Spring Football in a Nutshell, the Sequel
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #19
Two issues ago, just before spring football practice started, we gave you a quick rundown on what players were poised to step into the limelight, which ones were in danger of getting stuck at the bottom of the depth chart, which ones might be changing positions, etc.
Now that spring football is over (well over, as a matter of fact), we're going to take the rare journalistic step of following up an article to bring you up to date on how close to reality our feelings and prognostications were.
We'll do it by re-presenting the same material we ran in issue #17, followed by a "Spring Post-Mortem" that brings you up to date. All information about where a player resides on the depth chart is taken from BeamerBall.com depth charts.
Pre-Spring: Ready to step into the limelight: After spending a few seasons in the program, these players have the opportunity to be first-time starters next season and will spend this spring trying to win first-string jobs and preparing to make their mark:
WR Ernest Wilford, WR Shawn Witten, WR Richard Johnson, TE Keith Willis, FB Doug Easlick, DT Kevin Lewis, LB Mikal Baaqee, and LB Vegas Robinson.
Spring Post-Mortem: The wide receiver position came under a lot of heat this spring, due to widespread reports of dropped passes across the board, even a few from the usually sure-handed Witten. As a result, it is unclear whether Wilford, Witten, or Johnson is ready to "step into the limelight."
Johnson had the roughest spring of all. He was expected to win the starting flanker spot, but instead, the coaches kicked off spring practice by moving Witten from split end to flanker, naming him as a co-starter along with Johnson, and then later bumping Johnson down to the #2 spot, where he currently resides behind Witten.
None of the trio acquitted themselves well throughout spring football, and the fact Chris Clifton and Justin Hamilton, newcomers to the position, have been named as co-starters with Wilford and Witten, two guys who have been at their positions for years, speaks volumes. Not to knock Clifton and Hamilton, but the older, more experienced players should have been able to submerge the newbies on the depth chart.
Keith Willis was also served notice early on, as the first spring depth chart had him listed behind both Jared Mazetta and Jeff King. As the spring wore on, the three tight ends jockeyed for position, with Willis finally being named the co-starter with Mazetta. The table is set for Willis, and now he just has to take advantage of his opportunity.
Meanwhile, the spring went well for the quartet of Easlick, Lewis, Baaqee, and Robinson, particularly Baaqee. The coaches thought enough of him to move him from second-string Backer (where he was listed behind Robinson) to first-string Mike, and he locked down the first-string Mike slot and held it through the spring. He was barely mentioned in spring practice reports, although he was praised once for being "all over the field" making tackles.
Like Baaqee, Robinson and Lewis locked down their positions and are listed as first-stringers heading into the fall. Easlick maintained the top fullback spot all spring, although it remains to be seen what the late-spring move of Cedric Humes to fullback will mean to Easlick.
Pre-Spring: In danger of disappearing: These players have been around the program a few years, and if they don't get it in gear this spring, they may get passed over in favor of younger players, never to crack the two-deep and never to make an impact at Virginia Tech:
OL Anthony Nelson, FB Joe Wilson, FB Marvin Urquhart, LB Chris Buie, ROV Sam Fatherly
Spring Post-Mortem: The news is not good for any of these guys.
Joe Wilson, a good student and well-liked person who was permanently mired on the fullback (and sometimes DT) depth chart, is transferring away from VT to be closer to his fiancee at Old Dominion.
Rumors of Marvin Urquhart transferring continue to swirl and were even mentioned by Jimmy Robertson of hokiesports.com the newspaper. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Urquhart has disappeared from the BeamerBall.com depth chart as of 5/15/02. Look for news about him soon, I would guess.
Nelson, a rising redshirt junior, appears to be a lost cause. He is a mountain of a man who can decimate a defender, but only if he can get locked into him. The problem is that Nelson's feet simply aren't quick enough to truly be effective as an offensive lineman, and it doesn't appear they ever will be.
