Monday Mail: An Improved Running Game, the Backup Quarterback and More

It’s that time again folks. Thank you once again for submitting your questions this week. As the season approaches, you’ll begin to see more and more content on here. I hope you stick around as I continue to try and build my blog.

For now, let’s get into the mail.

It’s certainly possible, but I think it’s too soon to say likely.

Virginia Tech found a groove on the ground late in 2017, rushing for 200-plus yards vs. Virginia and Oklahoma State. Even though Virginia Tech averaged just 3.9 yards per carry the week before vs. Pittsburgh, the Hokies really started to find their rhythm then.

Deshawn McClease led the way during this three-game burst, rushing for 70, 71 and 124 yards in Virginia Tech’s final three games. McClease looked like Tech’s lead back and heading into 2018, he should fill the role.

As versatile as Steven Peoples is, McClease should be getting the majority of the carries to start the season. Jalen Holston never got it going in 2017 and should play a supplemental role until he shows he can be productive. McClease gives the Hokies their best option in the backfield, in terms of production, and hopefully he’ll get the opportunity to show that Week 1. I think he’s earned it.

It’s become clear that something really weird would have to happen for Josh Jackson to lose the starting role vs. Florida State. The real question is who plays behind him, and what does that mean for the future of the position at Virginia Tech?

Ryan Willis is the most experienced option and probably has the most arm talent in the room. But Willis hasn’t played since October 10, 2016 and at this point, his experience is less valuable. Still, Willis impressed in the Spring Game and should be a viable option if Josh Jackson were to go down.

Hendon Hooker finds himself in a peculiar situation. The redshirt freshman hasn’t progressed as much as Hokie fans hoped and likely won’t start at any point in 2018. Hooker has zero playing experience and isn’t the young, project quarterback on the roster anymore (Hello, Quincy Patterson).

If Hooker doesn’t see a realistic path to the starting role in the next year or two — and the path doesn’t exist at the moment — it would make sense for him to seek a transfer. Even if Hooker is named the backup in 2018, does he want to sit behind Jackson for three more seasons and then duke it out with Patterson? Probably not.

Willis should be the backup in 2018 unless Hooker has grown astronomically this summer. Willis looked much better than Hooker did in the spring and Hooker is likely on his way out over the next calendar year. Patterson will slide into the backup role once Willis leaves after the 2019 season.

Special teams question!

Justin Fuente went all the way to Australia to find his punter but may have found his kicker in a small town just two hours away from Blacksburg.

Jordan Stout signed with the Hokies in the Class of 2017 and redshirted last season. Stout was rated as the 41st-best kicker in his class according to Chris Sailer Kicking, who says, “Jordan is an excellent kicking prospect. He has a great leg and hits an excellent ball of the ground. Field goals are smooth and accurate. Kickoffs are strong and near the top of his class.”

Stout is battling Brian Johnson for the place kicking job. Johnson subbed in for Joey Slye last season and made three of his four field goal attempts and all five of his extra point attempts. Still, Johnson’s longest make was just 30 yards and it became clear he lacks legitimate leg strength.

Stout will almost certainly handle kickoffs and as long as he’s accurate in preseason camp, he’ll takeover field goal duties too. Stout is the Hokies’ kicker of the future and might as well start this season as a redshirt freshman.

I really liked this question, so I’m saving it for last.

Virginia Tech has plenty of holes to fill, so let’s go through the ACC and see how we could fortify the Hokies’ ranks.

Boston College running back AJ Dillon — This is an easy one. Dillon finished the 2017 season as one of the most productive backs in the country, rushing for 149 yards or more in each of Boston College’s final five games. Dillon ran for 272 yards vs. Louisville and another 200 vs. UConn and finished the season with 14 rushing touchdowns. Dillon is the real deal and the Hokies don’t have a single back on the roster who has been this productive.

Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins — Clelin Ferrell was the most productive player on Clemson’s loaded defensive line last season, but Wilkins would make the biggest impact for Virginia Tech. The Hokies are fine at defensive end but could use another difference maker on the interior next to Ricky Walker. Wilkins is as good as it gets at defensive tackle is poised for a monster senior season.

Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris — Virginia Tech could use a productive and experienced linebacker, and Joe Giles-Harris fits the bill. He finished 2017 with 16 tackles for loss and 125 total tackles on a team without much defensive talent. Giles-Harris would give the Hokies a solid replacement for Tremaine Edmunds.

Florida State defensive back Levonta Taylor — Taylor is going to be a star on Florida State’s defense this season. The junior corner had two interceptions in 2017 and according to Pro Football Focus, led all Power 5 defensive backs with 30.6 snaps in coverage per catch allowed. The former five-star prospect should dominate opposing receivers as a junior and will give Josh Jackson plenty of fits on Sept. 3.

Georgia Tech linebacker Victor Alexander — Nobody on Georgia Tech’s roster is particularly impressive outside of TaQuon Marshall, and he’s not a fit for Virginia Tech. Alexander led Georgia Tech in tackles last season and will anchor their defense in 2018.

Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith — Sure, he played with one of the best college football players of all time in Lamar Jackson, but Smith was a big part of Jackson’s success. The 6-foot-4 receiver caught 60 passes for 980 yards last season and would immediately be Virginia Tech’s best offensive threat.

Miami defensive back Jaquan Johnson — Everyone knows Virginia Tech’s secondary is full of question marks. Johnson would immediately fill a starting role in the Hokies’ defensive backfield. Johnson was named a second-team All-American by Sports Illustrated and the American Football Coaches Association and intercepted four passes last season.

North Carolina defensive lineman Jalen Dalton — Despite Dalton’s penchant for being a knucklehead on the field, he’s be a productive player for Virginia Tech. Dalton had eight tackles for loss and three sacks last season.

