Spring Football 2002 Preview: Offense
by Art Stevens
TSL Extra, Issue #17

For 28 days, from practice #1 on March 23rd until the Spring Game on April 20th, the Hokie football team will conduct 15 practices and hopefully settle some of the serious questions they face entering the 2002 season. Here's our comprehensive, position-by-position breakdown of the team, and its outlook as they get ready to enter Spring Football 2002. This article will focus on the offense, and a second article in this issue will focus on the defense.

Everyone knows where the big question marks are this spring on offense: quarterback, fullback, and wide receiver. Will Grant Noel remain as QB, or will Bryan Randall, Chris Clifton, or Will Hunt unseat him? Who will step in and replace stalwarts Jarrett Ferguson at fullback and Andre Davis at flanker? This spring, players will jockey for depth chart standing at those positions and others, but unfortunately, not all questions can be answered. Some players who project in the two deep, and one big wild card named Marcus Vick, won't even arrive at Tech until the late summer.

Let's dispense with the pleasantries and dive right in, starting with quarterback. All classes (freshman, sophomore, etc.) in this article refer to what class the player will be in the 2002 season, and all heights, weights, and forty times are taken from the winter testing figures on BeamerBall.com. If forty times are not listed, it's because a player was not tested this winter.

Positions assigned to players are from the 3/20/02 version of the BeamerBall.com depth chart. Please note that this analysis concentrates almost exclusively on scholarship players, unless a walk-on has received playing time or played a major role in the past.

QUARTERBACK

Gone

Returning

First Spring

Jason Davis
(transfer to ETSU)

Grant Noel
(R-Sr., 6-1.5, 221, 4.72)
Bryan Randall
(So. 6-0, 213, 4.54)
(first spring)

Chris Clifton
(R-Fr., 6-4, 200, 4.54)
Will Hunt
(R-Fr., 6-0, 212, 4.65)

Everyone always asks me who I think the starting quarterback will be next season, and I have to chuckle. I tell them two things: (1) I don't know. (2) I'm not sure the coaches know.

Grant Noel has a year of experience under his belt (146-of-254, 57.5%, 1826 yards, 16 TD's, 11 INT's), but last season, proved completely unable to make exceptional plays throwing or running and did not respond in crunch time against Miami, Florida State, and arguably Syracuse (decent second half, but was ineffective in the first half).

Bryan Randall looked fleet of foot but performed very poorly in the passing game (12-of-34 for 114 yards, 0 TD's, 1 INT). He worked in garbage time with backup players, and he made a comment at season's end that his arm was sore from too much throwing in the preseason.

Chris Clifton is a gifted athlete who did not pick up the offense as quickly as Randall in the early fall, so Randall was the only freshman QB who didn't wear the redshirt. Will Hunt runs the option well and knows the offense on paper, but he struggled in live passing drills last fall and was handed a redshirt. Hunt played QB on the scout team last fall, but that was just as much a function of the fact that VT had no true freshman wide receivers, so Clifton saw WR duty on the scout team (where he was reportedly impressive).

Noel has the advantage of coming into the spring with 711 plays from scrimmage to his credit last year. He knows what he's good at, he knows what he stinks at, and he knows what he needs to work on this spring. He knew none of that last spring.

Noel has a definite leg up on Randall, Clifton, and Hunt, for multiple reasons: (1) experience; (2) seniority and (3) he's totally unfit to play another position. Whereas Randall (safety or rover), Clifton (wide receiver), and Hunt (rover or whip) are physically suited to play other positions, Noel is not. As odd as it sounds, that's to his advantage in the QB battle.

The dynamics of this situation, with multiple QB's with multiple talents, are very complex, and Marcus Vick looming on the horizon makes them even more complex. My sources have told me contradictory things about what the coaches think will happen at the QB situation, so to try to predict what is going to happen here, both in the spring and in the fall, is folly. But I'll do it anyway.

Predicted Post-Spring Quarterback Depth Chart:
#1: Grant Noel
#2: Bryan Randall
Others: Clifton to wide receiver, Hunt to defense, with the possibility that Hunt or Clifton may be retained as the #3 QB for the 2002 season.

Admittedly, Noel and Randall could be flip-flopped. If Randall's arm shows more pop and his comfort and familiarity with the offense improve, he may present a serious challenge to Noel, because of his better footwork and running capability.

The Clifton-to-wide-receiver projection is based on the fact that the WR position is starting to get thin for the Hokies (and will stay thin if Fred Lee doesn't qualify). The Hunt-to-defense prediction is based on the fact that Hunt has been a QB dark horse for a while now, and Rickey Bustle, who recruited him and probably was in his corner more than any other VT coach (I'm speculating here), is no longer at VT.

