1999 Spring Game:  White 20, Maroon 17

Vick finally gets chance to show off - Randy King, Roanoke Times
Spring blooms another winner in Blacksburg - Jack Bogaczyk, Roanoke Times
Vick quick to learn in first live game as QB - Jeff White, Richmond Times-Dispatch
Spring Game depth chart provided by Tech (59 kb GIF)
Alphabetical Roster (A-L) provided by Tech (116 kb GIF)
Alphabetical Roster (L-Z) provided by Tech (112 kb GIF)

HokieCentral's Analysis

After all the hype, after all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Michael Vick, I expected to sit in the Lane Stadium stands on Saturday and be treated to the site of 250 yards passing by a six-foot-five, 230 pound quarterback who ran like the wind and - literally - carried a cannon around on his shoulder.

Instead, as I watched Michael Vick's "debut," I was reminded of two things:

  1. It takes more than a QB to have a successful offense.
  2. Too much hype is a bad thing. Mike Vick is a young man. Very young. And he won't set the world on fire right away.

Not to start this thing off on a negative note of sorts, but I think everyone needs to slow down and take a deep breath. Yes, Tech is good, particularly on defense. Yes, Tech is deep, particularly on defense.

But the fact is, when we start getting giddy, and we start getting satisfied with ourselves and overly optimistic, we have a nasty habit of stinking up the field and letting ourselves down. Hokie players and their fans operate better as hungry underdogs, and I'm a little nervous that so much is expected of this football team.

Don't get me wrong. The excitement is great, and it's going to sell a lot of tickets, and this fall is going to be Fun, with a capital F. And this program is definitely moving in the right direction. But it's also definitely not there yet. So everybody just calm down, and let's take this thing one at a time.

It's the journey, not the destination, remember? If you start thinking you're already at the destination, then you've made two mistakes. Number one, you've missed the fun of the journey, and number two, you're setting yourself up for disappointment when you realize that you're really not there yet.

Case in point: the Miami Hurricanes. Buoyed by the lapdog media, they're running around with their chests stuck out, proclaiming that they're "back." I have a hard time believing that a team that gave up over 100 points in their last two regular season games is "back." Did they suddenly sprout a defense? Not likely.

Did Tech suddenly sprout an offense? Not likely. We'll have a darn good offense in 2-4 years, but for now, they're going to have their fits and starts, and Saturday's Spring Game was evidence of that in microcosm.

Ah, there's the segue from sermon into Spring Game report. I'll get off my soapbox now and talk a little bit about what I saw on Saturday.

Myth #1: "The Spring Game Report"

Writing any sort of Spring Game report is nearly impossible. It's easy in the regular season, when each game is a clash of wills between opposing factions, and there's meaning to every game, and if you dig just a little below the surface, there's a lot of meaning to each and every game.

As I said yesterday in News and Notes, the Spring Game isn't a "game" at all - it's a Chinese fire drill. There are over 100 young men on this team, all of whom have to see playing time as a reward for their efforts in practice, and as a result, the procession of players to and from the sidelines is constant. The quarters in these games are only eight minutes long, and as a result, the substitutions are unending, and there's no chance to develop any sort of sense of what's going on, both as a player and as a spectator.

There's always talk about how the offense doesn't do well in spring games and scrimmages because it's always "a little behind the defense" at this time of year. While that's true, that's not the whole story.

Defense is a read-and-react production that depends upon energy and effort from the players on the field, but offense is an exercise in precision and teamwork, particularly on the offensive line. O-lines have to work together over many dozens of snaps, perhaps hundreds, before they gel as a unit and hit peak performance. Quarterbacks and receivers have to get their timing down, and running backs have to get their rhythm.

Absolutely none of which happens during the short time period of a Spring Game, with the massive substitutions that take place. So not only is it hard to play with any cohesiveness in this game, it's hard to report on it, as well.

So why am I up on my soap box about this? Not just to prep you for another scatter-brained Spring Game report that is largely regurgitation of what you've already read on the message board, but also to help explain some of what we saw - or as the case may be, didn't see - on the field Saturday.