NC State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon — Harmon caught 69 passes for 1,017 yards and four touchdowns last season as a sophomore. At 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, Harmon would be Tech’s premier threat in the passing game with two years of eligibility remaining.

Pittsburgh defensive back Oluwasuen Idowu — Idowu would play whip/nickelback for Virginia Tech and would play well. Idowu has made 169 total tackles over the last two seasons and racked up 11.5 tackles for loss in 2017. Devon Hunter should be fine, but an experienced player like Idowu would be a fine addition to Bud Foster’s defense.

Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey — Dungey is the real deal. The senior quarterback broke onto the scene as a sophomore in 2016 and regressed slightly in 2017. If Justin Fuente had a mobile quarterback like Dungey, I think his offense would run quite efficiently.

Virginia wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus — Virginia loses a ton of their offense heading into 2018, but Zaccheaus returns. He’s the perfect do-it-all weapon that any offense could use and Fuente is creative enough to utilize him. Josh Jackson needs an experienced offensive weapon and Zaccheaus would be a perfect fit.

Wake Forest wide receiver Greg Dortch — Here’s another guy that would boost Virginia Tech’s offense. The talented redshirt sophomore caught 53 passes for 722 yards and nine touchdowns in 2017. The Hokies’ missed this evaluation in the Class of 2016, failing to offer the Highland Springs, Va. native.

Monday Mail: Keshawn King Commits to Virginia Tech, Tight Ends and More

Keshawn King (4) is the latest commitment for Virginia Tech football. (Photo via @keshawnk25 on Twitter)

Monday Mail is back, folks. Thank you once again for submitting your questions and I hope you’ll enjoy my opinion and insight. Let’s go ahead and dive right into things.

In the biggest news of the week, Virginia Tech added a commitment from Keshawn King to their Class of 2019. King is a three-star running back prospect from Orange Park, Fla. and is listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds.

King is far from Devyn Ford, but there’s potential nonetheless. Judging from King’s film, he’s a shifty back with solid top-end speed. King looks a little bigger than his listed height and weight and should be able to hold up against bigger competition, so there aren’t any obvious concerns about his longevity.

He’ll never be a bruiser, but King looks like a real home run threat. He has experience running out of both the shotgun and pistol formations, so he’s used to that style of running already. He can also catch short passes out of the backfield and contribute in the passing game.

Fifteen Power 5 programs deemed King worthy of a scholarship offer. King has real pedigree and seems like a solid overall prospect. He isn’t Ford, but it wasn’t realistic to expect Virginia Tech to snag a player of that caliber this late in the cycle.

King’s commitment means the Hokies are likely done at running back for this class. Virginia Tech will have seven scholarship running backs in 2019, including King and excluding Steven Peoples, who is slated to graduate. The Hokies are carrying more scholarship backs than are necessary, but Tech is also still looking for a real difference maker there.

Tight ends coach James Shibest said in the spring that the tight ends were getting the ball more than ever in practice. That still might not be that much, given how little the tight ends were a factor in 2017. Dalton Keene and Chris Cunningham combined to catch 19 passes last season and rarely factored into the Hokies’ offense.

Both are a year older and should see more targets by default. But I don’t believe either will be consistent offensive threats in 2018.

Keene is more a fullback than a tight end. He’s got a tight end build but was usually lined up in the backfield in 2017. Perhaps his role grows as he develops as a player, but Brad Cornelsen wasn’t too confident in his receiving abilities last season. Cunningham is noted as the better receiver, but has caught 15 passes in two seasons.

Josh Jackson might rely more on his tight ends this season and that could inflate both Keene and Cunningham’s stats by default. But based on what we’ve seen so far, neither will be a dynamic offensive threat in 2018 despite seeing the field frequently.

The Buzz Williams rumor mill has been circling for years and rightfully so. Williams has flirted with four different schools since taking the Virginia Tech job, and now he’s lost two coaches and a 2018 signee.

Williams will be coaching Virginia Tech this coming season. But outside of that, there are no guarantees. The amount of turnover within the program over the last year is remarkable and Williams is likely eyeing other jobs already.

It’s disappointing for fans to hear, but I believe it’s the truth. Williams has toyed with other jobs since his first offseason and has seen two of his most-trusted assistants — Jeff Reynolds and Steve Roccaforte — leave the program. Roccaforte would not be leaving Virginia Tech for East Carolina, one of the worst Division I programs in the country, without a valid reason.

I’d put the percentage around 40-45 percent. Williams loses three key players next season in Justin Robinson, Chris Clarke and Ahmed Hill, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker could declare for the NBA Draft after his sophomore season. That sounds like the perfect time for Williams to move on to his next stop.

Recent Staff Departures Add to Regular Instability of Virginia Tech Men’s Basketball

Virginia Tech football’s tumultuous offseason is quietly spreading to the basketball team too.

Men’s basketball head coach Buzz Williams confirmed on Monday that lead assistant Steve Roccaforte, who was named associate head coach prior to the 2017-2018 season, has been hired as an assistant on Joe Dooley’s staff at East Carolina.

Roccaforte, who had spent the last four seasons working at Virginia Tech, is the second assistant to leave the program in the last six weeks. Jeff Reynolds, who was Virginia Tech’s director of scouting and game management last season, was hired earlier this summer by Texas A&M and head coach Billy Kennedy as an assistant coach.

All this instability leads one to wonder — what the heck is going on?

The departures wouldn’t be as odd if Williams’ status as the head coach wasn’t up in the air every offseason. After Williams’ first season as head coach at Tech, his name was on the list for the opening at Texas. Since then, Williams has had interest in real or potential openings at Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.

There’s no way that constant rumor mill surrounding Williams hasn’t had an effect on Virginia Tech’s recruiting. Yes, Tech has landed Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Landers Nolley in consecutive classes, but the Hokies’ 2018 class finished 49th in the country and Tech doesn’t have a single commitment from a 2019 prospect. Tech had three commitments — BJ Mack and Keyshaun and Kobe Langley — and all three decommitted together in December 2017.

