Justin Fuente Ready to Finally Start the Season, Though He's Still Living in a 'Test by Test World'

The Hokies released a new depth chart, in the surest sign yet there will finally be football Saturday.

Justin Fuente is cautiously optimistic Tech can kick off its season against N.C. State.

As far as Justin Fuente knows, there will finally be Hokies football on Saturday. But even just a few days out from the would-be season opener, that could change at any minute.

Fuente told reporters Monday that he is "optimistic and hopeful" that Virginia Tech will kick off its season against N.C. State, as planned, even though he is clear that "we will not have a full roster" this weekend. He's dubbing it a "test-by-test world" that the team is living in, so his prediction early in the week could easily fail to hold up.

"I'm not trying to raise the alarm, but I'm just being honest with the situation that we're in," Fuente said. "It's a little bit like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube and a new layer gets added every single day."

The head Hokie later admitted that he's never actually solved that puzzle himself (he leaves that to his kids, who he says have littered about 10 cubes around his house) but he certainly understands just how complex they can be. He sees it every day as he tries to sort out who will be able to take the field against the Wolfpack, which very much remains up in the air at this point.

"I don't know that I have ever been this close to a game and felt as uneasy about who we will have in the game as I do right now," Fuente said. "I'll be excited when we get the last test in and we know who's going to be out there."

That being said, Fuente did say that the team is collectively "anxious to play" and "tired of practice." But he also admitted that "I probably don't have the same tone in my voice that you usually have heading into a first game," sounding very much like a man worn down by so much talk of quarantine and contact tracing. Even the Wolfpack sound a bit befuddled.

"We know their personnel. We just don't know who they'll be playing," N.C. State Head Coach Dave Doeren told reporters Monday.

Fuente can't even be sure if he'll have his full staff with him Saturday. The team announced plans to have three coaches in the booth — OC Brad Cornelsen, RBs coach Adam Lechtenberg and CBs coach Ryan Smith — to spread things out on the sideline slightly, but there's no telling yet whether the Hokies will get to put that plan into practice.

"I think we should have everybody or almost everybody," Fuente said. "It's a little bit like the players. We'll find out. We're all in the same testing group."

It might get lost amid all the coronavirus craziness, but Fuente still has an actual football game to worry about soon enough. When he's not fretting about his own team, he's also brainstorming the best way to slow down an offense that won a 45-42 shootout with Wake Forest in its first game, picking up 270 rushing yards along the way.
But those concerns feel a little more normal at least, as Fuente fusses about ways to stop, say the QB and RB stretch plays he noticed about during film study, instead of the spread of deadly virus.

"I feel pretty good about our football team and what they can do, even if getting them together has been a bit of an issue," Fuente said.

A Fluid Defensive Depth Chart

All the aforementioned Covid uncertainty makes reading Tech's newly released depth chart (page 9) a futile exercise in some senses — but with the prospect that backups could be called upon to become starters following just one Covid test, it's perhaps an even more valuable document than ever.

Take the mix in secondary, for instance. Perhaps the most notable news on that front is true freshman Keonta Jenkins listed as the starting rover, a development Fuente hinted at last week following the news of Devon Hunter's suspension.

And behind Jenkins is another freshman, Lakeem Rudolph out of Virginia Beach. Junior Chamarri Conner brings some experience to the nickel corner spot, but he too is backed up by a freshman: J.R. Walker, who at least has a redshirt year under his belt.

This is where Fuente says the team most misses Nasir Peoples, who's now out for the year. But he still expects all of the players in the secondary to rotate around quite a bit to make up for that youth.

"We do still have some guys on that depth chart that can play multiple positions," Fuente said. "We are a little bit thin. We'll have to do a good job of being able to crosstrain guys on those defensive back positions to play a couple different spots."

Fuente expects that CB Devin Taylor, an Illinois State transfer who only joined the team in late August, to be part of that equation. Even though he's only been part of practice for a few weeks, he's already been listed on the second team with junior Brion Murray, behind starters Armani Chatman and Jermaine Waller.

"I've been really pleased with him, we don't have any reservations about putting him on the field," Fuente said. "He's caught up really quickly."

Similarly, Fuente chose to list Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale as co-starters at outside linebacker, suggesting that the pair could spend some time on the field together — however, he noted that could mean that Hollifield spends some time at mike linebacker spelling Rayshard Ashby.

Some Options on Offense

The fluidity on the new depth chart is evident on the offensive side of the ball as well.