The Format

The teams played 1 vs. 2 on offense and defense. Last year, facing a pathetic offensive situation, Coach Beamer went with 1 vs. 1, but it didn’t help much. This year, with an improved offensive line and deeper quarterback situation, he went back to the 1 vs. 2 format, and the game didn’t really suffer for it.

On the other hand, can you imagine the #1 defense vs. the #2 offense in last year's Spring Game? Whoa, coyote ugly.

The Maroon team was the first string offense and defense, and the White team was the second string offense and defense. Although some great lineup cards were printed up and handed out by Tech, message board poster Vip in Danville still put together a nice depth chart for each team. You can access the depth charts on-line at the following addresses:

Sorry I didn't have time to copy the depth charts into this report. That means you'll have to bounce around between the two links above. I recommend printing them out, if you can.

The following players didn't play because of injury: Lee Suggs, Shane Beamer, Tim Schnecker, Joe Marchant, Cliff Anders, Carl Bradley, and Nathaniel (don't call me Nate) Williams.

As I mentioned before, the game consisted of eight-minute quarters, and as far as I could tell, the clock was run normally (meaning that it stopped on out of bounds, penalties, and first downs). It made for a fast game, unfortunately.

The key to watching a Spring Game is to look for the performances of individual players. It's a great chance to pick out a guy and just watch him for a few plays to see how he does. For some reason, I'm not good at this, having been conditioned over the years to just follow the ball. Having said that, I did notice the following things, many of which were reinforced by message board posters.


Aside from the Vick hype, much has been made of the performance of the receivers and the offensive line on Saturday. Many people are pushing the panic button, saying that neither unit played well. They're right about the receivers, but I'm not so sure they're right about the offensive line.

The Receivers

Ricky Hall's performance was a disappointment. Last year I praised Hall frequently, and a reader blasted me, bringing up the Temple game (which I didn't see), and asking me whether or not I was related to Ricky, because the way I praised him, I must be.

At the time, I didn't answer the email, figuring that Ricky's performance would answer it for me. He was in the midst of a near-record setting season, catching eight TD passes, one short of the Tech single-season record, during a year in which Tech could barely play offense and couldn't put the same quarterback on the field from game to game. I thought that was pretty impressive, and I figured after Michael Vick started playing QB this year, Ricky would have a good chance to break the record set by Antonio Freeman in 1993.

Well, we'll see. I still like Ricky, but he didn't do himself any favors by dropping two very catchable passes. But the Spring Game is just one game, and you shouldn't draw too many conclusions from just one game. What if the only game you had seen Ricky Hall play last year was the Temple game? You never would have guessed that he would put in a performance over the season that would rival that of the great Antonio Freeman.

Lost amidst the griping about Ricky's performance were two nice catches by other receivers, one by Emmett Johnson on a fade route from Dave Meyer, and one by tight end Derek Carter on a Mike Vick ball that was thrown behind him, and thrown hard.

By the way, the first pass to the tight end Saturday drew very sarcastic applause from those in attendance. For the record, Rickey Bustle threw to the tight end a lot on Saturday, but he's teased us before. I'll wait until the season matures before I pronounce Rickey cured of his TE-phobia.

Another fact that was lost is that Ricky Hall, Andre Davis, and Emmett Johnson are all suffering from nagging injuries. So we didn't see them breaking open a lot, probably because they weren't full speed.

But back to the subject of drops. I fully expect a lot of them this year. It's not something I even get upset about any more. We've been doing it since 1994, and even Bryan Still had trouble holding on to the ball. So I'm desensitized to it at this point. It shouldn't be happening, sure, but what are you going to do?

Offensive Line

Last spring was a disaster with this unit, and this year, the difference is remarkable. Many message board posters were saying that the O-line was getting schooled by the second-team defense, and yes, they were to some extent, but it wasn't the jail break that last spring was.

Michael Vick was flushed from the pocket quite a bit, but he also had plenty of time to throw on a number of occasions, and the run blocking was pretty good. After all, Shyrone Stith is a great runner, but he didn't get over 100 yards all by himself.

