Virginia Tech football will hold their eighth fall practice on Wednesday night, and there are unsurprisingly still questions to be answered. Still, we’re beginning to get a better understanding of what the Hokies will have to work with for the 2017 season.
Talent, depth concerns forcing several freshmen to play
The Hokies are extremely young on offense, and it’s become clear that Virginia Tech will rely on multiple freshmen and redshirt-freshmen to make impacts this season.
“In one given play, we have a redshirt-freshman quarterback, a true-freshman tailback, a true-freshman tight end, a true-freshman slot, another true-freshman receiver and a redshirt-freshman receiver,” said Virginia Tech football head coach Justin Fuente. “Those are our skill guys. So, they are competitive, in the fact that they’re out there going against some grown men, and that’s certainly a good thing. We’re still trying to find our way a little bit with those guys.”
Fuente has mentioned tight end Dalton Keene, running back Jalen Holston and wide receivers Sean Savoy and Hezekiah Grimsley as freshmen who could contribute this season, and there are likely even more.
The 5-foot-11, 219-pound Jalen Holston has impressed the coaching staff with his stature and physical maturity.
“Jalen has just a bit more mature body than most true-freshmen. He’s just a bigger kid,” Fuente said.
The defense has noticed Holston as well.
“He’s a great back,” said Reggie Floyd. “His vision is good, he’s strong, competitive. He’s a bruiser.”
With Dalton Keene, his experience in spring camp and performance during the Spring Game have shown he should make an immediate impact in Blacksburg.
“Keene obviously has a little leg up because he was here in the spring,” Fuente said. “He’s a pretty sharp kid, he’s picked it all up and he knows what he’s doing. His toughness and execution level have been really good.”
As far as the wide receivers, the biggest reason freshmen will likely play is due to need. Virginia Tech is thin on both the outside and in the slot, so the Hokies don’t have time to nurture the younger players.
“There’s an element of need, and there’s an element of… there’s guys you really wish you could redshirt that you just can’t,” Fuente said. “Certainly, we won’t put guys out there if we don’t think they can handle it, but there’s just an element of understanding and ability to push through what they’re going through. To me, that gives them a chance. What they’re doing right now is really hard.”
An encouraging sign for the Hokies is that so far, the coaches have been able to move at quick pace with the young receivers, despite their inexperience.
“Well right now, we haven’t pulled back any,” Fuente said. “We’ve given it to them. Now I say that, I mean, certainly there are some nuances that you don’t get to that you would get to with Isaiah Ford right now, but you don’t get to with Sean Savoy right now. We certainly haven’t moved them around positionally like we did with those guys to make sure we had depth. We leave them in one spot, let’s kind of feed them through a fire hose to start with and get it pared down.”
Hunter expected to contribute
Another young player almost guaranteed to see the field in 2017 in freshman rover Devon Hunter. As the headliner in Virginia Tech’s Class of 2017, everyone knows Hunter can play, but what kind of role will he have to start the season?
“Devon’s got some really special physical tools that help him out, and he’s picking up what we’re doing,” Fuente said. “He’s going to play an integral role, I would imagine particularly special teams-wise starting out.”
If Hunter doesn’t start at rover, it will be because Reggie Floyd has secured that spot. He was the starter in spring ball, and that extra work seems to have given him a leg up on Hunter for the job.
“I just think he’s a pretty good fit in that boundary spot,” Fuente said of Floyd. “His knowledge level, his comfort level probably on day one of fall camp versus day one of spring ball, it’s tangible the improvement he’s made. Now, I think it’s about refining the little things, getting into gameplan or special situations for him, not just making sure you know what the coverages mean and what your responsibility is.”
“I feel very comfortable, coming from last year and being behind (Terrell Edmunds) for the rover spot my freshman year, and not redshirting. I was able to experience the real, actual game-time experience,” Floyd said. “I’ve seen how the game moves fast, so seeing all the calls, how to come out of it with audibles and stuff, it really helped me out.”
Facyson progressing, but still a limited participant
While Virginia Tech deals with youth concerns elsewhere, they’re currently dealing with an injury situation at cornerback. Redshirt-senior Brandon Facyson has been limited so far during fall camp with an arm/wrist injury, and even though he’s making progress, his status for week one is unclear.
“I’ll tell you what, we’re getting more out of him than I thought we would,” said cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell. “He’s getting into some drills right now, non-contact drills, but you’ve got to kind of tone it back a little bit because he’s doing some things that kind of make you a little nervous, but he’s getting some good football in right now.”
Mitchell hopes to have Facyson healthy, so he can split reps between Facyson, Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander. The system worked well last season, and Mitchell says it keeps the three from getting too many reps during games.
“It’s all part of the plan,” Mitchell said. “When you’re playing as many reps as our guys are playing, through the course of a game, you could get 50 snaps at corner and then you could get another 30 on special teams. That’s a long game, by any measure. Those guys understand if you’re being productive, you’ll probably stay out there a little bit longer, but when you have the skill set of Greg Stroman, Adonis (Alexander) and Brandon Facyson, why not try to get them on the football field and affect the team?”
If Facyson is a no-go, Virginia Tech will have to rely on one of Tyree Rodgers, Jovonn Quillen, Shawn Payne or Bryce Watts. Of those four, none have played significant time. Still, Mitchell said that all four are having a good camp and that he’s not worried about the position.