With less than two weeks until Virginia Tech opens the season against Liberty in Lane Stadium, Head Coach Justin Fuente says that he and the coaching staff are starting to figure out who their key contributors will be.
That said, Fuente think’s Tuesday night’s partially open practice wasn’t all that great.
“Today’s practice was not all that I had hoped,” Fuente said. “There’s a million excuses for that, but we’re not going to delve into those. Hopefully we’ll have a better day tomorrow. We’re still working a little good on good and obviously getting some prep in for our game against Liberty.”
Even though some positions are becoming clearer, the quarterback situation is still cloudy, at best. Fuente said that Jerod Evans, Brenden Motley and Josh Jackson are all still splitting No. 1 reps.
Even with the season-opener right around the corner, Fuente isn’t concerned about his quarterback situation and believes the three players have handled the circumstances well.
“I’ve been really pleased with all three and how they’ve handled the whole situation,” Fuente said. “From the little bit that you guys have talked to them, I think you got at least a sense of Josh most recently, and how he handles those things, and Brenden and Jerod have done a great job with him,” Fuente said. “I’ve been pleased with that aspect of the whole thing. We know all three of those guys want to play and we understand that and respect that.”
One position group that is close to being settled is the offensive line, where Yosuah Nijman has been working at left tackle, with Jonathan McLaughlin at right tackle. Eric Gallo, Wyatt Teller and Augie Conte are working on the interior, though Colt Pettit got some reps with the #1 offense at left guard on Tuesday in place of Teller.
Defensive end is in a similar state. Fuente says that Ken Ekanem and Vinny Mihota are the starters there, with redshirt-freshman Trevon Hill standing out as the third end. The battle for the last spot in the two-deep is still going on.
Seth Dooley, who dealt with an injury in the offseason, is healthy and fighting for that last spot.
“He’s got some work to still do coming back, just in terms of being the player we want him to be, but he comes to work every day and continues to be diligent and preparing,” Fuente said of Dooley. “He had a really good offseason, in terms of continuing to change his body, gaining muscle mass and losing body fat and those sorts of things to give himself a chance.”
Though Ekanem is all but guaranteed a starting position, he seemed to be held out of the open portion of Tuesday’s practice. Fuente wouldn’t say if Ekanem is dealing with an injury, but said he’s confident Ken will be ready to go.
“Everybody has a little bit of something,” Fuente said. “We know what Ken is. There’s push players and there’s pull players and Ken’s a pull player. We have to pull him back a little bit. We’re just trying to manage those guys that have played a lot. We’ve got to get those guys ready to play, but that doesn’t mean they should just stand to the side and drink water the whole time, but there’s also a whole other class of guys that need a tremendous amount of work and Ken is certainly not one of those.”
The weirdest news of the day surrounding Virginia Tech was Raymon Minor’s decision to return to the team. After originally saying that he would transfer, Virginia Tech confirmed on Tuesday that Minor is back and practicing with the team.
“He wanted to come back,” Fuente said. “So we welcomed him back.”
Fuente declined to give Minor’s reason for originally wanting to transfer or his reason for wanting to come back. The program confirmed that Minor had returned as a walk-on, but Fuente seemed to not want to address Minor’s scholarship status.
“We handle all that stuff internally, whether guys are on or off,” Fuente said. “We’ve put guys on that nobody knows about, and I’m not the kind of guy that videos it and puts it out for everybody to see, not that there’s anything wrong with that. There isn’t, but that’s just not how we handle those things.”
Fuente said his biggest concern with his team is how they will perform on special teams. Virginia Tech has done limited live work, but has refrained from doing too much in order to keep players healthy.
“The first game is always a challenge, because we try everything we can to simulate in special teams, we do a live kicking deal where we hold our breath, but we do that,” Fuente said. “I don’t want the first time we cover a kick or the first time we live punt return or punt to be in the game. You watch the first week of the season and there are inevitably large mistakes made on one side of the ball or the other in that first week.”
Even though Fuente feels like his lineup is being narrowed down, he dismissed the notion of a true starter, on both offense and defense.
“You play in several personnel groups on offense, which involves (Steven) Peoples and (Sam) Rogers, your tight ends and running backs, all that sort of stuff,” Fuente said. “ We don’t get too hung up on that, in terms of who actually takes the first snap of the game. We may spend a whole game in four-wide or two backs or one back and a tight end, and not start the game that way. We’re trying to deal with the pool of guys that we feel deserve to be in that however many guys offensively, and defense is becoming a little bit like that, in terms of substituting to match the offense, whether you’re in nickel, three-down or four-down.”