Virginia Tech football released an unofficial depth chart on Wednesday, pleasing everyone from writers to fans. The flow of information is weak these days and any time a depth chart is released to the public, it’s big news.
For the most part, there were few surprises. Zachariah Hoyt is listed as the Hokies’ starting center, while Kyle Chung is at left guard. Tyree Rodgers is the No. 2 free safety, despite spending the first couple years of his Virginia Tech career as a cornerback. Brian Johnson is the starting field goal kicker, while Jordan Stout is slated to handle kickoffs.
But there was one glaring surprise on the defensive side of the ball. Khalil Ladler, a redshirt sophomore, is listed as the starting whip/nickelback, while Devon Hunter, the presumptive starter, is listed as a co-backup with freshman DJ Crossen.
Don’t get me wrong — Ladler is a talented player worthy of significant playing time. Ladler filled in admirably towards the end of last season, once Divine Deablo, Terrell Edmunds and Mook Reynolds were no longer available. Ladler, who enrolled at Tech as a cornerback, played both safety spots last season and the defensive coaching staff has trust in him to play just about anywhere.
But Hunter, the former five-star prospect who was supposed to replace Reynolds at the whip position, lost the job to Ladler? And not only did he lose the job, but he’s tied with a freshman cornerback moving to the whip position?
Perhaps this a slight overreaction, but something isn’t right. Hunter has lost a starting battle in each of the last two seasons, despite being practically handed the whip job this offseason. When is Hunter going to make a real impact?
When a program like Virginia Tech signs a five-star recruit, that prospect needs to pan out. It’s understandable for it to take a season, but Hunter has now had a full year in the program and still isn’t in a position to contribute in a significant fashion. Hunter will play special teams, but five-star recruits have to be something more than that.
Time will tell if Hunter figures things out. The Hokies are in good hands with Ladler at whip, Reggie Floyd at rover and Divine Deablo at free safety, but Hunter was supposed to take this group to the next level. Virginia Tech needs Hunter to step up soon, because the clock is ticking.
Monday Mail is back! So is college football, technically. Eight teams have started their 2018 season already, even though the season really begins this weekend. I’ll have my season prediction for Virginia Tech coming out this week, so look for that.
Until then, be sure to read the rest of this.
Who will have the most sacks this season for the Hokies D?
The odds-on favorite is probably Ricky Walker, who should build on his 4.5-sack performance in 2017. The problem is that Walker is now a marked man, and he’ll be the highlight of offensive gameplans in 2018.
Trevon Hill and Houshun Gaines will benefit. Hill is entering his third season as a starter and actually totaled 5.5 sacks last season. He’s an explosive pass rusher off the edge and with most of the line’s attention focused on Walker, Hill is positioned for success.
Gaines’ presence helps too. He finished 2017 with three sacks in limited playing time and gives Virginia Tech more of a pass rush than the Hokies had with Vinny Mihota at defensive end. With Gaines and Hill on the edge, both should find success getting to opposing quarterbacks this season. My money is on Hill to lead Tech in sacks, and he’ll take a long, hard look at the NFL after he does.
Speaking of Hill, our next series of questions relate to this…
In the past, Virginia Tech has kept players away from the media for a multitude of reasons. Wyatt Teller was kept from the media during his senior season but he was never suspended. Adonis Alexander was kept from the media for a very long time, and he was declared academically ineligible and suspended multiple times during his Virginia Tech career.
Hill could be in trouble, or it could be because of his criticism of Andy Bitter’s coverage of Mook Reynolds’ dismissal this offseason. We’ll find out on Sept. 3 if Hill is in Tech’s good graces or if he’s in big trouble.
What can we except from the offense against FSUs defense and how well do you think our corners will be able to defend against FSUs WR
Virginia Tech’s offense has some talent, but so does Florida State’s defense. Brian Burns and Demarcus Christmas are Florida State’s most experienced defensive linemen. Burns had 4.5 sacks last season and 13.5 tackles for loss and is FSU’s headliner up front.
