Virginia Tech is off to a 3-1 start this season and now gets a bye week to rest, heal and prepare for the rest of their season.
“It provides us a nice break right now, to kind of take stock in where we’re at, both schematically and personnel-wise,” said Head Coach Justin Fuente. “It gives our guys a chance to heal up kind of for the long haul. We’ve got a pretty significant stretch we’re staring at.”
Fuente said that the team took off on Sunday and will not practice on Monday, Friday or Saturday of this week. Fuente also said that Tuesday and Wednesday will be “get better” practices that focus on developing younger players and making adjustments to the teams’ offensive and defensive schemes. After Wednesday, the team will begin their preparation for North Carolina.
“Both sides of the ball, we’ll take a great, kind of in-depth look statistically, in terms of alignments, who’s in the game, tendency-oriented, that sort of thing,” Fuente said. “We’ll get a little leg up on gameplanning. North Carolina still has a game on Saturday and we’ll add that to our breakdown, but we’ll go ahead and move forward too, in terms of breaking ourselves down.”
You could make the case that the bye week comes at a bad time. Virginia Tech is coming off two consecutive blowout victories over ACC-rival Boston College and East Carolina.
“I feel like we’ve played well the last couple weeks,” Fuente said. “I don’t feel like previous performance is an indication of future performance. I don’t believe in momentum from week to week, I believe in 12 one-game seasons. I also do believe there is something else there that does carry over from week to week, in terms of confidence and belief in what we’re doing, understanding the process, those sorts of things.”
Instead, Fuente sees the bye week as a blessing. After this week, four of Virginia Tech’s next five games are on the road. The Hokies’ trip to North Carolina will be the team’s first true road game of the season.
“When you go on the road, you’re a minimalist. You just bring what you need in order to get the job done,” Fuente said. “In my opinion, in times in my career, I have seen that galvanize or focus the team. Get a chance to just bring the people you know are going to participate in the game. Obviously, we have travel restrictions with the ACC and everything, but there’s not a lot of extra when you’re on the road.”
“I’m not suggesting I’d rather play on the road than in Lane Stadium, but I’m just saying there’s kind of another dynamic there that I think can work to help focus the team,” Fuente said.
Cam Phillips said that the players will take full advantage of the bye week.
“We’re definitely going to use this week to rest up, get our bodies right, bumps and bruises that we have, get those fixed, kind of go back to fundamentals with developmental practices a little bit, just to utilize all the time that we get,” Phillips said.
Depth at Wide Receiver Still a Concern
Coming into the season, depth at wide receiver was a concern for the Virginia Tech coaching staff. Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges weren’t an issue, but the guys behind them were. Four weeks into the season, Fuente still doesn’t feel comfortable with the depth there.
“No, and we’re still working on it every single day,” Fuente said. “No, I’m not comfortable with it at all. Our kids are working hard. I’m not displeased with them. I think they know it and I think they’re working to try and improve, they’re just really, really young.”
Phillips, who’s second on the team in receiving with 238 yards and two touchdowns through four games, said that the whole unit has played well through the team’s first four games.
“I think all the guys have played well,” Phillips said. “Those guys have done a great job in practice, going back to spring ball and fall camp, and when they get out on the field, they make their reps count. The coaches trust them, that’s why they put them out there. If they have any questions, they come to me, Isaiah (Ford) or even Bucky (Hodges). We’re all family, so we try to help each other.”
One of the young receivers who has seen plenty of playing time is Jaylen Bradshaw. He’s played in all four games this season, but caught just three passes for 25 yards, all against East Carolina.
Bradshaw said that the receiving corps just needs to become more consistent.
“After practice, Coach (Fuente) just hits on really being consistent,” Bradshaw said. “As this bye week goes on, we just want to try to remain consistent throughout practice.”
Ekanem Named ACC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week
The ACC announced on Monday that Virginia Tech’s Ken Ekanem was named the Defensive Lineman of the Week. Ekanem registered two sacks vs. East Carolina, as well as five total tackles. Ekanem already has 4.5 sacks this season, which ties the number of sacks he had in 2015.
“Ken’s been fantastic,” Fuente said. “That’s great for him, that’s a well-deserved award. Ken is a very good leader, very good competitor, good worker, highly intelligent football player that I’m glad to see recognized for his hard work.”
“Ken Ekanem is a guy who is not afraid to embrace the ‘Lunch Pail’ mentality,” Baron said. “The way he plays is the way he practices every day, just at 100 miles per hour, no matter what he’s doing. It’s just great to see the numbers show on Saturday.”
Fuente started off his weekly press conference on Monday by wishing DeAngelo Hall a speedy recovery after tearing his ACL on Sunday. Hall, who plays for the Washington Redskins, starred for Virginia Tech from 2001-2003, intercepting eight passes and returning five punts for touchdowns.
“Just let him know our thoughts are with him,” Fuente said. “He’s obviously been a fantastic ambassador for Virginia Tech, let alone a great player and a great personality. Had a chance to meet him earlier in the year, such a nice man and our hearts and thoughts go out to him as he is going to recover from an injury.”
Fuente was also asked about recent protests over the National Anthem.
“I have a lot of thoughts on a lot of different topics,” Fuente said. “I’m not always going to share with all of you all. I hope you respect that, because there’s a lot that comes with standing up and voicing your opinion. It doesn’t mean I don’t have one. I would hope… whether it’s the National Anthem or some other cause, whatever it is, I would hope that our kids would want to come to me and talk about those things and figure out a genuine way to help out whatever cause it is that they feel strongly about, and give us the opportunity to discuss how it is they can help that cause, knowing that I’m going to support them in their stance in what they truly believe in, but also let’s find a way to help that cause that maybe can help our football team or not cause huge distractions for our team as well. That’s how I hope it would get handled if it ever came up for us.”