It’s still early, but things aren’t heading in the right direction. Add Reynolds’ and Roccaforte’s departure from the program and Williams’ flirting with other schools and one phrase comes to mind — something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

I don’t know how this will work out. Maybe Williams makes a good hire to complement young assistants Jamie McNeilly and Christian Webster. Maybe Williams decides that Virginia Tech is the best place for him and maybe the Hokies’ hit on some of their recruiting targets.

Or, maybe Williams makes lazy hires and seriously considers leaving Blacksburg after the season. It would be a harsh reality, but it’s a reality that Virginia Tech fans should brace themselves for. Williams has engineered a terrific turnaround of Virginia Tech men’s basketball and has left the program in a far better position than he found it. But all good things must come to an end and that time may be approaching more quickly than we thought.

Monday Mail: Kelly Decommits, Hunter’s Progress and Tech’s Style of Play

Welcome back to Monday Mail, folks. Thank you for submitting your questions. I used a couple from this week and a couple from last week, in hopes to answer as many of you as possible.

Before diving into your questions, a bit of housekeeping. Class of 2019 athlete Cam’Ron Kelly announced his decommitment from Virginia Tech on Saturday night, dealing a major blow to the Hokies’ class.

Kelly didn’t rule out coming back to Tech, and Fuente has had success keeping decommitments in the past, but it’s still not a good sign. Kelly holds an incredibly high number of offers, many of which are from Power 5 programs. He can go to school just about wherever he wants to go.

Kelly’s decommitment frees up a spot in the Hokies’ Class of 2019, but removes a fair bit of talent from the group. Kelly is a mid-end four-star prospect and was the headliner for Tech’s class. Now, Justin Fuente and his assistants will have to fill the void.

Now, let’s get into the mail.

Devon Hunter was all everything coming out of high school.  His stats were out of sight and just about every college in the country was after him.  And yet, he played only sparingly last year, primarily on special teams.  Also, it appeared to me his Spring Game was not spectacular.  Do you believe that his seemingly lack of progress in college ball has been due to the injury he had last year, a slow acclamation to the college game, or possibly just too much hype coming in?  We desperately need a star back there this year.  In your opinion can he be the man?  — William T.

I don’t think it’s fair to say Devon Hunter’s progress is lacking. Sure, he wasn’t ready to contribute as a freshman, but Hunter is in line to start as a sophomore. If he hadn’t dealt with the lingering hamstring injury and concussion symptoms, Hunter might have been able to crack the rotation at safety towards the end of the season.

But now, he’s the man at whip/nickelback. Mook Reynolds’ dismissal opens up the position that Hunter might be best suited for. Hunter is listed at 6-feet and 222 pounds, so there’s little question that he can hold up against the run. How well will he hold up in pass coverage? I don’t believe we saw enough of Hunter in 2017 to answer that question. Hunter held his own in the spring and showed flashes of being a solid player. Time will tell if he can build on his spring success.

I absolutely loved Virginia Tech’s approach to the Camping World Bowl vs. Oklahoma State. The Hokies played ball control and ran the ball right down the throat of the Cowboys and still only scored 21 points.

Virginia Tech’s offense should be better in 2018. Everyone is a year older and the offensive line has the ability to be a strength of this year’s team. The receivers are more experienced, and the addition of Damon Hazelton gives Josh Jackson another weapon on the outside.

I think Virginia Tech needs to meld the Camping World Bowl gameplan with what the normal gameplan is. Tech’s rushing attack ran for 200-plus yards in each of the Hokies’ last two games and despite losing Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo, the running game should be better than they were in 2017. The offense should lean on the run game while supplementing it with quick throws to their weapons on the outside, namely Sean Savoy and Hezekiah Grimsley. Mix in some play-action and throws over the top to Hazelton, Eric Kumah and possibly Dalton Keene, and you’ve got an offense that can move the ball consistently and take chances downfield.

It’s unclear if this gameplan would be successful. I’m not a coach and my football knowledge is minimal compared to the Tech coaching staff. Whatever they decide to do in 2018 will be way more informed than my suggestion.

For the first time in a while, I think Virginia Tech’s offense will be better than the defense.

I know defensive coordinator Bud Foster is a miracle worker. Even though he’s not the highest-paid guy in the business, Foster is as good as it gets and no one consistently does more with less. Foster will field a competent unit in 2018.

But competent might be the ceiling. As talented as some of the young players on this defense are, they’re still wet behind the ears. Dylan Rivers is going to make rookie mistakes, as is Devon Hunter. Whoever starts at cornerback will having growing pains. Tech’s defensive line, which figures to be pretty darn good, can’t cover up all of the deficiencies everywhere else.

On the flip side, Tech’s offense is full of players who theoretically have already worked through their growing pains. Josh Jackson is entering his second season as the starting quarterback. Eric Kumah, Sean Savoy and Hezekiah Grimsley all have a full season of playing experience under their belt. Dalton Keene started all of 2017 and Tech’s offensive line is full of older and mature players. This unit should improve tremendously on their 2017 performance.

There is zero chance that Foster rotates his linebackers in 2018, or any other season for that matter. Foster hasn’t done it yet in his career and there’s no reason for him to start now.

Whoever gets the nod at linebacker needs all the experience they can get. Every single rep is crucial to their development. If Tech is up three scores on Old Dominion late in the game, it wouldn’t surprise me if the starters are playing well into the fourth quarter. Dylan Rivers and Rayshard Ashby need game experience.

This stands even more true for guys like Dax Hollifield and Keshon Artis, who enrolled at Virginia Tech this summer. Those guys have zero experience in college football and can’t rely on their practice and special teams experience like Rivers and Ashby can. If either one of those guys are starting, they need to play all 60 minutes and then some.

