As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.
Team: Virginia Tech Hokies
Spring Practice Start Date: March 27
Spring Game Date:
Following last year’s disappointing campaign, Virginia Tech’s spring is all about diagnosing issues. From the futile offensive attack, to a defense that certainly needs some course correction, Tech’s coaches have been diving into what went so wrong in 2012 — and how to fix those problems (at least in part) over the course of the next month. And while those calling for long-time coach Frank Beamer’s job may be a bit off-base right now, it’s likely that the 2013 season is a key point in the narrative of his career; be it a positive upswing after one lackluster year, or the start of a steady downfall.
Offensively, Virginia Tech struggled mightily in 2012, and there’s no one trouble spot there either. Behind an inexperienced line, Logan Thomas and his very green backfield repeatedly failed to find success, and never truly adjusted as the year wore on. With more experience all across the board, the test this spring will be to see just how much everyone learned. While Thomas should certainly be held accountable for his errors as the team’s leader, it must also be acknowledged that far too much was expected of him week-in and week-out, causing him to over-compensate. Newly installed offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler must understand both sides of this coin from the beginning, and stress additional accountability. Beyond Thomas, that means stark improvement across the line, and a more effective running game. At least at the onset, J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes should be handling the bulk of the carries, and hopefully one or two emerge as a better runner than he has been in the past.
On the defensive side of the ball, Bud Foster is tasked with fixing a group that allowed teams to score 27 or more points against them six different times (a huge issue for a team that prides itself on an elite defense). From poor tackling to position changes and a significant failure in pass coverage schemes (see: Florida State game), the Hokies appeared like a shadow of their former selves in 2012. Now, with nine starters turning, there should be no questions about the expectations they’ll carry into both this spring and fall. There’s no definitive word on when Antone Exum will be returning from a torn ACL, but until he returns (hopefully sometime this fall), the team does have other options. Kyle Fuller and Donovan Riley should lead the defensive secondary for spring at least, with other young players rotating in to gain further familiarity with the starting unit. In terms of the front-seven, linebacker Jack Tyler should continue being a force in both run- and pass-stopping, with additional help from senior James Gayle along the line. Similar to last year, Tech brings a veteran group on defense, and after a rough go last year, many feel like there’s something to prove in 2013.
Without much intrigue in terms of position battles, the larger focus for Virginia Tech will be on how the offense responds to a new coordinator, first and foremost. Despite last year’s struggles, that group must still rise and fall with Thomas, and any changes implemented this spring will certainly be made with him at the focal point. Elsewhere, the key role players are largely the same, and now it’s just a question of how new pieces fit in within that infrastructure. As mentioned earlier, this spring will provide at least a partial picture of how Beamer’s legacy could play out going forward. With a lot of veterans coming back, the Hokies could bounce right back, or show they’re on a downward turn. For Beamer and the ACC’s sake, we should hope it’s the former not the latter.