Two of Florida State’s linebackers have experience, albeit limited. Adonis Thomas is entering his final season of eligibility. The former Alabama linebacker turned JUCO product played in just four games in 2017 for the Seminoles. Junior Dontavious Jackson played in eight games last season and made 17 tackles, but lacks experience too. Freshman Jaiden Woodbey was one of the top college prospects in the Class of 2018 and is expected start at nickelback for Florida State.
In the secondary, Florida State is hoping Stanford Samuels III is able to play and if he is, he brings 10 games of experience with three tackles for loss and two interceptions worth of experience. AJ Westbrook is another experienced safety with 24 games under his belt as a Seminole. Levonta Taylor is about as good as it gets at cornerback, and Kyle Meyers is entering his third year in the program.
Virginia Tech’s offensive line should be able to hold their own vs. Florida State’s defensive front. Florida State has some experience at linebacker but none of them are proven options and as lone as Josh Jackson exercises extreme caution when throwing towards Taylor, Tech’s receivers should be able to find holes. Florida State might recruit like a juggernaut, but they’ve got holes they can’t fill.
Here’s who Noles247 predicts Florida State’s receiving depth chart heading into this season.
Starting outside receivers: Tamorrion Terry, Keith Gavin
Starting slot receiver: Nyqwan Murray
Murray led Florida State in receiving yards (604) last season and should be even more productive in his senior season. Murray is still recovering from a torn ACL but is expected to be a full go vs. the Hokies.
Outside of Murray, Florida State is bereft of experience at receiver. Terry is a redshirt freshman who signed with the ‘Noles in the Class of 2017. Terry wasn’t a highly-regarded recruit by Florida State standards, carrying just a three-star rating.
Gavin is a junior with 27 career catches, but that’s it. Gavin’s receptions all came last season and he still doesn’t have a touchdown reception in his career. Virginia Tech’s receiving corps isn’t all that experienced, but Florida State’s is even greener.
Florida State’s receivers are talented, but so are Tech’s defensive backs. They’re both young and both will make mistakes. It should be an entertaining battle between these two groups.
Any off-the-grid candidates from outside the 40-man roster that the O’s should call up in September? And who goes to make room? #Birdland
I’ll give one pitcher and one hitter that fit the description. Left-handed pitcher Josh Rogers has pitched well all season at the AAA level and has been even better in Norfolk since being acquired in the Zach Britton trade. Rogers has started five games for Norfolk, totaling a 2.08 ERA and a 1.088 WHIP. He’s pitched plenty of innings in the minor leagues throughout his career and since the Orioles starting rotation is a disaster, Rogers should get a chance this September.
Rogers isn’t on the 40-man roster, so space needs to be made. Twenty-eight-year-old reliever Sean Gilmartin doesn’t provide much value for the Orioles and really doesn’t need to be in the organization.
Despite poor numbers this season for Norfolk, DJ Stewart needs to get a look at the major league level. Stewart hasn’t really earned a promotion, hitting just .234 and slugging .391. However, given the Orioles plethora of future options in the outfield, Stewart needs to prove that he belongs. Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays and Ryan McKenna will all reach the majors within the next two seasons and Cedric Mullins is already there. It’s time for Stewart to earn his spot or get pushed to the back of the line.
As much as I’d love to boot Chris Davis from the 40-man roster, that’s not realistic. How about Craig Gentry, who’s a 34-year-old outfielder that’s been average or worse at the plate since 2013. Gentry is a solid fourth outfielder that can play all three spots and run the bases, but he provides little to zero value to a team in the middle of a full rebuild.
Here’s a timely question. Virginia Tech added their first commitment of the 2020 class on Friday, hauling in Virginia native Tyler Warren.
Warren is a 6-foot-5, 200-pound quarterback from Mechanicsville. Warren currently holds offers from Virginia and Syracuse, so his recruitment ended before it really got started. As much as I’d love to evaluate Warren’s ability, both of his season highlight videos on Hudl have been made private. Hopefully that changes soon.
