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May 28, 2012

Rites Of Spring: Offense

The calendar turns to June shortly and with that we will enter the longest two months of the off-season. However, that doesn't mean we still can't take a look back at what went down during spring practice, which concluded just over a month ago. Today, we examine the big storylines from the spring on the offensive side of the ball.

Quarterback
Storyline: It's All on Thomas
Analysis: With Virginia Tech replacing four offensive linemen, a tight end, two wide receivers, and all three running backs off of last year's roster, the entire success of the 2012 Virginia Tech offense will hinge completely on Logan Thomas' performance.

He was superb down the stretch last year following a rough start, playing the final nine games of the year well enough to launch himself way up some people's 2013 NFL Draft boards.

Backup Mark Leal missed a lot of time with a respiratory issue, so this spring was all about building on last season's effort and giving Thomas a little bit more of a free rein within the offense.

One of the big things to look out for was the up-tempo, no-huddle offense, which Logan Thomas looked very good in during the practices and scrimmages during the spring.


Running Backs
Storyline: Is Holmes the Guy?
Analysis: Michael Holmes, J.C. Coleman, and Martin Scales all got significant reps this spring as Shane Beamer looked to put together a running back rotation to replace the production he lost when David Wilson left for the NFL and Josh Oglesby graduated early.

Holmes entered the spring and left it as the starter at the top of the depth chart and turned in the highlight of the spring with his 60-yard touchdown run during one of the open scrimmages.

Coleman was held a little bit more in check as he was unable to get free to the outside for much of the spring, but the athletic ability and natural vision is clearly there. Scales was among the biggest surprises of the spring session, moving from fullback and immediately becoming a problem for defenders trying to tackle him. Entering the fall, Holmes is the clear starter while Coleman, Scales, and the incoming freshmen will all continue to battle it out for carries behind him.


Wide Receivers
Storyline: Young Newcomers Emerge
Analysis: Following the 2011-2012 season, the top two statistical receivers in Virginia Tech history, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, both graduated. Tech will replace them with a trio of experienced backups from Marcus Davis to D.J. Coles and Dyrell Roberts, but only Roberts made it through the spring unscathed.

Coles missed the entire session following post-season knee surgery, while Davis pulled his hamstring pretty severely halfway through. Both are expected to be ready to go in the fall, but their absence allowed for a huge number of reps to go to guys lower on the depth chart.

Senior Corey Fuller solidified his spot as the top option behind Davis, Coles, and Roberts, but the biggest recurring storyline was the involvement of youngsters like Kevin Asante, E.L. Smiling, and Demitri Knowles.

While none of the three were able to consistently produce enough to break into the expected top four entering the fall, all three, along with others like Christian Reeves and Willie Byrn, were able to show flashes of their ability to set themselves up for big springs in 2013. As for 2012, Asante and Knowles seem to have the best shot to play a role in the offense out of any of the youngsters.


Tight Ends
Storyline: Stinespring Has Lots of Options
Analysis: Virginia Tech tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring entered this spring looking to find a full-time replacement for Chris Drager, but left it with a tight position battle led by a trio of talented and intriguing possibilities.

First, there is experienced senior Eric Martin. He's always been a terrific problem, but is a minimal threat in the passing game, which is where his major deficiency lies.

The antithesis of Martin is fellow senior Randall Dunn, who has always excelled in the passing game but struggled to block. Dunn really came on strong in the final two weeks though and is someone who needs to be on the field because of his ability to make big plays down the field.

He reminds me of former UCLA and current Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Mercedes Lewis downfield. The big question with him remains whether he can be an effective blocker play-to-play, series-to-series, and week-to-week.

Finally, the third player to emerge was sophomore Ryan Malleck. Malleck is the best two-way option Stinespring has in that he can block and be a threat in the passing game, so he could definitely be the top guy by the end of August. Those three lead the field at tight end, although the battle will certainly last into the fall and may never be outright decided.


Offensive Line
Storyline: Where's the Depth?
Analysis: After this spring, it is safe to say the Hokies feel good about their new starting five. From left to right, Nick Becton, David Wang, Andrew Miller, Brent Benedict, and Vinston Painter all had solid springs and together they form a strong unit. Behind them though is where the remaining issues lie.

One injury and Tech's whole offensive flow could be halted at any point this season. Michael Via is going to be key when he recovers from his ACL surgery, as he will be Tech's sixth best lineman and backup multiple positions.

Caleb Farris is another capable backup, but he was hampered by a knee injury this spring. Look for Tech to try and get him some work at guard in the fall to try and create even more versatility. Other than that, Curt Newsome doesn't have anyone who he has complete confidence in.

Mark Shuman needs to get stronger and more consistent at left tackle, Laurence Gibson is still learning and is a bit raw at left guard, Matt Arkema needs to get tougher at right guard, and Jake Goins was taken off the roster at the end of the spring, although he will return to the team in August.

The first five is set, but the four weeks of practice in August are going to be huge for the entire second unit as Newsome tries to find some reliable depth.


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