Monday Mail: Aftermath of Reynolds’ Dismissal and Florida State Thoughts

It’s Monday, which means you’re back at work. It also means that I’m taking time to answer your questions from the weekend, which I truly enjoy doing. You guys submitted an abundance of questions this week (Thank you!) and those that weren’t answered will probably be answered next week. For now, let’s get cracking.

Of course, we’re starting this week’s Monday Mail with a Mook Reynolds question. In case you forgot, Virginia Tech announced last week that Reynolds had been dismissed from the team, effective immediately.

Reynolds’ departure leaves Virginia Tech greener than they already were in the defensive backfield. Reggie Floyd is the only projected starter with any significant playing time under his belt.

This amount of youth leaves the entire group vulnerable. All it takes is for one cog in the system to malfunction and the whole thing breaks down. Inexperience breeds mistakes.

Florida State’s passing offense wasn’t good in 2017, finishing 89th in the country at 196.2 passing yards per game. The Seminoles had just 38 passing plays of 20 yards or more, good enough for a tie for 69th in the country.

As we know, Florida State’s offense will look wildly different in 2018. Deandre Francois should be healthy and ready to go and sophomore James Blackman is a year older and wiser. Whoever starts at quarterback for Florida State should give Willie Taggart a more than competent option.

Taggart’s 2017 offense at Oregon wasn’t explosive either. The Ducks were tied with the Seminoles for 69th in passing plays of 20 yards or more and 94th in passing yards per game. As much as he’s known for orchestrating explosive offenses, his offense was rather pedestrian last season.

But given Virginia Tech’s lack of experience in the secondary, I’d be surprised if Florida State struggles to create a successful offense. Bud Foster has zero film of Taggart and this collection of offensive players and we don’t even know who will start at quarterback for the ‘Noles. Florida State will have some offensive success, but will they have enough to knock off the Hokies?

I don’t feel as confident about this game as a I did prior to the offseason. So many things have happened that I think there’s simply too much for Virginia Tech to overcome, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Tech’s only senior defensive back is off the roster. Their most experienced corner, Adonis Alexander, just got drafted by the Washington Redskins in the NFL’s Supplemental Draft. Tyrone Nix is still acclimating himself to his new role as safeties coach as he replaces Galen Scott. Virginia Tech is projected to start just two seniors on defense in 2018 — Ricky Walker and Vinny Mihota.

The offense did very little to instill confidence towards the end of last season, but Josh Jackson is healthy and the Hokies are far more experienced at receiver than they were last season. If Tech’s offense can score like they did vs. West Virginia last season, perhaps they can win this on the road. But there are too many worries on defense for me to bet on Virginia Tech to win this game.

I think it’s fair to lower the Hokies’ win projections for this season. As good as Bud Foster is, he lost a ton of talent and experience this offseason. It’s not fair to expect him to churn out elite-level defenses with little to work with.

It’d be different if the Hokies’ offense was a sure thing. Sure, Josh Jackson is more experienced, but his receivers are still inconsistent threats and it’s unknown if the running game will return to their late-2017 form. Virginia Tech returns three starters on the offensive line, but the losses of Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo will be felt immensely.

Virginia Tech’s schedule isn’t remarkably difficult, but it isn’t smooth sailing either. Opening on the road vs. Florida State could set the tone for the season, positively or negatively. At Duke could prove to be a tough game, as it usually is. Notre Dame was one of the best teams in the country last season and North Carolina is out for revenge after getting stomped inside Lane Stadium last season.

Georgia Tech has beaten the Hokies three out of the last four seasons and the Hokies’ rendezvous with Miami looms in late November. There are plenty of tough games on the schedule. As of now, I’m thinking the Hokies will finish the regular season anywhere between 7-5 and 9-3. The over/under should probably be set at 8-4.

I’ve always thought people put too much stock into updated heights and weights, but there are some interesting nuggets of information that can be pulled out of the new numbers.

Devon Hunter is up to 222 pounds, which is a little larger than I think we all thought he’d get. He’s a physical freak as it is, and hopefully for the Hokies he hasn’t lost any of that athletic ability. As long as he can keep up with guys in the slot, he’ll be a great fit for the whip/nickelback position.

TyJuan Garbutt has filled out nicely as a defensive end. Garbutt enrolled at Tech around 215 pounds but has since grown to 244 pounds. There’s little doubt that he’s got enough size for the position and he’s got a real chance to play this season off the bench.

At 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds as a freshman, Jaevon Becton is likely moving inside later in his career. After a year with Ben Hilgart and Co., Becton could be pushing 270 pounds easy.

Cam Goode is 331 pounds, which is slightly over where he was on his official visit. Still, Goode moves well at this weight and if he sheds 10-15 pounds over the course of his career, he’s going to be a difference maker at defensive tackle. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Robert Porcher IV is still 260 pounds, which doesn’t bode well for his move inside to tackle.

Dax Hollifield is already 246 pounds, which is pretty incredible. I’m curious to see how he moves at that weight.

Offensive lineman Lecitus Smith enrolled around 275 pounds and is already up to 312 after his redshirt season. He’s uber-athletic for his size and I’m looking forward to him cracking the starting lineup in 2019.

Quincy Patterson came in at 231 pounds, which calms some of the speculation that he was getting too big. Hilgart will sculpt his body this season and if Patterson is able to sit for two seasons, he’ll be completely refined as an athlete.

Regarding your second question, Armani Chatman will actually start with the defensive backs. His number and position on the roster is inaccurate, so don’t expect him to be lining up in the slot anytime soon. That information comes from a pretty good authority, so trust me on this one. When the roster first comes out, there are always things that needs to be corrected.