In terms of the entire class, there are a few big-time targets for Virginia Tech. Chris Tyree is probably No. 1 on the list, being an elite running back from Virginia. Tyree has visited Blacksburg on numerous occasions and the Hokies have been recruiting him for years. According to 247Sports, Florida State, Mississippi State and Penn State are the biggest competitors for Tyree’s signature.
Blake Corum is another running back the Hokies are after. Corum currently plays at St. Frances Academy in Maryland and is another high-end prospect.
Defensively, Virginia Tech is heavily recruiting defensive linemen Tyler Baron and Bryan Bresee. Baron is related to former Hokie Woody Baron is a solid four-star prospect that could end up playing inside. Bresee is a 6-foot-5, 290-pound athletic freak that’s rated No. 1 in the country. Bresee is likely headed elsewhere, but Jacolbe Cowan would be a nice pickup too.
It’s extremely early in the process, and more names will appear. But for now, those are the prospects to keep an eye on.
Cunningham was less involved in the passing game last season after having like 3-4 TD catches the year before. Any chance he gets back in, especially in the red zone?
There’s a chance, but this might be Chris Cunningham’s last chance at securing a big chunk of playing time.
Cunningham is entering his fourth year in the program and has yet to be a consistent impact player. Cunningham has just 15 catches over the last two seasons and after catching four touchdown passes in 2016, he caught just one in 2017.
If Cunningham is unable to solidify his role this season, he will be passed over for younger options that were recruiting by this coaching staff. Dalton Keene is just a sophomore and is already a better blocker than Cunningham is. Drake DeIuliis got a look on the outside in 2017 before pulling a hamstring and will probably get another look out there this season. Freshman James Mitchellhas impressed in preseason camp and could play right away.
Virginia Tech has plenty of options at tight end. Cunningham is on the verge of making himself expendable, so 2018 is a critical year for him.
Now that Josh has been named our starting QB, what’s the probable line up of the other QB’s? Also, how likely is it Patterson will see the field this year given the new redshirt rules?
I still think the backup position is Ryan Willis’ to lose. Willis is experienced, even though that experience wasn’t enjoyable. But he looked the best in the spring and I think Hendon Hooker needs more time to mature and develop his skills.
Normally, Quincy Patterson wouldn’t figure into the equation this season. He’s a raw, unpolished prospect with tons of upside. Patterson needs time.
But with the NCAA’s new redshirt rules that allow a player to play in four games and still redshirt, Patterson most certainly needs to play in 2018. Part of the new redshirt experience, specifically for quarterbacks, needs to include garbage playing time.
Patterson’s development may be sped up if he’s allowed to see the field as a freshman. If the result of the game is no longer in question, Patterson should see the field so he can adapt himself to the speed of the game and make mistakes. Patterson needs to be allowed to fail so that he can succeed later in his career
Sure, if Patterson lights it up there will be an immediate quarterback controversy ignited by clueless fans. But those who understand how things work know that Patterson needs at least two years of protected growth before he’s ready to bloom.
And a #Hokies one: we have 3 young exciting LBs. Any chance we could actually see a LB rotation from Bud?
Virginia Tech’s linebacker corps looks very promising. The group is full of youth and potential and the group is in good shape moving forward. But even with all the youth and all of the potential, there’s little to no chance that Bud Foster rotates his linebackers.
Foster has never rotated linebackers in his career, for better or for worse. Also, rotating young guys in and out prevents guys from getting the maximum amount of reps possible. Instead of spreading the reps around, you one guy taking as many of them as possible.
That’s not to say Foster won’t bench one of his linebackers in favor of another. Let’s say freshman Dax Hollifield starts vs. Florida State and plays poorly. I could see Foster going with Rayshard Ashby or Keshon Artis later down the line, if the poor play continued. I don’t think Foster will continue to play a guy who simply can’t get the job done.
Super important question. What’s your favorite Hokie Uniform?