TAILBACK

Gone

Returning

First Spring

Wayne Ward
Keith Burnell
(switched to rover)

Lee Suggs
(R-Sr., 5-11.5, 201)
Kevin Jones
(So. 6-0, 211, 4.38)
(first spring)

Justin Hamilton
(R-Fr., 6-3, 217, 4.53)
Cedric Humes
(R-Fr., 6-1, 218, 4.43)

Lee Suggs is recovering very well from last season's knee injury, and he will likely see very limited work. The Hokie coaches have said they may put him in some contact drills here and there, to get him used to being hit again and to give him confidence in his knee, but the fact is, Suggs is a proven commodity and doesn't need the learning experience of spring football.

For Kevin Jones, however, this spring is critical. Jones made great strides last year in his Big East Rookie of the Year season, but this spring is a big opportunity for him to continue to work on the basics of hitting the hole, blocking, and picking up blitzes, among other things. As good as he was last year, Jones can take great steps forward in learning the position this spring.

Among the duo of Justin Hamilton and Cedric Humes, Humes is the one generating the most buzz. Humes is a big back, bigger than Jones, Suggs, and every Hokie tailback since Ken Oxendine (6-1, 223) in 1997. With the logjam at tailback, either Humes or Hamilton will step into the #3 spot this spring, and being relegated to the #4 spot is a fate neither one of these players wants. To say that this spring is critical for the two of them is understating it.

Predicted Post-Spring Tailback Depth Chart:
#1: Lee Suggs
#2: Kevin Jones
#3: Cedric Humes
#4: Justin Hamilton

With Cedric Humes' size and speed, he's the most likely tailback to nail down the #3 spot. Hamilton played some scout team wide receiver out of necessity last fall, so if he loses the battle to Humes, a position change is not out of the question for him. But so far, it is only fans, not coaches, who have talked about that move.

FULLBACK

Gone

Returning

First Spring

Jarrett Ferguson
Wayne Briggs

Doug Easlick
(R-Jr., 5-11, 230, 4.70)
Josh Spence
(R-So. 6-0, 232, 4.51)
Marvin Urquhart
(R-Jr., 5-11, 255, 4.93)
Joe Wilson
(R-Jr., 6-0.5, 256, 4.65)

None

Doug Easlick took 154 snaps, caught four passes, and scored a TD last season and has been penciled in as the starter. That gives him a definite leg up on the players chasing him at this position.

Josh Spence is the most likely player to step up and take the #2 slot. After being shuffled between tailback and linebacker in previous seasons, Spence is now committed to the fullback spot, and he has dedicated himself to the position, having put on 22 pounds since his arrival in the fall of 2000. Spence is a bit of an athletic freak, notching a team-high 40-inch vertical leap in winter testing of a whopping 40 inches. Garnell Wilds tied him, but every other Tech football player was below 40 inches. Further proof of his explosiveness is his 10-yard dash time of 1.61, second only to Lee Suggs among the 11 running backs tested (which includes all tailbacks and fullbacks).

Marvin Urquhart and Joe Wilson, both getting ready to enter their fourth season with the team, have never been able to dent the depth chart at fullback, due mainly to weight problems. They simply weigh too much. Urquhart has been as heavy as 270 in the past (never on record, though), and Wilson, who is as strong as an ox, ballooned from 242 his redshirt freshman year to 261 last year, before dropping a few pounds down to 256. Perhaps one of them will be able to fight off Spence and take the #2 spot on the depth chart, but if they don't do it this year, they will probably both finish their careers in obscurity. Obviously, this spring is important for them.

Predicted Post-Spring Fullback Depth Chart:
#1: Doug Easlick
#2: Josh Spence
#3: Marvin Urquhart and Joe Wilson

Though Spence is an impressive physical specimen, Easlick has the edge in experience and will probably get the starting nod. That means that Easlick will rotate with Lee Suggs, and Spence will most likely come in when Kevin Jones is playing tailback. The backup duo of Jones/Spence presents a remarkably athletic tailback/fullback duo for defenses to contend with.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Gone

Returning

First Spring

Andre Davis
Emmett Johnson

FL Richard Johnson
(R-So. 5-10, 180)
FL Chris Shreve
(R-Jr., 5-11.5, 184, 4.43)
FL Shawn Witten
(Sr., 5-11.5, 197, 4.81)
SE Ernest Wilford
(R-Jr., 6-3.5, 216,4.43)
SE Terrell Parham
(R-Sr., 6-0, 187, 4.46)
SE Ron Moody
(R-Jr., 6-1, 194, 4.44)

None

Look up "injury" in the dictionary and you'll see pictures of Richard Johnson and Ernest Wilford there. Johnson was slowed down during the season last year by a bad hamstring, and Wilford has the spring football injury down to an art form, which has cost him valuable development time in his career. But next season, Johnson and Wilford are expected to be the leaders in the receiving corps, and that leadership starts this spring, with them earning the starting flanker and split end jobs, respectively.

