Virginia Tech had their first off-day in their preseason practice schedule on Wednesday, something that Head Coach Justin Fuente said was needed for his team.
“They did a good job. They needed that day yesterday,” Fuente said. “Your body is not going to feel perfect after six straight days of practice, but a day off can at least make it feel better and they moved around like that today. I was pleased. We have execution things to work on and that kind of stuff, but as far as our energy and enthusiasm in practice I thought it was pretty good.”
The most surprising news of the day was the decision of Raymon Minor to transfer from the program. Minor, a redshirt-sophomore from Ashland, VA., played in eight games last season but mainly on special teams.
“We support him. I want him to be happy and successful,” Fuente said. “This is a lot of work and he put in a lot of work. He worked really hard. We support him to go and have a better chance to get on the field in a bigger role or whatever it is that he’s looking for. We fully support him and wish him the best and we’re willing to help him in any way.”
Minor was getting work at whip linebacker, a position that has been utilized less as teams continue to spread the field more and more. There isn’t much depth there, but that’s not the only position that’s a little thin.
Fuente has said repeatedly this spring that he’s looking for the younger players to progress in order to create some depth at certain position groups, like linebacker and wide receiver. With the last couple of practices in pads, things become a little more clear on the field.
“I don’t know if I’m trying to learn them as much as we’re just trying to execute better and continue to bring some young players along,” Fuente said. “To me that’s the focus. There’s a lot of proven commodities out there that we want to make sure are ready to play, but then there’s a whole bunch of guys that we’ve got to get ready to play.”
Hodges giving Hokies versatility on offense
With the lack of depth at wide receiver, Fuente and Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelsen are looking to use tight end Bucky Hodges and fullback Sam Rogers to help make up for it.
“I’m very confident that he knows how to use us,” Hodges said. “We’ve got a lot of different types of players to utilize, Sam, myself, Isaiah (Ford), Cam (Phillips), we got some young tight ends, Travon (McMillian), I mean we got weapons all over. It’s like, pick your poison.”
Fuente said that he’s never really been able to coach a tight end like Hodges before, and that his presence makes it easier to game plan offensively.
“We had some good ones at TCU, but not one that can run like him,” Fuente said.
Hodges, at 6-foot-7 and 245-pounds, was in an interesting position this offseason. He was working with the tight ends and lineman in the weight room, but ran and conditioned with the wide receivers.
“For Bucky, for him to provide versatility, he has to be able to block and to go run and play wide receiver,” Fuente said. “That’s a tall task. Getting in the condition at 245 pounds to run those kinds of sprints and stuff is a challenge that he is taking head on. Along with trying to maintain your strength level so you can play on the line of scrimmage. That’s challenging enough for anyone and Bucky has done a good job of that.”
“It was a tough summer, but I definitely think its going to pay off,” Hodges said.
Hodges says that the new offense will also pay off. The terminology is simpler and easier for the players to understand, and that Cornelsin’s methods of teaching are helping him to memorize the offense faster.
“You have to actually read your plays, take notes,” Hodges said. “Our last offense, we would have printouts of the plays, but this one, you have to draw every play. It helps you learn, drawing and writing stuff, it helps you memorize it better. I think it’s helping me a lot.”
Newsome, Floyd impressing in secondary
Another position that is kind of thin for Virginia Tech is in the secondary, where many of the Hokies who will see significant playing time are young, inexperienced or both.
One of those inexperienced guys is Deon Newsome, who is making the switch from wide receiver to safety. Clark was nervous at first about his transition, but thinks Newsome is moving along well.
“I didn’t know he had it in him,” Clark said. “I feel like you have to give him pointers here and there and he goes with it, but from the physicality part, of just knowing where to be, in the right spot, it comes kind of natural to him.”
One of the young and inexperienced plays in the secondary that has stepped up this August is Reggie Floyd. Clark says that Floyd, who’s been working at rover, is a high-motor guy.
Clark also thinks that having an older guy like Brandon Facyson back from injury helps settle things down.
“It adds a lot of dimensions to the defensive backfield,” Clark said. “Now, we have different options to go different ways. We’re just feeling it out to see who’s going to play right now.”
“He shows a lot of explosiveness,” Clark said. “I feel like he’s going to be a hungry guy. When his time comes, I feel like he’s going to be ready.”
The defensive backs have also settle into their positions after shuffling around a lot last season, something that the veteran Clark sees as a positive.
“I feel like off the field and on the field, our communication is great.”
It’s still early in the preseason and the secondary has plenty of time to continue to mesh. Fuente said the team will practice Friday and Saturday, and will get another off-day on Sunday for Fan Appreciation Day.
“We’re starting to get into some more situational stuff. We have two practices tomorrow and then we’re going to scrimmage on Saturday where we’ll get into more situational, down and distance, that sort of stuff. Kids are working hard. Slowly making progress. Tons of work left to do.”