I think Virginia Tech’s defense would benefit by seeing Florida State later in the season. Not only would they have real tape to watch instead of piecing things together from last season, but they’d have chances to make mistakes against lesser opponents.
Would you rather the Hokies make mistakes against William and Mary, or Florida State?
On Sept. 3, several Hokies are going to be seeing the first significant snaps of their careers. Mistakes will be made. Assignments will be missed. Things won’t be communicated properly. It’s a lot easier to come back from those problems when you’re playing an FCS school, rather than a Power 5 opponent who’s recruited in the top 15 for over a decade.
Who are the 3 best prospects the O’s got in their summer sell off? And does Mountcastle and DJ Stewart make the show in ‘19
The Orioles acquired 15 different players in their summer exodus, even though most of them were mid-end prospects. A few of them standout, however.
Yusniel Diaz is the best prospect the O’s trade for this summer. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound outfielder has killed it at nearly every stop he’s had, starting in Cuba. Diaz mashed in AA-Tulsa, finishing with a .314/.428/.477 line before being traded to the Orioles and sent to AA-Bowie. Diaz’ torrid pace has slowed considerably since being acquired by the Orioles, but his larger of body work says no one should worry.
Diaz is rated as the Orioles’ top prospect and will be making his debut in the near future. If Diaz finds his rhythm once again, he could find himself in Baltimore mid-2019.
In my opinion, Luis Ortiz is No. 2. He’s a big right-hander who rates as the Orioles’ seventh-best prospect. Ortiz has rebounded from a shaky 2017 and has a 3.54 ERA this season. Since being acquired by Baltimore, Ortiz has pitched 16 innings for AAA-Norfolk and has a 2.81 ERA.
Dillon Tate is third, although he and Ortiz are very close. Tate is two years older and after a stellar 2017, has slowed in 2018. Tate’s ERA this season is over four and has allowed 18 earned runs in just four appearances for AA-Bowie. Tate will likely find his footing but isn’t ready for the bump to AAA just yet.
I think Ryan Mountcastle will be in Baltimore at some point in 2019. He probably won’t make the Opening Day roster but after a short stint in AAA-Norfolk, I think he’d be ready. Mountcastle is hitting .304 at Bowie this season and has 12 home runs and 53 RBIs in 87 games. He’s been consistent all season long and barring a setback, he should be ready some time in 2019.
DJ Stewart should get called up this September, but he hasn’t done much to boost his stock this season. Stewart is hitting just .235 at AAA-Norfolk this season and as been awful since June. Stewart hit .175 in July and is hitting .204 so far in August.
Still, Stewart needs to see major league competition. He’s next in the line of Orioles prospects expected to make their debut and given the organizational depth behind him, the Orioles need to find out of Stewart can get the job done. They also need to find out if he can even play outfield at the major league level, or if he’ll need to move into a first base or designated hitter role.
Should the O’s sell out to re-sign Adam Jones to lead the rebuild, or should they just roll with the outfield prospects? #Birdland
For those of you who are unaware of who Stephen Newman is, he’s a great friend of mine who is also a sports writer. Stephen covered all sorts of Virginia Tech sports for the Collegiate Times as a student and is very knowledgeable. Go follow him on Twitter.
The Orioles should absolutely re-sign Adam Jones and keep him around for the rebuild. Not only can Jones, a 13-year veteran, mentor the Orioles’ young outfielders sure to debut in the coming years, but Jones can still hit.
Yes, Jones’ power numbers are down. Despite a slight increase last season, Jones has slugged less than .440 in two of the last three seasons and hasn’t hit 30 or more home runs since 2013. But, Jones is hitting .285 this season, his exact average from last season. Jones isn’t a do-it-all hitter anymore, but he can still hit for average.
Jones’ community involvement and level of play over the last several years have made him the face of the franchise. As fans struggle to keep the faith through a rebuild, having a player that fans like and can connect with is essential to keeping the fanbase engaged.
