Welcome back, Hokies. Thank you for patiently waiting on this week’s Monday Mail, which is a day late. I apologize for the delay.
This week’s Monday Mail comes directly after Saturday’s “Spring Game” for the Hokies, which was nothing more than a glorified practice. I was fortunate enough to be in attendance and boy, was I disappointed. It was hard for the crowd to get excited on Saturday, thanks to the choppiness of the practice format and lack of exciting plays.
Nonetheless, Tech’s spring practice schedule is nearing its close, so it’s time to take stock of what we’ve got right now. Let’s get into your questions this week.
Thoughts on who may enter the transfer portal following the conclusion of the spring?
— Thomas Saunders (@vtsaunders) April 14, 2019
Every program has at least a few players who explore a transfer after spring practices are over. Despite a rash of transfers before spring practices, I’m sure Virginia Tech will find themselves with a few players looking to leave.
On offense, I’ll pick someone like Drake Deiuliis, who is being passed over at tight end. Dalton Keene has locked down playing time as a reliable blocker and decent pass-catcher, while James Mitchell seems to have taken over the role Deiuliis was supposed to fill. Mitchell is a smooth, athletic mistmatch for opposing defenses and he’ll likely see the field a lot this season. Deiuliis has a lot of work to do to climb the depth chart and at the moment, it seems like he’s moving in the wrong direction.
There are a few candidates on the defensive side of the ball, but I think Dylan Rivers is someone to watch. Rivers hasn’t turned into what the Hokies thought he could, at least not to this point. Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield have locked down Tech’s two linebacker positions and Bud Foster generally doesn’t rotate his linebackers in and out of games. Even though Rivers loves Foster and Justin Fuente, he could decide to look elsewhere.
And even if these guys were to enter the portal, they could return to the team before the start of summer workouts. Hendon Hooker and Deshawn McClease have shown that the Hokies will welcome guys back to the team.
With a loaded position group, who will separate themselves this winter and eventually sit on the Iron Throne?
— Lucas Branson (@lucasjbranson) April 15, 2019
I’m assuming this was a Game of Thrones reference, which is back on HBO. If so, great timing.
The only position on this team that seems loaded to me is wide receiver. Even though Eric Kumah is set to start for Old Dominion, the Hokies shouldn’t miss him too much at receiver. Tre Turner and Damon Hazelton will lead the way on the outside and those two will be a pretty darn good combination. Hezekiah Grimsley is a reliable option off the bench and Darryle Simmons showed some serious potential in the Spring Game.
Tech’s depth lessens in the slot, but DeJuan Ellis impressed me last weekend. Sure, he dropped a touchdown pass after getting rocked by Jermaine Waller in the endzone, but Ellis showed the ability to gain separation and make plays after the catch. He’s a stellar athlete and if he can catch consistently, he’s going to be a real weapon.
Ultimately, Turner and Hazelton will sit atop the receiver depth chart. I’m not sure which one will have a better season, but that’s a dynamic duo and there’s dependable depth behind them.
Do any of the walk-on’s that played Saturday have a chance of breaking through?
— Ken Goodrich (@KenGoodrich) April 15, 2019
Speaking of receivers, am I the only one who likes what Kaleb Smith has to offer? The former Wake Forest commit came to Tech as a walk-on, but this is the second spring game in which he’s impressed me. He plays even bigger than his 6-foot-2, 206-pound frame and his hands are very reliable. He isn’t going to wow anyone with his speed or athleticism, but he’s a talented guy who deserves a shot.
Of course, Tech is very deep at receiver, so there’s a slim chance Smith sees the field consistently. So I’m going to take a flyer on Malik Bell, who played running back last weekend but is listed on the roster as a tight end. Bell actually ran the ball quite well and if he can drop a bit from the 249-pound mark, Bell could see the field in some situations as a bowling ball. It’s not likely, but he was impressive in Tech’s glorified practice.
What is House Gaines status? Did he play yesterday?
— Laura McAndrew (@laura_mcandrew) April 15, 2019
Houshun Gaines did not play in Saturday’s Spring Game, but Gaines should be good to go for the summer and for next season. Tech kept a ton of guys out of action on Saturday, most of whom were out for precautionary reasons.
If VT Football doesn’t win 8 games on this very manageable schedule, will Fuentes position start to get hot? In my personal opinion, anything under 8 wins for next season is a failure. Not because we are insanely talented, just that our opponents are not.
— Sam Stromberg (@sam_stromb) April 15, 2019
I had a conversation about this exact question with a friend of mine on Saturday after we watched the game.
I’m firmly in the camp that Justin Fuente deserves at least this coming season to move things in the right direction. Very few Tech fans thought otherwise, but there were a few. But if Tech goes 7-6 or 6-7 this coming season, does Whit Babcock make a move?
I don’t believe that Babcock will want to search for a new coach for one of his premiere programs for the second straight year, so as long as Fuente makes a bowl game his job should be safe. But even if he keeps his job after a 7-6 or 6-7 season, he’ll be sitting directly on a space heater.
Fuente has brought many things to the table — better quarterback play, better depth at wide receiver and a more reliable offensive line — but he’s also seen some disappointing downgrades during his tenure. The fanbase is less excited each offseason, in part due to Fuente’s refusal to open up and allow more access to his program. The defensive back position under Fuente has completely fallen off, both in terms of talent and in depth. His team’s record has gotten worse every year he’s been in Blacksburg and his recruiting has been full of hits and misses.
I still believe Fuente is going to get the Hokies in the right direction, but he’s losing the patience of the fanbase. If his Hokies turn in another mediocre season, the calls for change will become louder and louder.