Virginia Tech Head Coach Justin Fuente is running out of time to figure out what his depth chart is going to look like come Sept. 3, but he believes parts of it are coming together.
“There’s still some competition at some spots to see how everybody fits in,” Fuente said. “In general terms, we have a good idea of where everybody is at.”
That being said, Fuente and his staff are constantly evaluating and reevaluating players and making adjustments as warranted.
“We have personnel discussions all the time,” Fuente said. “Whether it’s young guys who have a redshirt year left or whether it’s the role older guys are playing, how much we perceive them playing on either side of the ball.”
Fuente said that he’s been impressed with some of the freshmen on the roster, and mentioned linebacker Tavante Beckett, defensive back Reggie Floyd and wide receiver Divine Deablo specifically as guys who have had a productive camp.
“There are several young guys that are in the mix to help in the kicking game and to play snaps on either side of the ball,” Fuente said.
Hokies hoping to take advantage of versatile Peoples, Carroll
Another young player who has impressed the coaching staff this offseason is Steven Peoples, a sophomore fullback.
“He’s been physical, he’s played well on special teams,” Fuente said. “He knows one speed and one speed only and that’s full speed. He’s continuing to work hard and wear different hats on the offense and in special teams.”
Peoples was a pretty prolific running back in high school. He ran for a whopping 3,078 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior for Galax High School, including a 502-yard performance vs. Graham High School, which is a VHSL record.
Even though he’s primarily working at H-back and on special teams, Peoples believes he can contribute in multiple facets of the game.
“It really don’t matter to me, I’m just here to play wherever they put me,” Peoples said. “I just want to get on the field and do my best to help this team win.”
As Virginia Tech looks for guys who can help in the passing game, redshirt-sophomore CJ Carroll hopes that he can finally make an impact this season. After redshirting his first season in Blacksburg, Carroll played just 15 snaps last season, with only eight of them coming on offense.
At 5-foot-8 and 167-pounds, Carroll believes Fuente’s offense better suits him.
“I like it because we use the slot more and use more receivers,” Carroll said. “It requires a lot more receivers, so we’re all switching out.”
Even though Carroll is often compared to former New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker and current Patriots receiver Julian Edelman, Carroll had to make the team as a walk-on. His high school teammate, Kendall Fuller, helped him get a chance with Virginia Tech.
“My senior year, I didn’t really have anywhere to go,” Carroll said. “He kind of talked to (former Wide Receivers Coach Aaron Moorehead) for me, and Coach Moorehead called me up and said they were going to give me a chance as a preferred walk-on.”
Carroll, who’s working under his third wide receivers coach in three seasons, has made it a point to become a better blocker.
“I’m a small guy, so I’ve got to have every single technical thing down to block linebackers and safeties in the slot,” Carroll said.
Walker anxious to play after redshirting last season
On the defensive side of the ball, redshirt-sophomore Ricky Walker finds himself with a real chance to contribute for the first time in his Virginia Tech career. After logging just 160 snaps in his freshman season, Walker redshirted last in 2015.
It’s been a long wait for Walker to see the field, but he believes the redshirt season worked out well for him. Even though he wasn’t playing, Walker made every home game and even traveled with his girlfriend to Virginia Tech’s game against Georgia Tech last season.
“Everything was positive for me,” Walker said. “I talked to my family and everything was positive. Everything happens for a reason. I was still supporting the team. Every Saturday, I was in Lane. I even traveled to the Georgia Tech game just to go support the Hokies. I love football, so I’m going to support when I can.”
Walker has done his best to take advantage of his redshirt season, as well as Coach Ben Hilgart’s strength and conditioning program.
“Actually, I changed the most this summer,” Walker said. “I lost about three percent body fat, gained about five pounds of muscle. I feel way better out there on the field. You can see I’m quicker, faster, just playing harder.”
Walker is currently working with the second team at defensive tackle alongside Tim Settle, but the coaching staff has maintained that jobs are up for grabs.
“Coach says that every spot is still open,” Walker said. “There’s a competition out there every day, so I’m just trying to take advantage of my reps. However it falls, it falls.”
Walker says the competition has been tough at defensive tackle, as well as defensive end. Fuente, however, says he’s looking for more from the defensive end position.
“I think we’re still a work in progress there,” Fuente said. “I’ve seen some flashes from (Trevon) Hill that he can help us and help this team. We’re still working. We’ve got (Seth) Dooley back out there and (Houshun Gaines) back out there. Those guys are coming along. There have been some good examples and some examples that we still have work to do back there.”
Huelskamp contributing at mike and on special teams
Defensive end isn’t the only position Fuente needs to see more from. The linebacker group might have its two starters lined up for the season, but depth and consistency is a concern. Sean Huelskamp says that Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds have looked solid during camp.
“Their reads are sharp and they act like they’ve been there and they’re ready to step into that starting role and be significant impacts,” Huelskamp said. “As linebackers, we’ve really focused on being erasers and it’s kind of what Coach has pushed us to be, making big impacts on the field and being all over the place.”
Huelskamp, a redshirt-junior, is backing up Motuapuaka at the mike linebacker spot while also working heavily on special teams. Huelskamp actually started two games last season while Motuapuaka dealt with an injury.
Heading into his fourth season in the program, Huelskamp believes he’s starting to come into his own.
“Just maturing and being able to step into a role as a leader now,” Huelskamp said. “I’m kind of becoming an older guy and taking people under my wing more and teaching them the ropes.”
Huelskamp said he started last season at 215-pounds, but gradually lost some weight as the season went on. He credits this offseason’s strength and conditioning program for allowing him to get up to 222-pounds.
“With what the new strength coaches are doing, I think everyone has bought into it,” Huelskamp said. “Not just myself, but everyone on the team has made huge gains in the weight room and it’s really translated to the field.”
Huelskamp said that the entire linebacker group is starting to gel and that having Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster back for motivates them even more.
“I think I speak for all of the linebackers, we would do anything that guy told us to do,” Huelskamp said. “He means the world to us, the way he handles each and every day.”
Virginia Tech students invited to open practice next Tuesday
Virginia Tech will hold an open practice session for students only on Tuesday, Aug. 23. The gates to Lane Stadium will open around 4:30 p.m. and the first 500 students will get free pizza, courtesy of Papa John’s. The open practice session will last about 40 minutes and will also be open to regularly credentialed media. It will be the second open practice session in which the media has been invited to attend.