I think the balance is power is just that — balanced. I don’t see any in-fighting or envy among the coaches. Justin Fuente doesn’t favor people over others and the “athlete” decisions are made according to what helps the team the most. Most of the athletes that have been signed in the last two classes have been assigned to defense and the best athlete of the group, Caleb Farley, moved back to defense this spring.

Monday Mail: What the Heck is Going On?

This edition of Monday Mail will be slightly different than normal, given this week’s circumstances. I only received one question this week, but there’s actually a big news item that we need to hit on.

Let us discuss this bomb that dropped at 8:13 a.m. on Monday morning.

That’s a pretty stern statement and one that has far-reaching consequences.

Mook Reynolds was listed on Virginia Tech’s 2018 Spring Football Medical Update, but as it turns out his absence this spring was not injury related. Reynolds was actually suspended during the semester. Well played, Virginia Tech Department of Strategic Communications…

Losing Reynolds is a major blow for a Virginia Tech defense that has been beat up all offseason long. Here’s a list of all the players from last year’s defense that will not be returning.

DB Adonis Alexander (declared ineligible)

DB Greg Stroman (graduation)

DB Brandon Facyson (graduation)

DB Terrell Edmunds (declared for NFL Draft)

DB Mook Reynolds (dismissed from team)

LB Tremaine Edmunds (declared for NFL Draft)

LB Andrew Motuapuaka (graduation)

DT Tim Settle (declared for NFL Draft)

That’s eight members from last season’s defense, seven of whom were starters, that are gone for various reasons. Oh, and let’s not forget that cornerback Jeremy Webb is out for the season with an Achilles injury and safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator Galen Scott was forced to resign from the team. Ouch.

Reynolds’ dismissal means that Virginia Tech’s secondary is about as young as it could possibly be. Rover Reggie Floyd will be the only defensive back with any significant playing experience and the only projected starter who’s a junior or a senior.

It also means that former blue-chip prospect Devon Hunter will get his shot. Hunter started this spring at Reynolds’ whip/nickelback position and held his own. With Reynolds out of the way, Hunter should assume that role permanently. Time will tell if he’s ready.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has his hands full this upcoming season. He’s replacing seven starters from last year’s impressive defense, and he’s doing so with two sophomore linebackers (Rayshard Ashby and Dylan Rivers) and four young defensive backs. If Foster can orchestrate a solid defense in 2018, Fuente might need to throw Foster another raise.

In news that doesn’t affect the team directly, my colleague Andy Bitter dropped his own bombshell this week.

Bitter is about as good as it gets. He’s been a mentor and an idol for me when it comes to being a sports writer. He’s professional and talented, and I’m looking forward to his next announcement on where he ends up.

Alright, let’s hit this week’s only question.

Josh Jackson isn’t a great runner but if you look at the numbers, his 46-yard run vs. West Virginia was Virginia Tech’s longest run of the season. Jackson averaged 4.02 yards per carry, excluding sacks, and was surprisingly efficient as a runner in 2017.

But as the season wore on, Jackson’s health deteriorated and it affected his play. Jackson doesn’t have a large frame as it is and throwing him into the fire more as a runner might bring more injuries in 2018.

As good as Ryan Willis or Hendon Hooker might be, and I believe both are markedly better than AJ Bush, I think Justin Fuente will avoid running Jackson consistently unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Jackson was the best freshman quarterback in the nation last season before getting hurt, and Fuente would prefer to keep the healthy version of Jackson around for the entire season.

Monday Mail: The Potential of Gameday in Tallahassee and an Early Look at the Depth Chart

Virginia Tech and Florida State have some tough competition for ESPN College GameDay this September.

Thank you again for submitting your questions this week. I really do enjoy interacting with you all and hopefully we can keep this thing going.

Without further ado, let’s hit the mail.

That’s actually a good question because there is no real favorite. A few guys can make a case for themselves, but a case can be made against them too.

The case for Sean Savoy is that he’ll be working out of the slot almost exclusively this season, where he excelled in 2017. Savoy was a consistent contributor in the first half of 2017 but as the season wore on, his impact lessened each week.

Eric Kumah is the exact opposite of Savoy. Kumah will play outside and found his rhythm later in the season, catching six passes for 82 yards vs. Georgia Tech in November and five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown vs. Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl. Kumah still does not have a 100-yard receiving game.

Hezekiah Grimsley played better in the latter part of 2017 as well, catching 11 passes for 119 yards in Virginia Tech’s final two games. Prior to that, he was not an impactful player.

Damon Hazelton was the favorite before dealing with an undisclosed injury that prevented him from participating much in spring practice. Hazelton caught 51 passes for 505 yards and four touchdowns for Ball State in 2016, but what will he do after sitting for over a year?

If Hazelton is healthy, I think he’ll be the Hokies leading receiver. He’s received the most praise from coaches and he’s had the most success at the collegiate level. Yes, it was at Ball State, but I have a feeling he’ll get the job done at the Power 5 level.

Virginia Tech needs at least two of these guys to step up in 2018. Tech needs to replace Cam Phillips’ production as best they can, and it likely won’t be replaced by just one receiver.

It’s certainly possible, but there are a few other games that might be a bigger draw in Week 1.

Tennessee and West Virginia are playing on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 3:30 p.m. at Bank of American Stadium in Charlotte. Those are two reputable programs playing in a city easy to get to. Expect it to be a good crowd.

Michigan and Notre Dame play at 7:30 p.m. on that Saturday as well, and that’s always a good draw. Louisville will lose to play Alabama in Orlando at 8 p.m. and that’s a good draw as well. Miami and LSU kick off their season at AT&T Stadium in Texas on Sunday and that’s a matchup of two premier programs.

Ultimately, I think Gameday will go elsewhere. There’s plenty of hype surrounding Willie Taggart at Florida State, but Miami and LSU in Jerry World would be my guess.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s hit each position.