Behind them, look for Terrell Parham and Shawn Witten to continue to develop, but it's unlikely that either one of them will unseat Johnson or Wilford, who are viewed as having more upside, for starting jobs. Both Parham and Witten will get a lot of playing time this fall, though, and they'll bring good experience. The latest BeamerBall.com depth chart lists Witten as the first-teamer at Flanker, ahead of Richard Johnson, but I interpret that as a motivational tool for Johnson, and if Johnson stays healthy, I don't think it will last.

At third string, walk-ons Ron Moody and Chris Shreve earn the coaches' praise regularly, but for Moody, that praise has not developed into on-field performance yet. Shreve faces a similar uphill climb: walk-on workout warrior, but translating it to the field of play is a different matter. We'll get a good indication this spring what Shreve might be able to do.

Predicted Post-Spring Wide Receiver Depth Chart:
#1: FL Richard Johnson, SE Ernest Wilford
#2: FL Shawn Witten, SE Terrell Parham
#3: FL Chris Shreve, SE Ron Moody

TIGHT END

Gone

Returning

First Spring

Bob Slowikowski
Browning Wynn

Keith Willis
(R-Jr., 6-5.5, 241, 4.59)
Jared Mazetta
(R-So. 6-4, 254, 4.80)
Mike Jackson
(R-So. 6-3, 241)

Jeff King
(R-Fr., 6-5, 258, 4.80)
Andrew Fleck
(Fr., 6-3, 258, 5.17)

The coaches fired a warning shot across Keith Willis' bow with the March 20th BeamerBall.com depth chart. It lists Willis as the third-team tight end, with Jared Mazetta and Jeff King as co-second-teamers ahead of him (that's correct -- the first team spot was left blank).

The implication to Willis was clear: donít be complacent, and don't assume you've got the starting job won. Willis earned this slap across the face by not showing up for one of the six 6 a.m. winter workouts. He was sick, but you're supposed to show up and report as sick, not stay home.

The Hokies typically like to use two tight ends, so two players from the Mazetta/King/Willis trio will move into position to get a lot of playing time next fall. Mike Jackson, continues to be bothered by a knee injury he suffered in the 2001 season, and he'll be given limited time this spring, which will set him behind the others, making it a three-horse race.

In terms of size, Mazetta and King are nearly carbon copies of each other. Mazetta only took 44 snaps from scrimmage last year, but he put in 147 plays on special teams and was the special teams tackling leader, so he's a playmaker. King, meanwhile, entered Tech last fall with the reputation of being a bruising blocker, but he caught very few passes in high school in Pulaski County's run-oriented offense. King is creating massive amounts of buzz among Tech insiders for his work in the weight room and his physical abilities.

Andrew Fleck was a January enrollee who had back surgery last fall before coming to Tech. Fleck has bulked up nicely (from 240 to 258) but needs to improve in his 5.17 forty to have a bright future at tight end.

Predicted Post-Spring Tight End Depth Chart:
#1: Jeff King
#2: Keith Willis
#3: Jared Mazetta
#4: Mike Jackson

We're going to go out on a limb here and predict that King, a great high school basketball player with good hands and good feet, will overtake Mazetta and King for the starting job.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Gone

Returning

First Spring

C Steve DeMasi
RT Matt Wincek
LT Tim Selmon
(left team)
LT Thenus Franklin
(left team)

LT Anthony Davis
(Sr., 6-4, 320, 5.07)
LG Jimmy Miller
(So. 6-6, 310, 5.29)
LG Anthony Nelson
(R-Jr., 6-3.5, 334, 5.22)
C Jake Grove
(R-Jr., 6-3, 286, 5.00)
C Robert Ramsey
(R-So. 6-3, 306, 5.39)
C Travis Conway
(R-So. 6-5, 260, 4.99)
RG Luke Owens
(R-Sr., 6-3, 312)
RT Jon Dunn
(R-So. 6-7, 324, 5.19)
RT Jacob Gibson
(R-Jr., 6-4.5, 288, 5.06)

LT Reggie Butler
(Fr., 6-5, 324, 5.37)
LG Curtis Bradley
(Fr., 6-2, 300, 5.29)
C Danny McGrath
(Fr., 6-2, 293, 5.23)
RG Will Montgomery
(R-Fr., 6-3, 286, 5.00)

Things are shaping up nicely for the Hokies on the offensive line. LT Anthony Davis, C Jake Grove, and RG Luke Owens all played over 500 snaps last year and will simply be honing their skills and locking down their starting jobs this spring. RT Jacob Gibson, who has been moved from guard to tackle, and RT Jon Dunn both played over 200 snaps, giving the Hokies five returning OL with good experience.

The problem is that Jacob Gibson (knee) and Jake Grove (back) have had chronic injury problems. If the coaches knew Gibson and Grove were going to be 100% healthy, they could put a starting lineup of (from left to right) Davis, Owens, Grove, Gibson, and Dunn on the field, and rotate in younger players as needed and desired.