The offensive line has improved, and I'm pleased with its progress. They weren't very good last year, so don't expect them to set the world on fire this year. They won't be as good as the 1995 and 1996 units - not for a while - but I think they'll be good enough. As the season wears on, and they get to work together more, I think they'll provide Michael Vick and Shyrone Stith with enough time to work. Not like last year's disaster, when opposing teams, most notably Syracuse and Virginia, sent everybody without fear of retribution.

Running Backs

Shyrone Stith. 17 carries for 105 yards. Nuff said.

I was disappointed because I didn't get to see Andre Kendrick show his stuff, although it is notable that he was the #2 back, ahead of Keith Burnell. One coach on Friday night at Greg Roberts Sports Club said flatly, "Andre Kendrick has been our best football player this spring."

I also didn't get to see a lot of Keith Burnell, although he did thrill the crowd with one long nifty run late. It was a crying shame that Lee Suggs couldn't play due to injury, because he was one guy I really wanted to see suit up.

In any event, I think it goes without saying that we're deep and talented at running back, and it would take three injuries before I would start to get worried about this position. And I think Shyrone Stith is one of the most deserving players I've ever seen, and I can't wait to see him be the man.


Ah, yes, quarterback.

I wasn't really surprised by anything I saw from Michael Vick. His arm strength and speed have been well-documented, and indeed, he did flash a rifle arm and some nifty moves. He's very good at getting away from the rush and getting himself some room to work with, and his decision making on the option was solid.

And he also looked like a freshman playing against one of the best defenses in the country. He threw behind a couple of receivers, and on one play, failed to sense the rush coming from Derrius Monroe and coughed the ball up into the air as Derrius sacked him. The ball was picked off for Vick's only interception of the game, and the White team turned it into a touchdown on a trick play, with former high school QB Andre Kendrick throwing a halfback option pass to sure-handed Terrell Parham for a score.

For the record, Willie Pile was at safety and Steven Hunt was at corner on the Kendrick-to-Parham touchdown, and both were totally fooled. Terrell was deep behind them and scored easily.

But back to Vick. Although he didn't make any exceptional plays, he didn’t make any glaring errors, either. When I say he didn't make any exceptional plays, you've got to realize that I don't think Michael Vick firing the ball fifteen yards downfield into a receiver's gut is exceptional. That play will be routine for Michael, which is why we're lucky to have him.

All in all, I give Vick my seal of approval, but I would caution you to give the guy time, and to realize that it's a team effort. It doesn't matter how good he throws if the receivers drop them, it doesn’t matter how good he is if he keeps getting buried under an oncoming rush, and conversely, it doesn't matter how good he is if Shyrone Stith rolls up 200 yards rushing, and Michael's only function is to hand the ball off to him.

But by all accounts, the offense is in good hands, and I didn’t see any evidence to the contrary. As Michael plays more and more with an improving offense, and as he gets more and more confident and tries to make more plays, I hope he'll be a good one.


Defensive Line

We easily go eight deep on the defensive line (Moore, Engelberger, Bradley, Williams, Beasley, Pugh, Cyrus, Derrius Monroe), but beyond that, even Thenus Franklin showed flashes of ability, and walk-on Marvin Whilby (#55 in white) was drawing notice from the crowd.

Monroe, a defensive end, tore it up on Saturday. Wearing #98 in white, he was a demon from start to finish. The 6-4, 259 pound junior, who has always been a physical specimen, was named defensive MVP of the game, and he deserved it. Remember, he did it against the starting offensive line, not the backups.

One of the coaches at Greg Roberts on Friday night was asked about Derrius, and he complimented Derrius highly, but said that the only step Derrius needed to make was "to play his best football on every play." Well, on Saturday, we got Derrius's best. I'd like to see it all season long, which means we wouldn't miss the departed Ryan Smith one bit (other than must missing Smitty himself), but we'll see.


Where the depth surprised me was at linebacker. I think that we can rotate the linebackers the same way we rotate the defensive line, if we want to. Jake Houseright and Ben Taylor would make good a starting linebacking crew, never mind backups to Jamel Smith and Michael Hawkes.

Houseright and Taylor were ball-hawks on Saturday and were definitely part of any problem that Michael Vick had with the White team defense. Houseright had a game-high six tackles and really has a nose for the football, and Taylor is every bit as good as Jake if not better, at this point in time.