Take running back, for instance, where Fuente made the surprising choice of listing grad transfer Khalil Herbert as the starting option, backed up by fellow transfer Raheem Blackshear. The two players with more experience in Tech's offense (Jalen Holston and Keshawn King) were listed with the ever-mysterious "OR" separating them on the third team.

The offensive line brought some surprises as well. With Brock Hoffman taking over at center, the team listed Bryan Hudson as the newly minted starter at right guard. Curiously, that's pushed over last year's starter at the position, Doug Nester, over to right tackle, where he backs up Luke Tenuta.

"I have no problem sliding Doug to that spot, it's where he played last year (before moving to guard," Fuente said. "I'm thankful we have as many guys as we do who have played and played well. I think those are their natural spots (on the depth chart) in a perfect world, but I also believe they'll be mixed around a bit."

Fuente also confirmed that he still plans to give Braxton Burmeister plenty of reps alongside starting QB Hendon Hooker, though he said it's an "ongoing process of how that will exactly work."

Tayvion Robinson, meanwhile, appears only once on the depth chart, at wide receiver instead of his assumed role as punt returner. Though that inspired plenty of Twitter chatter, Fuente said that was merely a "mistake," with Herbert, Blackshear and King also listed as possible options there.

Comments

Now, it is finally, officially game week. Thank you!

Tayvion Robinson, meanwhile, appears only once on the depth chart, at wide receiver instead of his assumed role as punt returner

Just a heads up: Tayvion is, in fact, listed as the punt returner.

Thanks Koma! Good shit as usual

You're the only ones that I can talk to about this, you guys.

I promise I will never take VT football for granted again.

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

I do not envy Fuente's position one bit.

If you don't play the game because you don't have a roster, fans criticize you for not knowing how to control your program. If you do play with a depleted roster and lose, fans criticize you for losing and probably not knowing how to control your program either.

The tests are going to be what they are going to be. Our guys don't have much control over that this late in the ball game. However, they have to be damn near perfect when it comes to who they see and where they go this week if they want to play so they don't get hit with contact tracing.

Marshall University graduate.
Virginia Tech fanatic.
Formerly known as JWillHokieAlum.

Chatter is that HH is still in quarantine - not sure when he would be back with the team between now and Saturday night.

I'm hearing he will be back with the team Friday

Fire guy

If he's out of practice all week, does it really matter if he's available Saturday? Would they still play him without having practiced all week?

Yes.

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

Serious questions. Are we the only ones contact tracing at this level? Florida states head coach tested positive and you're telling me the whole team isn't contact traced or at least all the coaches that have been in meeting rooms with him? Seems like there's different sets of rules per team.

If anything the HC has the least amount of close contact with players. Now if an OC got it pretty much all your QBs are toast

Schools are following local and state along with school and conference guidelines and advice. The ACC didn't come up with a uniform policy like the BIG.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

I've heard that HH will rejoin on Wednesday. Let's hope. I'm also hearing chatter of growing frustration in the QB room over the HH vs BB matter. Although HH is QB1 on latest depth chart, that assignment is rumored to be shaky. I'm all for healthy competition, as long as it doesn't translate to issues on the field.

Source?

Honestly no idea on the real source. I picked it up third hand so the validity is questionable.

This was a comment I made here a few weeks back. Fuente better know what he is doing. Only thing I would change at this point is NCSU instead of LOLUVA. What I do hate is that it seems Fuente has always had an easy excuse when the team has not performed. Jerod left, Jackson broke his leg, players left for NFL, transfers, dismissals, young defense, Bud's pending retirement, etc. Not saying Fuente has explicitly made these excuses or leaned on them, but he does at times use them to explain away certain shortcomings in expectations. And now, Covid and contact tracing will be the latest. We just need a clean look and a clean season with a seasoned roster. That is what fans want and I know it is what Fuente wants too. Frustrating!

Waiting for Koma's report, but this has been my single greatest concern with the offense this year. It certainly is not a bad problem to have multiple QBs capable of effectively running the offense, but if the situation is mismanaged it can lead to poor results. This is why Fuente is paid the big bucks. I'm certainly not jealous of the decisions he will have to make at QB throughout the season.

Looking back, wasn't it Motley that he used rather well to spell Jerod Evans at times. He managed that situation well, but that wasn't nearly as tricky as the decision he has upcoming. I think we can all agree that the switch to Hooker came too late last season. That said, he didn't wait too long to pull Willis for QP in the UNC game after Hooker got hurt. That whole game was a bit of a miracle.

