new energy", or "renewed sense of urgency". It didn't translate to a 180 for the team then, and I don't think it will this season either. I think we will be improved, but I think we will still be a young team with an 8 to 9 win ceiling. Fuente is a process oriented guy and I think he's trying to do it the right way. It is encouraging that the players are continuing to buy into that process after a rough year, but its still gonna take time. I'm willing to wait.

I get Fuente is a process oriented guy, but he works in a results oriented business. Player turnover allows for about a 3 year grace period, but by year 4 and 5 your process better be working and delivering or its time to find a new process. I think the weak SOS this year means 8 or 9 wins is the floor and it will be up to Whit to determine if Fuente's process can deliver the results that justify Fuente's paycheck.

Whatever. It was one bad year.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

I'm happy the basketball coaching search is over and pumped for the spring game this weekend. Thanks for the good write-up, Sam.

Have there been anymore snapchat videos or anything posted? I'm just happy that all the basketball noise is done and now we can talk football again. This story is 6 days old and has 60 comments. This would be unheard of during spring ball any other year on this site.

I am probably speaking only for myself, but my excitement for football is only slighted affected by all of the basketball happenings. I am disengaged from the football program because there is a major lack of information to consume or be excited about.