Spring Football 2000 Preview, Part 3
by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 4/7/00

In part 1 and part 2 of our Spring Football Preview, we gave you HokieCentral’s players to watch on offense and defense. In this, our third and final installment of the preview, we’ll take a look at special teams and then give you some random thoughts on the team.

Special Teams: Where’d Everybody Go?

Here's who returns on special teams for the Hokies: nobody. Gone are Shayne Graham, Jimmy Kibble, Caleb Hurd, Cliff Anders, Shane Beamer, Shyrone Stith, and Ricky Hall. That's every starting kicker, holder, snapper, and returner from last year. Every single one.

So here's the short version of Players to Watch on Special Teams: everybody.

Randy King of The Roanoke Times covered the topic of who's doing what this spring on special teams in a recent article titled Big Shoes to Fill, in which he tells the stories of Carter Warley and Bobby Peaslee. Both are walk-ons. Warley is Shayne Graham's heir-apparent at the placekicking position, whereas Peaslee is the frontrunner to follow Jimmy Kibble at punter.

Like many kickers before him, Peaslee is from Pulaski County, but he comes with a twist: he's a punter, not the "usual" placekicker that the Hokies get from Pulaski (think Chris Kinzer, Mickey Thomas, and Shayne Graham). Warley, in the meantime, comes via Fork Union.

At this point, both players appear to be strong favorites at their respective positions. The Hokies will take a look at Jon Mollerup, who kicked for the jayvee team last year, at placekicker, but Peaslee has very few challengers, if any, for the punting job.

I mentioned freshman QB Jason Davis as a possible punter in part 1 of my Spring Football Preview, but it turns out, after reading the spring "prospectus" released by the Tech athletic department, that Davis will get a look at placekicker, not punter. Hmmm, I suspect that we'll soon hear that the multi-talented Davis will be the third man in the booth with Bill Roth and Mike Burnop, or that he's the head architect on the South end zone stadium expansion.

In any event, Peaslee and Warley get the head start by being here this spring. Peaslee is also working out as Warley's holder. There's no mention from Tech of who is doing the long-snapping, perhaps because those who have seen incoming freshman Travis Conway snap know that the job is probably his to lose.

Conway is a 2000 recruit who won't arrive here until this fall. At 6-5, 235, he has been recruited purely as a long-snapper who may or may not eventually help out on the offensive line, but if Conway never plays a single down on the OL, no one should shed a tear. Why? If you've ever seen the kid snap, you'd know why. He's got a cannon. He throws darts that belong in the NFL. His snaps arrive at the punter or holder in a heartbeat, so he has earned the rare honor of winning a scholarship for his long-snapping duties, and it's a well-deserved scholie. With Conway, the Hokies should be set at the long-snapper position for years, but what's not clear is if Conway will snap for both the field goal and punting teams, or just the punting team.

Also coming in next fall is a scholarship punter from New Orleans, Vinnie Burns, who was a High School All-American. Whatever happens this spring with the special teams, the addition of Conway and Burns will change the landscape come fall.

The Hokies say that both kick return positions are wide open, and indeed, they appear to be. Ricky Hall returned 40 of the 42 punts handled by Tech last year, with Andre Davis and Ike Charlton returning the other two. As for kickoff returns (of which the Hokies had a paltry 22 for the entire season), Shyrone Stith handled 15 of them, Andre Kendrick had 3, and the remaining 4 returns were handled by 3 other players. (Note that those statistics do not include the Sugar Bowl.)

So, with Andre Kendrick currently out of school, that means that of the 64 punts and kickoffs that were returned by Tech last year, the guys who returned 58 of them aren't here this spring. Yes, I'd call that wide open.

I would like to see Ronyell Whitaker returning punts. I got to see him handle a few punts during practice early last year, and he does it with confidence, speed, quickness, and style. He fields the ball cleanly and runs on his toes. He's light on his feet and can turn on a dime, leaving tacklers grabbing at air.

As for kickoff returns, something tells me to look for Lee Suggs here. Coach Beamer likes to have frontline players returning kickoffs, guys who handle the ball a lot, and Suggs is expected to get more playing time this coming fall. More importantly, he's fast, and could score if he gets behind the kicking team. Stith, last year's kickoff returner, didn't have that extra burst to break away. Shyrone is fast, but he wasn't the fastest player on the field.

Random Thoughts on Spring Ball

The Offense Will Lead. In past years, the defense has usually dominated spring practice, but look for that to be different this year, as the Hokies return an experienced offense, including a deep offensive line, but an inexperienced defense.