Starting quarterback: Josh Jackson

Backups: Ryan Willis, Hendon Hooker

Jackson’s academic issue has been resolved and he’s still on the team. Barring a Week 1 suspension, Jackson will take the first snap vs. Florida State.

Starting running back: Steven Peoples

Backups: Deshawn McClease, Jalen Holston

Peoples is the most versatile running back and also the most experienced. He might not garner a plurality of the carries, but he’ll get the nod to start the season. Look for McClease to assume this role later in 2018.

Starting wide receivers: Damon Hazelton, Eric Kumah and Sean Savoy

Backups: Hezekiah Grimsley, Phil Patterson, Kaleb Smith, Tre Turner, Darryle Simmons

Grimsley will see the field plenty in 2018 and might even start. But I’m expecting Hazelton, Kumah and Savoy to get the lion’s share of the reps at receiver.

Starting tight end: Dalton Keene

Backups: Chris Cunningham, Drake DeIuliis, James Mitchell

Virginia Tech will rotate these guys in and out until one of them stands out. Neither Keene nor Cunningham looked particularly dominant in 2017.

Starting offensive line: Yosuah Nijman, D’Andre Plantin, Kyle Chung, Braxton Pfaff, Silas Dzansi

Backups: TJ Jackson, Tyrell Smith, Zachariah Hoyt, Patrick Kearns, Christian Darrisaw

Dzansi spent most of the spring at left tackle, but I think they’ll want to move him to the right side during the season. Putting a redshirt freshman on a quarterback’s blind side is less than ideal.

Plantin held his own in 2017 and is ready to start. Chung will slide inside to his old position and Pfaff will stick at right guard. Tyrell Smith and TJ Jackson will probably battle it out for the “first guy off the bench” role.

Starting defensive line: Trevon Hill, Ricky Walker, Vinny Mihota, Houshun Gaines

Backups: Emmanuel Belmar, Jarrod Hewitt, Cam Goode, TyJuan Garbutt

The starting group is set. When healthy, this unit is a strength for Virginia Tech.

The reserves are good too, if Goode and Garbutt are ready to contribute. Goode should beat out Xavier Burke this summer and Garbutt seems to be the leader for the fourth defensive end role.

Starting linebackers: Rayshard Ashby, Dylan Rivers

Backups: Dax Hollifield, Jaylen Griffin

Ashby and Rivers are the most prepared to start Week 1. Hollifield could play himself into a starting role as the season goes on and Keshon Artis could work himself into the mix as well.

Starting cornerbacks: Bryce Watts, Tyree Rodgers

Backups: Jermaine Waller, Jovonn Quillen, Caleb Farley

Virginia Tech should give Mook Reynolds a run at cornerback. They need some talent and experience there and the move could allow the Hokies to play their best five defensive backs. This group is scary thin entering 2018.

Starting safeties: Divine Deablo, Reggie Floyd, Mook Reynolds (whip/nickel)

Backups: Devon Hunter, Khalil Ladler

Virginia Tech is in a much better position at safety. Deablo played well in 2017 before injuring his foot and Floyd looked like a stud at rover. Reynolds is an elite-level player who can play any position in the secondary.

If Reynolds moves to cornerback, look for Hunter to slide into the whip/nickelback role.

Few Spots Remain in Virginia Tech’s Class of 2019 After Commitments From Robinson and Pinckney

Virginia Tech’s Class of 2019 is filling up quickly. (Photo via @HokiesFB on Twitter)

Virginia Tech has peaked on the recruiting trail in recent weeks as several prospects have committed to the Hokies’ Class of 2019.

Tayvion Robinson and Jacoby Pinckney are the latest commitments for Virginia Tech, giving Justin Fuente two weapons in the passing game. The 5-foot-10 and 165-pound Robinson will fit nicely in the slot while the 6-foot-2 and 206-pound Pinckney will give the Hokies another taller option on the outside.

Virginia Tech now has three commitments from wide receivers, with Robinson and Pinckney joining Elijah Bowick. Between the three of them, and possibly athletes Jaden Payoute, Jahad Carter and Cam’Ron Kelly, Virginia Tech won’t be recruiting anymore receivers in this class.

In fact, Virginia Tech is likely winding down their recruiting for the entire 2019 class. The numbers are getting tight and with 12 commitments on board already, the Hokies only have a few more spots left.

The NCAA limits teams to 85 scholarship players. Here’s Virginia Tech’s projected scholarship situation heading into the 2019 season…

Quarterback (5) — Josh Jackson (R-Jr.), Hendon Hooker (R-So.), Ryan Willis (R-Sr.), Quincy Patterson (R-Fr. or So.), DeJuan Ellis (R-Fr. or So.)

Running back (6) — Jalen Holston (Jr.), Coleman Fox (R-Sr.), Terius Wheatley (R-So.), Caleb Steward (R-Fr. or So.), Deshawn McClease (R-Sr.), Cole Beck (R-Fr.)

Wide receiver (7) — Hezekiah Grimsley (Jr.), Phil Patterson (R-So.), Tre Turner (R-Fr. or So.), Damon Hazelton (R-Jr.), Sean Savoy (Jr.), Eric Kumah (Sr.), Darryle Simmons (R-Fr. or So.)

Tight end (4) — Dalton Keene (Jr.), Chris Cunningham (R-Sr.), Drake DeIuliis (R-So.), James Mitchell (R-Fr. or So.)

Offensive line (15) — Oscar Shadley (R-Fr. or So.), Patrick Kearns (R-Jr.), Aiden Brown (R-So.), Lecitus Smith (R-So.), Joe Kane (R-Fr. or So.), Silas Dzansi (R-So.), D’Andre Plantin (R-Sr.), TJ Jackson (R-Jr.), Zacariah Hoyt (R-Jr.), Jarrett Hopple (R-Jr.), Christian Darrisaw (R-Fr. or So.), Tyrell Smith (R-Sr.), Walker Culver (R-Fr. or So.), Luke Tenuta (R-Fr. or So.), John Harris (R-Fr. or So.)