Orioles fans understand that Jones will never be the defensive stud and slugger that he used to be. However, he can still be a serviceable corner outfielder (if he’s willing to play in the corner long-term) and hitter while mentoring younger players and keeping fans engaged. Hopefully, general manager Dan Duquette realizes Jones’ true value and keeps Jones in Baltimore for the rest of his career.
That’s a good question. When Justin Fuente arrived at Virginia Tech, he and Brad Conrnelsen had the star talent at wide receiver but didn’t have the depth they were looking for. Cornelsen wanted anywhere from 6-8 receivers that could contribute.
This season, the Hokies are much closer to that 6-8 number. Here is what Tech’s first and second teams looked like on offense in the open practice last week.
Damon Hazelton, Hezekiah Grimsley and Eric Kumah will all be contributing this season. Hazelton should be Virginia Tech’s No. 1 option and Grimsley and Kumah will produce as well. Phil Patterson did very little in two games last season but given his talent, Patterson should be ready for his third year in the program. Savoy was highly productive in his first season but faltered down the stretch. All five of these players should be ready to contribute in some way.
Tre Turner is a bit of a wildcard. The true freshman missed most of his senior season with a shoulder injury and the slightly-built Turner would probably benefit from a year in the weight room. However, if Turner is cracking the two-deep in his first preseason camp, maybe he’s ready.
CJ Carroll is good enough to crack the rotation, but his constant injury issues could return again in 2018. Carroll gives the Hokies depth at slot receiver and can return punts and kicks, but how many games will he be available for?
Another dark horse is freshman Kaleb Smith. The 6-foot-2, 206-pound prospect impressed in the spring and with the Hokies lacking star power on the outside, everyone is going to get an opportunity out there. Smith might be a walk-on but he was originally committed to Wake Forest and held scholarship offers from East Carolina and Virginia. He’s no slouch.
In short, Virginia Tech should have at least six contributors at receiver this season. Not everyone I named will play well and Turner and Smith could easily redshirt. But the Hokies have options, something they lacked two seasons ago.
1. Who has the stronger arm – Patterson or Jackson?
2. How do the running backs look? Who will get playing time?
1. Why is Davis still in the lineup? Why not move Trey to Mancini to first base?
2. First impression of Cedric Mullins?
Judging from his senior highlight film, Quincy Patterson has a lot more arm talent than Josh Jackson. Not only does Patterson have the stronger arm but with time, he’ll have the accuracy and touch too.
Patterson is the prototypical quarterback. At 6-foot-4 and 236 pounds, Patterson has the unique combination of size, arm talent and athleticism. Patterson has all the tools to be a successful quarterback at the college level, he just needs time to learn and hone his skills.
Jackson is the opposite. Jackson lacks elite physical tools and size but is smart on the field and makes good decisions. Jackson has the demeanor of a senior and has an advanced knowledge of the offensive system. Jackson’s upbringing and intangibles compensate for some of the tools that he lacks, like a strong arm or quick feet.
Now we’re cooking with gas — some Orioles questions.
I’ve pondered the same question about Chris Davis. He’s on pace for one of the worst seasons in modern history, batting .160 and slugging just .303. Among qualified players, Davis’ -2.3 WAR is the worst in the major leagues. He’s the worst player in baseball this season.
As bad as Davis is, I somewhat understand keeping him in the lineup. Davis hit six bombs in July and drove in 11 RBIs but has cooled since. Given the Orioles’ youth movement, Davis needs to sit.
Trey Mancini’s future isn’t in left field, as you noted. Mancini is a defensive liability out there and is best-suited for first base. Moving him there now would be beneficial.
As long as Mark Trumbo is on the team, which shouldn’t be long, Trumbo should be in the lineup and in the field. Trumbo’s offensive output dwarfs that of Davis (17 home runs, 42 RBIs and a .790 OPS) and for some reason, Trumbo bats much better when playing in the field (1.091 OPS as first baseman and .921 OPS as a right fielder). Despite his poor defensive abilities, pushing Trumbo to left could help disguise his deficiencies.
