Spring Football Wrap-up
by Art Stevens
TSL Extra, Issue #18

Have you ever noticed how many different things people can see when looking at the exact same thing? You see half empty, I see half full. You see slow, I see fast. You saw Virginia Tech play this spring, I saw Virginia Tech play this spring.

You have your opinion. I have mine.

Is mine any better than yours? Nope. Is mine any more "qualified" than yours? Nope. Mine, through no other reason than somewhat dumb luck, just happens to get a chance to get published.

For starters, I think the Hokies can earn their 10th straight bowl bid in 2002. It will NOT be easy. Tech needs to win seven games. Even though the Big East bowl situation is a bit murky at deadline time, itís safe to say that if the Hokies do get bowl eligible they will be selected to go somewhere. Years of "traveling well" will do that for a team.

A year ago, an 8-4 season was seen as somewhat of a disappointment. This year, I think 8-5 would be a very good season, given the strength of the schedule and the holes Tech has to fill.

I see six sure victories, three sure games where victory will be difficult (thatís a polite way of saying sure losses) and four "tossups" that can be won or lost. Does that add up to 13? This season is soooooooooooo long.

Sure W's: Arkansas State, Temple, Rutgers, West Virginia, Western Michigan and Ė tah dah! Ė Virginia.

Difficul *** oh, heck with it, losses: Miami, Syracuse, Texas A&M.

Tossups: Pittsburgh, Boston College, LSU, Marshall. Theyíre not listed in any particular order. Pittís a lot less scary without Antonio Bryant, Marshall is VERY scary with Leftwich, BC would be a sure L if Green hadnít bolted (but he did), and LSUís Josh Reed turning pro early might have been the best offseason news for Tech.

Keep in mind that most teams seem to find a way to win one they shouldnít and also lose one they shouldnít.

Now, here are some thoughts by position after spring observation. Again, only opinion and no better or worse than yours.

QUARTERBACKS: Randall was indeed a much improved quarterback. While that is a pleasing thought, it would have been more a cause for alarm if he hadnít improved than it is a cause for celebration that he has. He had a spring practice, his first. Daggone right he should be better.

We shouldnít immediately assume heís passed Grant Noel, because we didnít get a chance to see if Noel had improved. His coaches said he did, but his knee injury kept him out of the spring game. Noelís a tough nut, he may well be able to come back without surgery. If heís there and healthy on the first day of practice, his status shouldnít change for missing the spring game. If heís not fully ready, itís another story.

Randall showed he can step in and take over. Heís mobile, heís smart. He still rushes things under pressure, and you HAVE to hit a receiver who is as open as Shawn Witten was on that one play. Iím not ready to concede that heís ahead of Noel, but until Noel is A-OK, this is Randallís team. If youíd have said that last fall, I would have cringed. Now I see that as more than acceptable and, with continued improvement over the summer, quite possibly a good thing.

Marcus Vick? He needs a year, plain and simple. It would behoove the Hokies to have Noel and Randall for 2002 and then let Randall and Vick shoot it out in the spring. Doesnít matter if it is Randall-Noel or Noel-Randall. The Hokies need both.

Too bad we didnít get to see Will Hunt. Tech doesnít like him enough to have him in the top two, but it likes him enough to keep him at quarterback. He may be the 2002 backup, so letís hope that shoulder heals.

BACKS: Lee Suggs sure looked good at the end *** oh, wait. That wasnít Suggs. Hope he and Keith Burnell enjoyed their hijinks. Funny guys.

Tech is so solid at offensive back it isnít funny. Teams would kill to have a Suggs-Jones-Humes trifecta at tailback. As well as Jones did a season ago, Tech missed the short yardage mastery of Suggs. Keep your fingers crossed for health, this unit could be really special. With 13 games, thereís a good chance of two 1,000-yard rushers.

The Doug Easlick-Josh Spence duo sure wonít be Jarrett Ferguson at fullback. How can they be now? Ferguson started four years and was valuable in more ways than you can count. But the dropoff wonít be too bad. The shovel pass lives and Easlick, assuming he holds on to No. 1, will catch his share of passes out of the backfield just like Ferguson.

Backs, and that includes the fullbacks, are the clear strength of this team.

RECEIVERS: Is Fred Lee as good as advertised? Finally weíll see, since Lee has qualified and will join the team in the fall.

The receivers looked much better in the spring game than they did through spring practice. They caught the ball, which doesnít sound like too much to ask. There are plenty of bodies here, given the move of Burnell, Justin Hamilton and Chris Clifton in the spring. This could turn into a strength.

But I wonít believe that until I see a couple of these guys step up and make some catches they shouldnít make, not just the catches they should make. Not every throw is going to be perfect, and a team needs an "oooh and ahhhh" catch a couple of times a game. Someone has to make that catch.

Ernest Wilford looked great on that one catch in the spring game, where he turned a short toss into a 30-yard gain with some good running. Thatís a positive. Wilford is a hard worker and a talented kid who needs good things to happen. Heís an all-star if his confidence level ever catches up to his ability.

