Virginia Tech Preparing for Pivotal Spring Practice Slate

Football is back, Hokies!

Well, not really. Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente hosted his first spring football press conference last, answering questions about the team’s personnel, his thoughts on the transfer portal and more.

Here are my biggest takeaways from Tech’s media availability and some of the bigger headlines surrounding the Hokies as they approach spring practice.

There are a lot of players dealing with injuries

Just before Virginia Tech began their 11 a.m. press conference, the program released a list of players who were banged up coming into spring practice.

The abundance of players who are expected to miss this spring pushed Virginia Tech to delay the beginning of their spring practice schedule to March 20, 17 days after the original start date of March 3. The Hokies’ annual Spring Game will still be played on April 13 and Tech will wrap up their 15 spring practices after that date.

The injury to Xavier Burke will give chances to Tech’s other defensive tackles to breakthrough this spring. Dashawn Crawford, Norell Pollard, Mario Kendricks, Joshua Fuga and Jaden Cunningham will all have an opportunity to stand out and push themselves towards the top of the depth chart.

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It’s disappointing that Walker Culver isn’t yet medically cleared to practice. The redshirt freshman is one of the Hokies’ highly-touted offensive lineman recruits and depending on how things shake out, Culver could earn a starting role at right tackle, opposite Christian Darrisaw. Darrisaw isn’t cleared either, so Tech’s young offensive linemen are going to get plenty of reps this spring.

When it comes down to it, not having all of those guys is impactful. Each and every player on the list, outside of Dalton Keene, Houshun Gaines and maybe Khalil Ladler, is fighting for a starting spot. Their absence presents opportunity for others, and we’ll have to wait and see if they take advantage.

Hunter moving back to rover

In the ever-winding career track of rising redshirt sophomore Devon Hunter, the next move is back to the rover safety position.

Hunter will presumably be Reggie Floyd’s backup and maybe be the team’s best defensive back off the bench, but any hope of Hunter becoming a starter this season have taken a hit. Fuente’s praise of Hunter should be encouraging, but it’s clear there is still a long way to go to get Hunter on the field in a starting role.

Floyd is embracing the mentor role for Hunter, something Hunter needs at this stage of his career.

Fuente addresses return of Hooker and McClease

Fuente was asked about Hendon Hooker’s return to Virginia Tech and though he’s happy to have him back, Hooker isn’t skating on his missed conditioning.

The same likely applies for rising redshirt senior running back Deshawn McClease, who also flirted with the portal before returning to the Hokies’ football program.

Fuente is probably going to take this approach with most of the players who enter the portal and later back out. If they handle things professionally and respectfully, Fuente will welcome them back while making sure they catch up on what they missed. If a player were to disrespect the program after leaving, Fuente probably wouldn’t want those guys back in his locker room.

Hooker’s position on the depth chart isn’t affected all that much because he wasn’t high on it in the first place. McClease is in a different spot, and if he wants the starting role he’ll have to earn it back. There are several running backs on the roster and all of them are going to get a look for next season. Even though McClease was productive last season, he wasn’t good enough to ensure a starting role in 2019.

The culture is ‘just crazy right now’

The flurry of transfers this winter no doubt shook Virginia Tech’s culture to its core. Roughly a dozen players have left the program since the start of last season, including several starters and significant contributors to the team. But Reggie Floyd and Dalton Keene assured the media last week that the Hokies have their stuff together.

“(The transfers) didn’t break anybody apart,” Floyd told the media (subscription required). “It kind of, I would say, brought us together even more. Our vibe in the locker room is just crazy right now. Everybody is pumped up, ready to get back on the field. And the main thing is to just keep that vibe how it is now, maintain it all through the season the whole way through so it won’t die down and we won’t have a situation like we did last year.”

“I think a lot of this stuff brought us a lot closer, to be honest with you,” Keene said. “I love the guys that decided to leave — they’re always going to be my teammates. But the guys that decided to stay, we’re going to go out there and play with who we have, and I think we have a really good group here right now.”

This offseason will be critical in Fuente’s continued construction of a perennial contender. He’s entering his fourth season as head coach and just about the entire roster is made up of players that he evaluated and recruited. Things are looking up with the team’s leaders towing the company line, but we won’t know about this team’s culture until September.

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