It was fun watching Davis mash baseballs for a few years, but his time as come. Davis is nothing more than a platoon bat at this point and is no longer the solid first baseman that he used to be. I know he’s getting paid oodles of cash but at some point, you have to admit he’s sunken cost and move on.
I love me some Cedric Mullins. As a 13th round pick in 2015, it’s not surprising that he’s flown under the radar until this season. Mullins raked in Bowie to start the 2018 season, earning a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk. Mullins continued to play well, driving in 18 runs over 59 games and finishing with a .757 OPS.
Since the Orioles called up Mullins, he’s done nothing but succeed. He’s 4-9 with three walks and his speed has given the O’s an instant upgrade in center field. As good as Adam Jones is, his shrinking range has cost Baltimore defensively.
Mullins may never be a star, but he’ll always be a productive player. He’ll be a solid defensive player and a potential leadoff hitter for his entire career. The Orioles may have found their center fielder of the future.
Could the issues at Maryland happen here? How do we know Cam wasn’t overworked?
For those who are unaware of the problems that Maryland is having, here’s a solid recap of the entire disaster.
The ugly truth of it all of this — there is probably borderline abusive behavior going on at every single college athletics program in the country.
Not every program is actually abusive. Not every coach pushes kids too far. In fact, almost every coach in America knows where the line is and doesn’t cross it. Coaches usually know how to push kids without pushing too far. Sometimes, coaches lose control like Buddy Stephens at East Mississippi Community College or Jason Brown at Independence Community College.
In the case of Cam Goode, the word is that Goode couldn’t handle the strength and conditioning program at Virginia Tech. Most kids don’t have a problem, but some kids just don’t buy in. The whole point of summer conditioning for freshmen is to break them down so that they can be built back up properly. It’s a grueling process, but one that is necessary.
Maybe Goode was overworked. Maybe Ben Hilgart went over the edge and Goode had enough. We’ll likely never know, unless other players come forward with similar stories. Until then, it’s not fair to blame Goode or the Hokies. The two parted ways, and that’s that.
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.
Do you think it is possible that our running game will be good. Much better than in recent years with Mclease seemingly ready to breakthrough with a good last 3 games last year, hopefully healthy peoples all year, and Holsten with another full year of experience?
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.
If Josh Jackson goes down who do you expect to step in and who would then become the backup?
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.
Any thoughts as to who will be the Hokies FG kicker in Tallahassee?
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.
If you could add a player from every other ACC team to the Hokies, who would that be and why?
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.
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.
How much Dalton Keene do expect to see this season and do you expect that to occur earlier rather than later?
Tight ends coach James Shibestsaid 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.
Lots of rumor mill around Buzz Williams and potential move. What is the likelihood he is coaching the Hokies in fall 2019?
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.
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.
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.
With the youth on defense, what will the offensive approach be?. Ball control or take some chances to score as much as possible.
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 HezekiahGrimsley. 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.
By the end of the season which will be the Hokies strength, Fuente offense or Buds D?
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.
Will we see Bud break his past tradition and play more of the linebackers on the 2 deep? Give the true freshman a chance show ability to play early. Will the new redshirt rules impact this?
What do you see as being a realistic LB rotation this season? Bud has a reputation for giving the bulk of playing time to the starting 3 but since all 3 starters will be new, any chance we see more of a standard 1st team/2nd team rotation?
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.
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.
With the loss of Mook, how do you feel an inexperienced DB group will handle FSU and the first part of the season?
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?
How are you feeling about the FSU game? And what does Tech need to do to get the upper hand?
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.
With all the losses on D, have you changed your thoughts on this years W-L record for the Hokies?
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.
Related: Chatman to WR seems like Bud can’t claim top program athletes to defense like he used to. Thoughts on balance of power?
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.
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.
Back from vacation with some personal news to share: today is my last day at the @roanoketimes.
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.
With a solid QB backup this season, will Fuente run JJ more this year?
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.