After the first Virginia Tech practice in pads, Head Coach Justin Fuente sounded rather disappointed with where his team stands.
“We have a long way to go as a team,” Fuente said. “I hate to keep saying the same thing but I am still really pleased with our older guys. I think that we have just got our hands full with the young guys. We have to do a great job to bring them up to speed to give ourselves a chance this fall. We know that and are hammering away at it every day.”
Fuente said the younger players need to be more consistent in order for him to feel more comfortable about Virginia Tech’s depth.
“I want them to be consistent and disciplined,” Fuente said. “It is not just on one side of the ball or one position group. I want them to do what we are asking them to do on a consistent basis. I don’t think it is just the retention rate but the maturity level.”
Even though Fuente wants his guys to be farther along, he did say that he expects things to work themselves out.
“It is only the third practice. Concern is not the word I would choose. Our mission is to get it done,” Fuente said.
One of the younger players Fuente is hoping will become more consistent is running back Travon McMillian, who broke onto the scene last season with 1,043 rushing yards in just seven starts. Fuente mentioned this spring that McMillian wasn’t like looking his normal self, but that he’s been much better this summer and in preseason practices.
McMillian says he was battling a lingering groin injury this spring, but that he feels ready to go with a few weeks before the season starts.
“During the summer, I just kept going to the training room, trying to get healthy and right now I’m feeling really good,” McMillian said. “I’m just going to continue to go to the trainers as much as possible so I can last this year.”
McMillian says he’s still adjusting to Fuente’s new offense and that he expects to share some of the workload with the other running backs.
“Last year was more of a pro-style offense with (Scot) Loeffler, kind of a one-back offense,” McMillian said. “This offense is so fast that we’re going to need multiple guys, because you’re so exhausted after a few plays where you need fresh legs in. I understand that, I’m just trying to be a team player and trying to do as much as I can to help this team out.”
McMillian has already started working in the slot and has split out wide in certain situations, and that Fuente’s offense should help him expand his game.
“We do that often, especially with all the backs we have,” McMillian said. “I feel like I can catch the ball out of the backfield this year. I feel like that’s going to be an expansion to my game and that it’s going to better my game.”
Virginia Tech Offensive Line Brings Experience
One part of the Virginia Tech team that doesn’t have many young guys is the offensive line. The Hokies return four starters from last season in Augie Conte, Jonathan McLaughlin, Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo, all of whom are upperclassmen.
Even with that experience, Offensive Line Coach Vance Vice says that no one has guaranteed themselves a starting spot. Vice has been moving guys around to test their knowledge of the offense, and plans on doing so for a few more practices.
“The (lineup) we had today won’t look like this tomorrow,” Vice said. “One, there are some guys who I think are very comfortable at their position and where they get a lot of reps at. I like to move them around. In the spring, I moved everybody over one spot to the left, just to see if they understood the entire scheme. If a guy can play multiple positions up front, that creates depth too. All of those guys up front right now, I think I can move in and out. I’ll probably start doing some of that as early as tomorrow.”
When will Vice start to get guys settled in at their normal positions?
“Well, I want to get one first that I can trust with everything and let him help me lead,” Vice said. “Then get five, then hopefully get six, then get to 10. I’ve got 21 guys. I’d love to get 21 I trust right now but some of those are pups and they’re still trying to figure out where the chow hall is.”
Vice did say that Conte and McLaughlin have been the two leaders of the group, and that they are helping him develop the younger players.
“They do a tremendous job with the young guys,” Vice said. “They do a tremendous job with each other. I address the guys after a practice and then Augie takes it. It’s comforting to have him in there. Augie understands that if he’s not doing the job on the field, it’s hard to be a leader. He uses that responsibility to push himself. Jon does also.”
The only expected opening right now on the offensive line is at right tackle, where Parker Osterloh and Yosuah Nijman are fighting for the starting position.
“Those two are definitely in contention and have a good chance, and with Jon (McLaughlin) over there at the left, who’s able to play right, he’s done it in games, but it’s a good problem. A lot of places I’ve been, we couldn’t find tackles. Now we’ve got three, four, five maybe that are busting their tail right now to get an opportunity.”