Defensive line (14) — Houshun Gaines (R-Sr.), Zion DeBose (R-So.), Emmanuel Belmar (R-Jr.), Xavier Burke (R-Sr.), TyJuan Garbutt (R-So.), Eli Adams (R-Fr. or So.), Darius Fullwood (R-Sr.), Jarrod Hewitt (R-Jr.), Nathan Proctor (R-So.), Trevon Hill (R-Sr.), Jimmie Taylor (R-Jr.), Robert Porcher IV (R-So.), Cam Goode (R-Fr. or So.), Jaevon Becton (R-Fr. or So.)

Linebacker (7) — Rayshard Ashby (Jr.), Alan Tisdale (R-Fr. or So.), Rico Kearney (R-So.), Jaylen Griffin (R-Fr.), Dylan Rivers (Jr.), Dax Hollifield (R-Fr. or So.), Keshon Artis (R-Fr. or So.)

Defensive back (16) — Caleb Farley (R-So.), Bryce Watts (Jr.), Devon Hunter (Jr.), Khalil Ladler (R-Jr.), Divine Deablo (R-Jr.), DJ Crossen (R-Fr. or So.), Reggie Floyd (Sr.), Jovonn Quillen (Sr.), Jermaine Waller (R-Fr. or So.), Devante Smith (R-So.), Tyree Rodgers (R-Jr.), Nasir Peoples (R-Fr. or So.), Jeremy Webb (R-Jr.), Nadir Thompson (R-Fr. or So.), Armani Chatman (R-Fr. or So.), Chamarri Conner (R-Fr. or So.)

Kicker/punter (3) — Oscar Bradburn (Jr.), Jordan Stout (R-So.), Brian Johnson (R-Jr.)

Projected scholarship count for 2019 — 77 scholarships

Projected Class of 2019 size, excluding attrition and early declarations for NFL Draft — 9 scholarships

There could be a player or two that is no longer on scholarship, or a player or two that has been added on scholarship since their arrival, so these numbers may be slightly off. For this exercise, all three of Virginia Tech’s specialists are being counted as scholarship players.

Clearly, Virginia Tech is already over their open scholarship limit. Very few Hokies on this year’s team are seniors, and only a few underclassmen have a chance at being able to declare for next year’s NFL Draft.

Given that Virginia Tech can only take a few more players in this recruiting class, what positions should the Hokies emphasize?

Until Virginia Tech feels comfortable about their collective talent at running back, and I don’t believe they do, the coaches should continue to sign 1-2 running backs per class. Stuff as much talent in the pipe as you can and hope something good comes out on the other end. Virginia Tech has been after Jordan Houston for a while now and his versatility makes him a fit for Justin Fuente’s system. Tahj Gary is another possibility, as is NC State commit Jamious Griffin, the younger brother of Jaylen Griffin.

Defensive tackle must continue to be a priority. Norell Pollard will likely be a defensive tackle at Virginia Tech, but Fuente should add one or two more interior defensive linemen. The situation at tackle is rickety right now and when Ricky Walker leaves at the end of the year, it will be even worse. Mario Kendricks is very high on Tech, while Adarious Jones is another possibility. According to 247Sports, both Kendricks and Jones are scheduled to announce their decisions on Saturday, June 30.

Virginia Tech will be done recruiting this class very soon. Instead of working to sign three or four guys after the early signing period in December, the Hokies will likely have moved on almost entirely to the Class of 2020. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out over the next five months.

Monday Mail: Robinson Commits, Tech’s First National Title and the Third-Best Hokie

Class of 2019 athlete Tayvion Robinson announced his commitment to Virginia Tech on Sunday. (Graphic via @RobinsonTayvion on Twitter)

Alright folks, it’s Monday. Yes, that means you have to go back to work, but it also means you get to ready my Monday Mail. Not a fair trade, but it’s all I’ve got for you.

Before we get into the mail, Virginia Tech earned a commitment on Sunday from Tayvion Robinson. The 5-foot-10 and 165-pound athlete from Virginia Beach, Va. is rated as a four-star prospect by Rivals and as a three-star prospect by 247Sports and ESPN. Robinson is the 11th member of Virginia Tech’s 2019 class and is the fifth Tech commit from Virginia.

Robinson isn’t a headliner for the class, but the coaching staff is ecstatic about him. He’s a great fit for Virginia Tech’s offense and several Power 5 programs had their eye on Robinson. This is a solid pickup for Virginia Tech and it’s a continuing of the Hokies’ recent recruiting boost.

Now, let’s dive into this week’s Monday Mail.

I addressed this not too long ago, but I think this rule change is being overlooked. This is a monumental change for college football and it will alter how coaches recruit and manage their teams.

The best way to utilize this change seems to be getting freshmen playing time in situations when the game’s result is no longer in question. Up four scores vs. Old Dominion early in the season? Play some of the freshmen who might not be ready to contribute vs. the ACC. Dealing with a group of beat up running backs and trying to run the clock out? No worries, just insert Caleb Steward or Cole Beck for a series.

The change will also allow coaches to replenish their special teams ranks late in the season, as guys get dinged up more and more. Instead of trotting guys out there who need a break, throw in some of the freshmen who are healthy and need game experience.

All in all, this is a terrific rule change. It helps coaches play more guys while also making freshmen feel like they’re making an impact early in their careers.

This question is being asked more and more as Buzz Williams elevates the Virginia Tech men’s basketball program. I think the true answer might be another sport at Virginia Tech, but I’ll stick to this specific question.