In the past, Coach Beamer has always explained away the poor offensive performances by saying that the defense is usually ahead of the offense at this time of year. I wonder what he'll say this year if the offense starts making the defense look bad? How about, "Well, we've got a Heisman Trophy guy at quarterback. What do you expect?"

There is one hope for the defense, though. During the spring, quarterbacks wear yellow jerseys, which are "hands-off" signs to the defenders, who aren't allowed to hit the QB's. The flip side of that is that a defensive player only has to touch the quarterback in a scrimmage, and it is ruled a tackle.

Here at HokieCentral, we're hearing that the defensive line is doing well in the early spring practices, but that the linebackers and DB's aren't looking all that hot. So maybe the defensive line will get through and get some "sacks" to keep down the offensive production, if they can even touch the elusive Vick.

It's Worse Than You Think. Mid-season last year, a Hokie fan could take a look at the Tech defense and say, "Well, sure, we lose seven starters on defense, but at least we'll have four starters coming back."

That's bad enough, but the numbers haven't even worked out to be that good. First, Ike Charlton declared early for the draft, reducing the number of returning starters to 3, and then the coaches moved Nick Sorensen and Ben Taylor to new positions, so if you want to get technical, the Hokies only have one starter returning to the same position -- Cory Bird at rover.

The lack of experience will probably cost the Hokies at least one game. The ECU game in particular stands out like a big huge warning flag. You know the drill: third game in eleven days, on the road, a quality opponent with an experienced quarterback, and a young Tech defense.

But last year, N2 and I likewise swore up and down that Michael Vick's inexperience would cost the Hokies some games, and look how that turned out. Still, you're talking about one player (Vick) being young versus an entire defensive team being young.

Just like the next guy, I think the Hokie defense will be good. I also think it will take some time. Granted, that's not really a Spring Football comment, more a comment for next season, but I wanted to get that off my chest.

The Times, They Are A-Changin'. The Spring Game will be broadcast on the radio for the first time this year, on 105.3 WBRW, "The Bear." We don't know yet if it will be a state-wide ISP telecast or just a local thing, but Tech will probably make an official announcement about it soon, so look for that.

Crowd estimates range from 20,000 to 30,000 for the upcoming Spring Game, and we were sitting around the office wondering how much longer the Virginia Tech Athletic Department is going to let that potential cash cow sit there and not make money. I'm betting that this year will be the last time you can just walk in the gate for free (and no, I haven't heard anything -- I'm just speculating).

It only makes sense. If you can get 20,000 people to pony up $5 apiece for the thing, then that's $100,000 dollars that could be used to help repay Coach Beamer's assistants for their loyalty, hard work, and dedication. Frank himself has enough money, but his assistants are still behind the curve.

Things have improved dramatically for Beamer's assistants in just a few years, though. When offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill served one year at Tech back in 1994, he was making a whopping (that's sarcasm) $68,000 per year. Contrast that with current Tech D-coordinator Bud Foster, who just signed a new contract worth $200,000 per year, and you can see that the Tech assistants have come a long way in just six years.

Of course, you can argue that Foster is worth three times as much as Tranquill was, but that's a whole 'nother discussion.

Other relatively new Tech position coaches, such as DB coach Lorenzo Ward and receivers coach Tony Ball, reportedly make salaries in the range of $75,000, so even they do better than Tranquill did back in 1994. But it's also true that other schools are now paying position coaches as much as $150,000 a year and more, so although Tech has improved drastically, they still often lag behind other Top 20 schools in the area of assistant coach salaries.

And don't think for a second that this doesn't stick in Beamer's craw. He's tired of fighting with the Tech brass for higher salaries for his assistants, of whom he thinks the world. He's not battling with Jim Weaver on this issue, mind you -- to my knowledge, it's the overall university financial types who set the salaries in the athletic department, not Weaver, although he does have a lot of input.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that the Spring Game is another untapped revenue source that could help keep Tech in the upper echelon of college football as financial pressures continue to mount. So don't be surprised if you have to start paying for the thing very soon, maybe next year.

Don't forget the HC Tailgate. There's a lot going on at Tech on the day of the Spring Game (April 29th), but don't forget the fourth annual informal HC "Bring-Your-Own" Tailgate. It starts at 10:00 in the morning in Lot 5. Look for the white HokieCentral tent with the "www.HokieCentral.com" banner, and remember to bring your own food and drink. Here's a map showing the exact location. See you there! The game starts at 2:00.


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