2008 ACC Football Season Preview: Virginia Tech

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Virginia Tech Hokies

Returning Starters: 10 (6 offense, 4 defense)

Key Losses: RB Branden Ore, WR Eddie Royal, WR Josh Morgan, WR Justin
Harper, WR Josh Hyman, OT Duane Brown, DE Chris Ellis, DT Carlton Powell, DT
Barry Booker, LB Vince Hall, LB Xavier Adibi, CB Brandon Flowers, FS D.J.
Parker, K Jud Dunlevy

Key Returnees: QB Sean Glennon, QB Tyrod Taylor, TE Greg Boone, OG Nick
Marshman, OG Sergio Render, C Ryan Shuman, OT Ed Wang, DE Orion Martin, DE Jason
Worilds, LB Cam Martin, CB Macho Harris, FS Kam Chancellor, P Brent Bowden

Overall View

Virginia
Tech had eight players drafted by the NFL in April, the second most of any
school. They lost the best linebacker duo in school history, and three very good
defensive linemen, not to mention arguably the best cornerback to ever come
through Blacksburg.

Besides that, running back Branden Ore was kicked off the team, and all the
receivers with experience moved on. Tight end Sam Wheeler is still rehabbing a
torn ACL and likely won’t be a major contributor this year.

Virginia Tech lost so much, but they are still the overwhelming favorites to
win the Coastal Division this year. They are the most stable program in the
conference, and there is still talent on the team.

Offensive Strength

Virginia Tech’s offensive line appears to be much improved this year, and
barring injury, it looks to be the strength of the offense. Duane Brown is off
to the NFL, but four other starters return, and for once they are all playing
their natural positions. There is also increased depth, as offensive line coach
Curt Newsome feels good about a few of his backups.

The most important development of the offseason was the offensive line
reporting back in shape. Sergio Render dropped from 335 to 307. Ryan Shuman is
down from 312 to 293. Nick Marshman weighed approximately 360 at one point, but
is now down to 339. The whole line looks much better physically than they did a
year ago.

This year the Hokies should have a better chance of re-establishing the power
running game between the tackles.

Offensive Weakness

Virginia Tech’s returning wide receivers have combined to catch five passes
in their careers. Ike Whitaker and Zach Luckett made those catches. The rest of
Tech’s receivers have never even played a down in college. There will be a huge
adjustment period for them, especially true freshmen such as Dyrell Roberts and
Jarrett Boykin.

The Hokies should have two pretty good quarterbacks in 2008, but they will be
limited because the Tech wide receivers won’t be as advanced as Josh Morgan,
Eddie Royal, etc. In effect, they’ll be held hostage within the Virginia Tech
offense this season. They’ll need to concentrate on being as efficient as
possible, and not turning the ball over. An effective running game could open up
the playaction pass, which could be a big part of the offense this year.

Defensive Strength

Nobody
puts defensive backs into the NFL like Virginia Tech. Despite Brandon Flowers’
early entry into the draft this past April, the Hokies have two potential first
round picks returning. Cornerback Macho Harris is the most highly regarded
cornerback in the ACC, and free safety Kam Chancellor is the prototypical NFL
safety who should be poised to have a big year.

Tech will be breaking in a new cornerback and a new rover. The new corner
will be Stephen Virgil, a rising junior who played very well in the spring and
so far this August. Davon Morgan is currently listed atop the depth chart at
rover, and he was a highly-touted 4-star recruiting coming out of high school.
He and Tyrod Taylor were the only true freshmen to play last season.

If history is any indication, teams won’t have much success throwing on Tech
this year.

Defensive Weakness

The Hokies lost their top three defensive tackles in Barry Booker, Carlton
Powell and Kory Robertson. The starters will be John Graves and Cordarrow
Thompson, and they should be very solid. Backup Demetrius Taylor should also
play well. However, who will be the 4th defensive tackle, and will he be any
good?

Right now, r-freshman Kwamaine Battle and true freshman Antoine Hopkins are
locked in a battle for that #4 spot on the depth chart. Battle nearly played
last year before bum shoulders forced him to redshirt, and Hopkins has been very
impressive for a true freshman. This one might not be decided until the end of
August.

The Hokies desperately can’t afford an injury at defensive tackle this year.
Depth is thin enough, even with no one hurt. If there are injuries, we could be
looking at 2002 all over again. That year, the line was very thin to begin with,
and by the end of the season there had been several injuries. That forced
freshmen Jonathan Lewis and Tim Sandidge into the starting lineup. Kwamaine
Battle and Antoine Hopkins are going to be very good players, but we don’t want
them starting quite yet.

Will Stewart’s Take

I feel really good about this team. Are there areas of concern? Sure, and
injuries can always change the course of a season.

But these guys are heading into the season with their heads screwed on right,
taking care of business. They stayed out of the headlines over the course of the
spring and summer, and you know what kind of headlines I’m talking about: the
bad kind. By all accounts, they worked hard in the weight room and are very
focused on the season ahead.

The
offensive line, which I consider to be the most important unit on a football
team, promises to be a strength instead of a weakness, and Chris detailed their
weight loss and increased efforts. Kudos to former VT OL Keith Short for
focusing on the OL weight and whipping those guys into shape with a fitness plan
(and why didn’t anyone on the VT staff do that before?).

Defensive tackle is a possible trouble spot, if injuries strike, but the
difference between 2002 and 2008 is that the Hokies should put a better
linebacker corps on the field behind those DTs, so the struggles up the middle
that Tech experienced in 2002 and 2003 hopefully won’t repeat themselves.

VT’s ACC schedule shapes up well for a young team:

  • Sep. 13 – Georgia Tech
  • Sep. 20 – @ UNC
  • Oct. 18 – @ BC
  • Oct. 25 – @ FSU
  • Nov. 6 – Maryland
  • Nov. 13 – @ Miami
  • Nov. 22 – Duke
  • Nov. 29 – Virginia

That’s a lot of @ signs in the first four ACC games, but if you look closer,
the Hokies have until Oct. 18th to get themselves together, before the ACC
schedule hits in earnest and becomes a grind. I expect a win against GT on 9/13
(catching them early, as they adjust to Paul Johnson’s offense, is a good
thing), which makes the 9/20 trip to UNC the big one. Win against GT and UNC,
and the Hokies are in good shape in the ACC, with a road trip to FSU being their
toughest test after that.

But beyond the position analysis and schedule analysis, there are always the
issues of focus and chemistry, and I like what I see from these guys so far.
They’ve got a redshirt senior QB with two years of starts under his belt, a
luxury Frank Beamer hasn’t had since the 1994 season with Maurice DeShazo.
(Offensive coordinator Gary Tranquil unfortunately screwed that one up.) And
they’ve got another pretty darn good QB to go along with him.

If the Hokies avoid the injury bug, a third ACC crown in five years is in
their sights. This season should be an enjoyable one, featuring Frank Beamer’s
favorite brand of blue-collar Hokie football.

Virginia
Tech 2008 Football Schedule

Virginia
Tech 2008 Roster

Virginia
Tech 2008 Depth Chart

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