There’s an argument to be made on both sides. On one hand, the same 10-15 football teams win the national title every season and unless you’re in that group, your chances are slim to none of winning.

On the other hand, the men’s basketball tournament is such a crapshoot that even if you’re a good team, the chances are you being upset in the early rounds are higher than ever. (See: UMBC vs. Virginia)

But for as much perceived parity as there is in college basketball, the same few teams win the national title each season. Here’s a list of the last 10 NCAA Tournament winners…

2018: Villanova

2017: North Carolina

2016: Villanova

2015: Duke

2014: Connecticut

2013: Louisville

2012: Kentucky

2011: Connecticut

2010: Duke

2009: North Carolina

See any non-blueblood programs there? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

I still believe Virginia Tech football has a greater chance of winning a national title before Virginia Tech men’s basketball. The program recruits better and has a better coaching staff that’s more likely to stick around. If Virginia Tech can catch Clemson and Miami on a down year, it’s realistic that a College Football Playoff berth is possible.

I’ll be shocked if Rayshard Ashby and Dylan Rivers aren’t starting at linebacker vs. Florida State. Rivers has been the heir apparent to Tremaine Edmunds since he signed as a member of the Class of 2017. He’s a former four-star prospect and came into his own this spring.

Ashby will be the starting mike linebacker by default. There simply isn’t anyone who’s ready to challenge him yet. Rico Kearney redshirted last season and Dax Hollifield just arrived on campus this month. Bud Foster doesn’t start true freshmen at linebacker and for good reason. Willie Taggart is a brilliant offensive mind and will surely have some tricks up his sleeve on Sept. 3. Those tricks are more likely to work against a guy making his career debut.

This is an interesting question. I’m a pretty young guy, so forgive me if I undervalue some of the older Hokies.

For me, this is a two-man discussion between Corey Moore and Tyrod Taylor. Both were legendary and transformative players that helped lead their teams to great achievements.

Moore was the linchpin in Virginia Tech’s 1999 defense, winning both the Lombardi Award and the Nagurski Trophy. Moore was named an All-American and won consecutive Big East Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1998 and 1999.

Moore was the heart and soul of that defense and gave quite the entertaining interview at the National Championship Game is New Orleans. Spoiler — he doesn’t like it all that much.

Taylor would be the most dynamic player in Virginia Tech history if it weren’t for Michael Vick. Taylor’s numbers are better in every imaginable way, but much of that is due to modern offenses. Taylor was exciting to watch in his four years in Blacksburg and though Virginia Tech couldn’t get over the ump while he was there, Tech fans will be forever thankful.

I think Moore has a slight edge here. Moore was arguably the best defensive player in the country as a senior and pushed Virginia Tech towards a National Championship Game appearance. Moore’s jersey is already retired and if Tech is smart, Taylor’s jersey will be retired in the near future.

As for Bruce Smith and Michael Vick, Vick is No. 1. Bruce Smith turned into the better NFL player, but Vick was the best and most consequential Virginia Tech player of all time.

Cam’Ron Kelly Headlines Recent Recruiting Rebound for Virginia Tech

Cam’Ron Kelly’s commitment to Virginia Tech on June 7 gave the Hokies the recruiting boost they needed. (Photo via @CamRonJKelly on Twitter)

Let us harken back to May 18, when Devyn Ford announced his commitment to Penn State.

Virginia Tech fans were disappointed and rightly so. The Hokies pursued Ford for several years and were still spurned for an out-of-state power. The explosive talent that Virginia Tech needed in the backfield eluded them once again.

But since then, Virginia Tech has rebounded nicely on the recruiting trail. Four Class of 2019 prospects have committed to Tech since Ford’s decision, helping to boost the Hokies’ rep.

Cam’Ron Kelly kicked things off on June 7, shocking the recruiting world by picking Virginia Tech over Penn State and Clemson. Kelly is a consensus four-star prospect from Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va. and has quite the offer list. Kelly holds 41 scholarship offers, most of which are from Power 5 programs. The fact that Tech beat out Penn State and Clemson is impressive.

Kelly is an athlete but the 6-foot-1, 190-pound prospect is expected to play defensive back. Given Virginia Tech’s issues at cornerback, the Hokies could use some talent there.

Jaden Payoute was the next to join the Justin Fuente Faction. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound athlete was a late riser in the recruiting rankings, cracking the Virginia top-10 on the 247Sports Composite just this month. Payoute’s offer list is far less impressive than Kelly’s, but Boston College, Illinois, Pittsburgh and Tennessee all pulled the trigger. Payoute is rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports and ESPN, so he’s scrub.

Virginia Tech’s next two commitments became public in the last week. Defensive lineman Norell Pollard and tight end Nick Gallo announced their commitments to Virginia Tech on Monday and Tuesday, bringing Tech’s Class of 2019 to 10 members. Pollard, a 6-foot-1 and 260-pound prospect from Apopka, Fla., will add some beef on the interior where they desperately need it. Gallo, the younger brother of former Tech offensive lineman Eric Gallo, holds 12 Power 5 offers while Pollard owns 17 Power 5 offers.

Sure, none of these prospects are five-star players or dynamic running back talents. However, all of these recruits are more than talented enough to make an impact in Blacksburg. It’s been quite the rebound for the Hokies since things came crashing down last month.

247Sports agrees. Virginia Tech’s Class of 2019 only ranks 29th in the country but eight of the teams ahead of them have a lower average rating per prospect. Tech’s class will be smaller than most, which will prevent them from climbing much higher, but each prospect that they’re adding has plenty of qualities to be excited about.

Virginia Tech’s Class of 2019 won’t be as good as some had hoped. But so far, it’s shaping up pretty darn well. And with targets like Tayvion Robinson and Adarious Jones still uncommitted, there’s plenty of room to grow.