Something that slipped under everyone's radar, including mine, is that redshirt freshman T.J. Jackson was the starter for the White team at Whip, which means that he is the backup Whip linebacker, behind Lorenzo Ferguson and ahead of Tee Butler. For some reason, I doubt that T.J. will see a lot of playing time this year, except for scrub games, but I'm betting that we see his emergence in 2000, when Zo Ferguson will be a senior. Until then, the Whip spot is in good hands for two more seasons under Zo.

Defensive Back

One guy I really wanted to see who didn't disappoint me was Ronyell Whitaker, #2 on the White team. Ronyell did disappoint me with his late hit on Michael Vick early in the game, but other than that, I thought he was dynamite.

Ronyell is a smallish cornerback, standing only 5-10, but he has a nasty attitude and is a playmaker. Late in the game, there was an end-around by Andre Davis, and Whitaker pursued him across the field and then closed on him like he was standing still.

Unless Anthony Midget steps his game up big-time, and unless Frank Beamer sticks steadfastly to his seniority system, Whitaker will have Midget's job by the ninth game of the season, or maybe sooner. The kid can flat-out play.

I didn't watch Nick Sorensen much at safety, but the reviews on him were mixed. Most message board posters thought he played well, but a few said he looked a little tentative.

At the Rover position, we can only hope that Cory Bird is ready for a great junior season. His interception of an out pass thrown by Grant Noel was perfectly timed, and in addition to that, reviews of Cory's play were also positive.

Meanwhile, Ike is Ike. He's the "death and taxes" of the Hokie defensive backfield at this point.

Special Teams

I won't spend much time on this, because Tech's special teams, including the kickers, are well-known quantities. But I will say that backup kicker Jonathan Mollerup, if I've got the right guy in my brain, has a strong leg and looked good. Many Hokies wonder who our next kicker will be when Shayne Graham graduates, but I'm wondering if we haven't already quietly found him.

The big question mark is kick returners. Strangely enough, I didn't notice whether or not there were any kickoffs in this game, but I did keep a close eye on the punt returners. Ike Charlton and Ronyell Whitaker both returned punts, and both did good, mistake-free jobs. They both had very little to work with in the way of returnable punts, and it's hard to say which one I'd rather have returning punts, if I had to pick a favorite.

Both players have good hands and good speed, and both are playmakers, but I think that Ronyell has more shake-and-bake in him. He flashed it on one return that didn't go very far, but the initial move was shifty and left the first tackler grabbing air.

Spring Practice Awards
  • Top Newcomer, Offense: Michael Vick
  • Top Newcomer, Defense: Ronyell Whitaker
  • Most Improved: Dave Kadela, Daniel Nihipali, Wayne Ward, Ben Taylor, Derrius Monroe, Cory Bird, and, since we're handing the award out like M&M's, Will Stewart
  • Top Hustler, Offense: Keith Short
  • Top Hustler, Defense: Michael Hawkes
  • Most Valuable Performer: John Engelberger


This game verified the things we've been hearing all spring:

  • Michael Vick is a great physical talent who needs some seasoning
  • Ronyell Whitaker is a rising star
  • The defense is deep and talented, not just on the line, but at linebacker, too
  • Shyrone Stith is the feature running back
  • The offensive line has definitely improved

The surprises were:

  • The receiving corps, much-hyped, played an average game
  • Derrius Monroe played like a seasoned veteran - can he keep it up?

As far as whether or not Rickey Bustle has revamped the offense, it did look a little different. We threw to the tight end several times, but they were crossing patterns or buttonhook patterns, not the down-the-middle routes we all love so much.

I also didn't see a single flanker screen. The deep handoff in the backfield was still there, but with faster running backs and an improved offensive line, it should work better.

Other changes were more option for Vick, and an alignment I noticed that had Cullen Hawkins lining up behind the offensive tackle and sneaking out into the zone for a short reception (sorry if I gave one away there, coaches, but I doubt Butch Davis is reading this and saying to himself, "Yeah, I gotta remember to put in a special defensive alignment just for that one").

So there are no surprises here. Things to look forward to? You bet. And as Bill Roth said on Sportstalk With John Hale Monday, "The best news is, no one got hurt."

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