Looking forward to seeing both QB's have a great day against LOLUVA.

What I do hate is that it seems Fuente has always had an easy excuse when the team has not performed. Jerod left, Jackson broke his leg, players left for NFL, transfers, dismissals, young defense, Bud's pending retirement, etc. Not saying Fuente has explicitly made these excuses or leaned on them, but he does at times use them to explain away certain shortcomings in expectations.

I don't call them 'excuses,' because it doesn't 'excuse' Fuente's performance, but these things do give context.

We just need a clean look and a clean season with a seasoned roster. That is what fans want and I know it is what Fuente wants too. Frustrating!

I think we're in agreement here, it's just frustrating that Fuente is essentially graded on a curve for every test due to circumstances out of his control. And as a result, we can't pass or fail him.

Twitter me

Fuente has always pushed the qbs to compete but he hasn't really let a 2 qb system hinder the offense. My guess is that he is thinking 2 things. One, we need multiple qbs ready to go for obvious reasons. Two, the better performing qb will quickly separate and we won't see a rotation barring injury or absence.

"If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"

So if we end up playing no games this season are we undefeated and therefore MNC?🤔

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:
“I served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

If I'm being honest, I can't muster the energy to care about this season. It just feels like we're wasting time. Too many teams are going to have holes in their rosters and each schedule to feel like this season means anything. It all feels wrong.

I have no idea why my username is VT_Warthog.

Arkansas blew a 24-0 lead in the Belk Bowl.

I have the opposite thought. This season is very interesting in regards to how well we prepare the whole team. EVERYONE has to be ready to take snaps at the drop of a hat....not to mention everyone of us could use an "escape" from real world problems. Even if it's for only 3-4 hours on a Saturday.

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

I respect that for sure. Though I don't think it'll feel like an escape since there will be constant reminders.

I have no idea why my username is VT_Warthog.

Arkansas blew a 24-0 lead in the Belk Bowl.

And the fact that games played by teams deemed "safe" still obviously aren't when decisions seem to be being made day of the game for some players/coaches/teams.

I agree that this season is interesting because it is essentially a freebie. It will have an asterisk beside it regardless of how it plays out. We get to play anyone and everyone (through need or desire) without losing a year. I have zero stress about results, just the desire to see the games actually happen.

To me, I am viewing it like having a fall practice season but we get a bunch of scrimmages against other schools that are on TV.

"I'm too drunk to taste this chicken" - Colonel Sanders via Ricky Bobby

It definitely feels wrong but if Hokies suit up to play football I will be highly interested in watching. The results in January may feel a bit meaningless....sounds like traditional college football to me.

"If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"

I think alot of people have been fatigued by this year but I have a feeling once the ball gets snapped and some guys in O&M uniforms take the field it will feel legit.

Directions from Blacksburg to whoville, go north till you smell it then go east until you step in it

If it doesn't mean anything, how would you feel if we lost all our games? It does mean something, and even if other teams have holes, I'd guess that really solid D-line production will tell people that TNT can develop college talent and not just coach pros, which will help in recruiting. I would guess that if we perform well in other areas as well it will help with recruiting, especially if the defense plays well since we have so many new coaches on that side of the ball. Having production from a running back would probably give confidence in Lechtenberg as a coach and that we would actually use a good RB in our system. The same as losing a bunch of games would probably hurt us on the recruiting trail.

If we lost all our games I'd still be concerned about everything I'm concerned about now (non-football). My point being, I am more apathetic about VT football than ever.

But I also would say "this season was a lost cause anyway" due to the virus and all those guys have the opportunity to play next year so it's literally a free rebuilding year. The recruiting trail has already been screwed by the virus as well as the college football landscape. At the end of the day, it's all out of my control.

I have no idea why my username is VT_Warthog.

Arkansas blew a 24-0 lead in the Belk Bowl.

Kelly going to get same media pushback as Fuente?

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

on a scale of 0 to "I caused a kid's death because I wanted a god's eye view of practice in a windstorm" I'm gonna peg the blowback around a 4.

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)..

Quit worrying about stuff like that. People need to stop harping on whatever unfair treatment they think we get or don't get. It is nothing anyone can control.

"The reports of my death Notre Dame saving the college football season are greatly exaggerated"

Perhaps I simply missed it, but I haven't seen anyone else respond to a postponement the way UVA did.

ND was getting praise early on for their Coronavirus response and discipline too.

No, UVA is still the only school who got super holier-than-thou about it and that ain't a coincidence either.

It's because they fucking suck ass.