Hokies' football looks to return to staples of running and defense
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — It's a year of change at Virginia Tech, and the Hokies hope it is for the better.
Coach Frank Beamer entered his 28th training camp still trying to determine a successor for quarterback Logan Thomas, with Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and Mark Leal battling for the job.
Brewer, viewed by many as the favorite, said the Hokies were a "no-brainer choice" after meeting with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler on a recruiting visit, and can only hope he's a no-brainer, too.
"The winning tradition here, expecting to win every game that you're in, was something that meant a lot to me," Brewer said of choosing the Hokies. "And then obviously getting to play behind a defense that can back you up like that on a consistent basis takes a lot of pressure off the offense."
For the past two seasons, when the Hokies went 7-6 and then 8-5, offensive consistency has been a problem mostly because of the absence of a reliable running game. They hope to fix that this season behind Trey Edmunds, who has rebounded fully from a broken left leg, and diminutive speedster J.C. Coleman.
Help also will come from the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, an effective receiver who missed last season with a torn left rotator cuff. He'll not only bolster the passing game, but a young offensive line.
Loeffler also expects a second season running his system to pay big dividends.
"It's a comfort level, in terms of system-wise, where we're at," he said. "Now we've just got to put the right people and the right seats on the bus, execute, run the football and don't turn it over."
The opposite plan had guided Bud Foster's defense for years, and will again.
The unit is led by the passing rushing duo of Dadi Nicholas and Luther Maddy up front, and anchored by a secondary that should rival any in college football. The safeties are seniors Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner, and the cornerbacks are Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, who started as freshmen.
The foursome combined for 15 of the team's 19 interceptions a year ago.
The Hokies had a string of eight straight years with at least 10 wins snapped when they stumbled to the 7-6 finish in 2012-13, but Beamer rejected the notion that last year continued the hard times.
"In reality, it's one or two wins away," he said. "It's not like the bottom's falling out here."
Here are five thing to watch with Virginia Tech this season:
OPENING HOLES: Three starters return on the offensive line, but "that's where we get young," tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring said. Mark Shuman is a fifth-year senior, but has hardly played, and the guards figure to be redshirt freshman Wyatt Teller and redshirt sophomore Augie Conte. Brewer has a good pocket presence, according to his coaches, but would benefit from running lanes and time to throw.
MAKING STOPS: Inside linebackers Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards were the Hokies' top tacklers last season, and both have moved on, leaving redshirt senior Chase Williams and junior Deon Clark to fill their critical roles. In Foster's defense, the inside linebackers are always among the leading tacklers.
SNAP COUNT: Assuming he wins the job, Brewer comes to Blacksburg after having played in a spread offense his entire football life, which means he's always been in the shotgun. He'll be expected to get behind center in Loeffler's offense, a transition that can either go smoothly or be very costly.
ELEMENT OF SURPRISE: The Hokies had to scrap much of what Loeffler intended to do on offense last season when Malleck got hurt in training camp and then Edwards was hobbled. With both healthy, and now-experienced backups behind them, Loeffler expects the offense to look "significantly different."
CUPCAKES: The Hokies play at Ohio State in the second game of the season, but caught a break from the ACC schedule-maker by avoiding league powerhouses Florida State and Clemson and getting Miami at home.