2007 ACC Football Season Preview: Virginia Tech

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Virginia Tech Hokies

16 returning starters (8 offense, 8 defense)

Key Players: QB Sean Glennon, TB Branden Ore, WR Eddie Royal, WR Josh
Morgan, OT Duane Brown, OG Sergio Render, DE Chris Ellis, DT Barry Booker, LB
Vince Hall, LB Xavier Adibi, CB Brandon Flowers, ROV Kam Chancellor

Overall
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Virginia Tech returns eight starters on each side of the ball from a team
that finished 10-3 and went to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Hokies should have a
good team as usual this year, and the defense will be attempting to finish #1 in
the nation in total defense for the third year in a row.

However, as usual, there are major question marks along the offensive line.
The expected starter at right tackle, Ed Wang, broke his fibula and is out for
the foreseeable future. Nick Marshman was moved from left guard to right tackle,
so now there is a big void to fill at left guard. But if the offensive line can
significantly improve from last season, the Hokies can have a big year.

Offensive Strength

Virginia Tech has four wide receivers that many consider to be the best group
of wide receivers in the ACC. Tech’s wideouts are a good mix of players. Eddie
Royal is very fast and can be deadly in the open field. Josh Morgan is a big,
strong target who is tough to bring down. Justin Harper has great size,
athleticism, and speed. Josh Hyman is very experienced, has good hands and just
knows how to play the game.

Behind those four, Tech has good athletes like Ike Whitaker, Zach Luckett and
Brandon Dillard. Any of those players could probably do a serviceable job if
they happen to be called upon this season.

So the Hokies have a talented group of pass catchers for the 2007 season. The
question is can Tech use them effectively?

Offensive Weakness

Tech’s offensive line appears to be better than it was last season, but it is
still the weak link of the offense. With Ed Wang’s injury at right tackle, Nick
Marshman was moved to fill that void. With Marshman at tackle, there is a huge
battle going at left guard. Matt Welsh, Hivera Green and Jaymes Brooks all have
a shot. Ryan Shuman could also end up playing there again, which means Beau
Warren would start at center.

As you can see, it’s a big mess. Matt Welsh is the current leader for the
starting spot, but the competition is still ongoing. The Tech coaches will
likely settle on a playing rotation after this Saturday’s scrimmage in Lane
Stadium.

Defensive Strength

This is like choosing between blondes, brunettes and redheads. I’ll go with
the linebackers, because Tech has the most star power there. Vince Hall and
Xavier Adibi combine to make the best inside linebacker duo in the nation, bar
none. According to Bud Foster, Hall is the best football player he has ever
coached, and Adibi is up to 236 and has kept all his speed. Adibi has all the
tools to be a very high draft pick next April.

At whip, Cam Martin has stepped up and won the starting job. He has managed
to stay healthy for the first time in his career. He could end up being an
upgrade over Brenden Hill, and that says a lot, because Hill had a very good
season in 2006. As far as depth goes, Brett Warren and Purnell Sturdivant were
the two most improved defensive players during spring practice. Bud Foster feels
good about his depth on the inside now.

Defensive Weakness

Relatively speaking, I guess it’s the defensive line, simply because there
isn’t much star power there. There are a bunch of very good players, but no
truly great player (at least, no one has established himself as a great player
as of yet). It’s completely inaccurate to call this unit the
“weakness” of the defense, because this defense has no weaknesses, but
this is the format of the previews we’ve been doing, so I have to pick a
“weakness.” However, the Hokies are four or five deep at defensive
end, and maybe six deep at defensive tackle. Tech’s DL is among the best in the
ACC.

As usual, the only way to beat Tech’s defense will be to pound the ball
between the tackles and run right at them. Don’t let Bud Foster’s unit use their
speed, because they’ll be faster than just about every offense they face. If a
dominating star emerges on the defensive line, then there will basically be no
weakness on this Tech defense.

Key Game

On Thursday night, November 1, Virginia Tech will travel to Georgia Tech. I
have a feeling that the outcome of this game could decide who represents the
Coastal Division in the ACC Championship game. I think Miami’s schedule is a bit
too tough, with road games at Virginia Tech, Florida State and Boston College.
Georgia Tech gets Virginia Tech, Clemson and Boston College at home, so I think
they’ll be able to challenge for the Coastal Division.

Last year the Yellow Jackets defeated Virginia Tech 38-27 in Blacksburg while
on their way to the ACC Coastal Division Championship. The Hokies won the
meeting 51-7 in Blacksburg in 2005. In 2004, Tech pulled out a rare fourth
quarter comeback, winning 34-20 in Atlanta.

Will Stewart’s Take

There’s a lot of pressure on the 2007 edition of the Hokies, because
everyone, and I do mean everyone, is picking them to win the ACC. Two
things I can think of could derail this team, though: injuries and lack of
leadership.

On paper, Virginia Tech is indeed the favorite to win the league, but key
injuries, for example one to Branden Ore, could throw a wrench into Tech’s
plans. Ore is the one you have to worry about most, with Sean Glennon being
second. Losing one or two defensive ends would be a problem, as well.

The second thing I worry about is, who are the leaders on this team? What
happens when the going gets tough? Who’s going to have the cool head, step up,
and lead the team to victory? Think about the players that comprise this team,
and ask yourself who is going to be the guy to keep his composure and make the
plays necessary when the chips are down. Jim Druckenmiller did it against
Virginia in 1995, Michael Vick did it against WVU in 1999, and Bryan Randall did
it against Georgia Tech in 2004, for just a few examples.

The answer to the leadership question isn’t readily apparent to me. Without
naming names, this team is stocked full of good players who failed the
leadership test last year, players who either got into trouble off the field or
who lost their composure under duress on the field (boy, are there a ton of
examples of that — just check the Boston College and Georgia game tapes).

Every team — every one — faces do-or-die situations at some point in
the season, and that’s when leaders emerge. I don’t have a strong feeling about
the player leadership on this team, so someone’s going to have to step up. The
talent and experience are there. The leadership has yet to emerge. That’s what
I’ll be looking for early in the 2007 season, most notably down at LSU. Win or
lose, I’ll be looking for leaders to step up in that game, and I’ll be observing
how the team handles that pressure-cooker situation. How I feel about the rest
of the season will be determined by what I see that day.

VT
2007 Football Schedule

VT
2007 Roster

VT 2007 Depth Chart will be released next week on TSL

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