As it is, Jimmy Miller has been placed at the #1 LG spot, and Owens has been moved from LG to RG, bumping Gibson from starting RG to backup RT, for the time being.

The coaches also like Grove at guard, but he has been penciled in as the #1 center for the time being. Danny McGrath is a 2001 recruit who didn't enter until January 2002. He put on nearly 30 pounds from the time he signed in Feb. 2001 until he enrolled in January, and his work in the weight room during the fall (he was living in Blacksburg) impressed the coaches. He'll be given a shot to "earn the backup center spot," according to line coach Bryan Stinespring. He is currently tied at #2 with Robert Ramsey, followed by Travis Conway (who was recruited primarily as a deep snapper).

At the guard position, time is running out for Anthony Nelson. Nelson has resculpted his body since he signed with the Hokies several years ago, but he still suffers from a lack of speed and foot quickness. He runs the risk of being passed over in favor of young rising stars like Jimmy Miller, who is in front of Nelson on the depth chart, Curtis Bradley, and Will Montgomery.

Jimmy Miller, a 2000 recruit who delayed entry until January 2001 and was impressive last fall, played 160 snaps as a true freshman. Montgomery, a true freshman walk-on last fall, very nearly made the depth chart, but wound up redshirting and has a bright future. Bradley almost wasn't redshirted as a true freshman last season.

At the tackle position, Anthony Davis (656 snaps in 2001) and Jon Dunn (231 snaps) figure to have the two starting spots locked up. The most likely backups to them are Reggie Butler and former guard Jacob Gibson.

It's very hard to project where the offensive linemen will be when the spring is. There already has been a massive amount of player movement between the end of the season and the beginning of spring football, and there may be more. Gibson playing at tackle, for instance, is a move that may not last.

One thing is for sure: the new guys and the backups -- Jimmy Miller, Reggie Butler, Curtis Bradley, Danny McGrath, and Will Montgomery -- will get a lot of work this spring. The following depth chart has some significant differences from the BeamerBall.com depth chart (it shows Gibson at guard instead of tackle, and Bradley at tackle instead of guard, for instance).

Predicted Post-Spring Offensive Line Depth Chart:
#1 OL: LT Anthony Davis, LG Jacob Gibson, C Jake Grove, RG Luke Owens, RT Jon Dunn
#2 OL: LT Curtis Bradley, LG Jimmy Miller, C Danny McGrath, RG Will Montgomery, RT Reggie Butler

Predicted Post-Spring Offensive Depth Chart

With that run-down completed, here's a comprehensive look at my projected post-spring offensive depth chart. This is just one man's opinion; the most daring predictions are a projected move for Chris Clifton to wide receiver, Will Hunt moving to defense, and Jeff King cracking the two-deep.

We'll see how this projection matches up with reality as the spring wears on.

Position

1st Team

2nd Team

Others

SE

Ernest Wilford
(R-Jr., 6-3.5, 216, 4.43)

Terrell Parham
(R-Sr., 6-0, 187, 4.46)

Ron Moody, Chris Clifton

LT

Anthony Davis
(Sr., 6-4, 320, 5.07)

Curtis Bradley
(Fr., 6-2, 300, 5.29)

 

LG

Jacob Gibson
(R-Jr., 6-4.5, 288, 5.06)

Jimmy Miller
(So. 6-6, 310, 5.29)

Anthony Nelson

C

Jake Grove
(R-Jr., 6-3, 286, 5.00)

Danny McGrath
(Fr., 6-2, 293, 5.23)

Robert Ramsey

RG

Luke Owens
(R-Sr., 6-3, 312)

Will Montgomery
(R-Fr., 6-3, 286, 5.00)

 

RT

Jon Dunn
(R-So. 6-7, 324, 5.19)

Reggie Butler
(Fr., 6-5, 324, 5.37)

 

TE

Jeff King
(R-Fr., 6-5, 258, 4.80)

Keith Willis
(R-Jr., 6-5.5, 241, 4.59)

Jared Mazetta, Mike Jackson

FL

Richard Johnson
(R-So. 5-10, 180)

Shawn Witten
(Sr., 5-11.5, 197, 4.81)

Chris Shreve

QB

Grant Noel
(R-Sr., 6-1.5, 221, 4.72)

Bryan Randall
(So. 6-0, 213, 4.54)

 

TB

Lee Suggs
(R-Sr., 5-11.5, 201)

Kevin Jones
(So. 6-0, 211, 4.38)

Cedric Humes, Justin Hamilton

FB

Doug Easlick
(R-Jr., 5-11, 230, 4.7)

Josh Spence
(R-So. 6-0, 232, 4.51)

Marvin Urquhart, Joe Wilson

 

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