OFFENSIVE LINE: I didnít really notice this unit in the spring game. Thatís a very good sign. Offensive line, deep snappers, holders *** theyíre all positions you tend to notice only if they screw up. Randall was pressured some, which is to be expected. It didnít look as if there was exceptional pressure. He had enough time most of the time.

Jake Grove, the "shrimp" of the line (the rest of the starters pack more than 300 pounds onto their frames), has star qualities. He could be outstanding. The potential of young starters James Miller and Jon Dunn is exciting, too.

Having Suggs back will make any line look a little better, because he doesnít need a block held as long as most backs.

No catches for the tight ends in the spring game. Thereís a surprise. Until they become a bigger part of the passing game, theyíll be considered part of the offensive line. Not that thatís a bad thing.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Nathaniel Adibi looked great in the Gator Bowl and didnít slow down in the offseason. He won the Presidentís Award for outstanding leadership in spring drills and was a force in the spring game.

And heís just one fourth of the Hokiesí excellent crew of ends. Cols Colas, Jim Davis and Lamar Cobb give the Hokies some serious wealth here. They can pressure a backfield from both sides and then have fresh bodies to do it again on the next play if they choose. Colasí improvement over the years has been amazing.

The tackle slot figures to change when Jimmy Williams and Jonathan Lewis join in August. THREE of the five tackles Tech lost Ė David Pugh, Chad Beasley and Derrius Monroe Ė were among the eight Hokies drafted this year. No way you lose that and donít have some dropoff. The hunch here is it wonít be as severe as it could be. Williams was a prized JUCO recruit who will step right in. Kevin Lewis, Mark Costen and the younger Lewis will enable Tech to go with the two-deep rotation it likes to use.

The defensive line in 2003? Oh, my.

LINEBACKERS: Anyone else leave the spring game big-time impressed with Blake Warren? His dad was a standout tight end with the Redskins for years. This kid sure looks like the next Ben Taylor.

This was another position that got creamed and thereís bound to be some dropoff. Taylor, Jake Houseright and Brian Welch got almost all the snaps inside last season.

Vegas Robinson will be the star this season. Everyone says Mikal Baaqee will play alongside him, but donít count out Warren. He got the Paul Torgersen Award for top newcomer on defense, and it was easy to see why, watching him play.

Mike Daniels was impressive in his few starts last season at whip, and having a spring and summer at the position will help considerably. Tech was caught with guys who could play the run well or the pass well but not both before moving Daniels from free safety. Added size will make him a better run defender. Heís sure not afraid to stick his head in there.

Like the defensive line, the linebacking corps could be seriously good in another year. This year, it wonít be as good as it was in 2001. It wonít be bad, either.

SECONDARY: When DeAngelo Hall arrived at Tech last summer, only 17 years old, a man who knows Tech football very well said to me, "This kid will be the best to ever play here."

Keep in mind that this was only a few months after Michael Vick became the first pick in the NFL draft.

"Yes," I was told, "I havenít forgotten that. Michael Vick is a gem, a rarity, a wonderful player. But DeAngelo Hall will be the best to ever play here."

I still donít think heís at Vickís level. Not yet. But Iím starting to see where my pal was coming from, and I may be singing his tune in a year. DeAngelo Hall is awfully darn good.

Ronyell Whitaker made third-team All-America last season and this is not in any way a knock on Ronyell, but I think heís the third best DB behind Hall and free safety Willie Pile.

In other words, this backfield is strong, too. And deep. Eric Green and Garnell Wilds can go in with almost no dropoff at the corners. Vince Fuller is a heck of a guy to have as your backup free safety and some dude Iíd never heard of, a walk-on named Jackson Dismukes, was all over the place in the spring game.

Rover sure sounded like a concern earlier this summer when Burnell was moved there briefly. Kevin McCadam did a bangup job there last season. The staff now seems comfortable with Billy Hardee and Sam Fatherly, so weíll trust their judgment.

SPECIALISTS: I think Carter Warley returns to form. His back isnít bothering him like it was, and heíll be able to kick more in practice. He had a good spring, when the ball was placed. You may have noticed a problem with snapping and holding in the spring game. The head coach will make sure his special teams coach gets THAT straight.

Iím eager to see just how good Nic Schmitt is at kicking and if he can give Warley a run when he arrives in August.

Vinnie Burns is a terrific kid, but I do think itís about time for him to get a tad more consistent punting the ball. He came in talking about a 50-yard average. Letís get to 40 or so first and then work toward 50.

COACHES: This isnít a knock on Rickey Bustle, because he never got to guide Randall through a spring practice. But I do like what Kevin Rogers Ė Techís first new assistant in three years Ė has done. His coaching and teaching style seems to suit Techís quarterbacks, and Iím very curious to know if Noel has made the same progress under Rogers as Randall has.

Unfortunately, thanks to his knee injury, we may never know.

 

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