Buie, another rising redshirt junior, also seems to be a lost cause. He was listed as co-#2 at the Mike spot when spring practice opened, but he slid down the depth chart until he was #4, behind Baaqee, Alex Markogiannakis, and redshirt freshman Jordan Trott. Like Urquhart, Buie is not listed in the May 15th depth chart on BeamerBall.com, although nothing has been mentioned publicly about him leaving the program. And he has enrolled for summer school, so he is still at Tech.
Sam Fatherly may be a different story. Yes, he is still listed as the #3 Rover behind Billy Hardee and Michael Crawford, but Fatherly was active in scrimmages and even returned one interception 16 yards for a TD. The fact that no other players were moved to the Rover position (Will Hunt, DJ Walton, Keith Burnell, and even Bryan Randall were all candidates) indicates that the coaches, at the very least, are comfortable at this point with Fatherly backing up Hardee and Crawford.
Pre-Spring: Threatened by injury: These players enter the spring trying to recover from injuries that threaten to submerge them deep in the depth chart, perhaps on a permanent basis:
TE Mike Jackson, LB Deon Provitt.
Spring Post-Mortem: Jackson was unable to recover from his multiple knee surgeries, and he has left the program. Provitt, once seen as the next great Whip linebacker, has not come back successfully from last year's knee injury and is currently #3 on the depth chart behind Mike Daniels and Brandon Manning.
Pre-Spring: On the hot seat: These anticipated starters have unexpectedly been shuffled down the depth chart, sending them a message. What that message is is known only to the players and coaches:
TE Keith Willis, WR Richard Johnson
Spring Post-Mortem: Willis appears to have gotten the message, as he is listed again as the #1 tight end, albeit co-#1 with Mazetta. Richard Johnson did not get the message and is #2 behind Shawn Witten and Justin Hamilton at the flanker spot.
Pre-Spring: Fighting off all comers: These players are starters from last year or anticipated starters for 2002 who have potential replacements (in parentheses) breathing down their necks:
QB Grant Noel (Bryan Randall, Chris Clifton, Will Hunt)
Spring Post-Mortem: Noel successfully held off the three-headed monster of Randall, Clifton, and Hunt, but he was not successful in holding off a knee injury, which may do him in and elevate Randall to the #1 QB spot.
Willis, as mentioned previously, is now a co-#1 with Mazetta. This isn't necessarily an indictment of Willis, because VT has fallen into the habit of playing two tight ends, and perhaps the coaches simply deemed Mazetta worthy over King as being co-#1.
Richard Johnson was overtaken by Witten (and Hamilton). Easlick easily stayed ahead of Josh Spence, but now Cedric Humes presents a new threat to Easlick's job as the top fullback. Humes and Easlick are currently listed as co-starters, despite the fact that Humes' move to fullback was very recent, and he has zero experience at the position.
Meanwhile, at the Stud end position, the race isn't over. Cols Colas and Nathaniel Adibi are listed as co-#1's, so that battle won't be settled until the fall.
On the move? These players might be moved to another position before spring practice is over:
Bryan Randall: from QB to ROV or FS
Spring Post-Mortem: Clifton and Hamilton both moved to WR. Randall fought off Clifton and Hunt at QB, so he stayed put, and Hunt is the coaches' choice for #3 QB, so he wasn't moved, either.
Billy Hardee, Michael Crawford, and Sam Fatherly held down the Rover position well enough that D.J. Walton stayed at cornerback (and Hunt stayed at QB).
What we didn't foresee was the move of Humes to fullback. It appeared that Easlick and Josh Spence had the position shored up, but the coaches appear to be disappointed with Spence (who has done a great job in the weight room, but apparently isn't taking shape on the field) and wanted to get Humes on the field, so they moved Humes to FB ahead of Spence.
We also didn't foresee the eventual move of backup DE Jason Lallis over to the Tackle position. I don't think anyone saw that coming before it was announced recently.