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Virginia Tech football will begin its season in less than two weeks. Despite still having several unanswered questions, it sounds like things might be starting to come together. The Hokies named Josh Jackson the starting quarterback just last week, but the offense has taken strides in the time since.
“I think we’ve all started to gel together and it’s been good,” Jackson said.
Cam Phillips, who will be Jackson’s most reliable target come Sept. 3 vs West Virginia, has seen a big change in Jackson since being named the starter.
“I have seen a jump in confidence in Josh,” Phillips said. “I think once Coach (Fuente) makes a decision like that, we have some certainty, you can relax a little bit and not be so tense, trying to do everything perfect. That’s not to say he isn’t still trying to do that, but it’s just a bit of relief and you can tell he’s a bit more comfortable out there now.”
Jackson’s coaches, offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen and head coach Justin Fuente, think Jackson has handled his business similar to how he went about things before being named the starting quarterback.
“Being named the starter hasn’t changed him,” Cornelsen said. “He’s going to continue to become a bigger leader for our offense as the season goes along. That’s something that comes pretty natural to him though. He’s not a kid that feels like he’s going to have to manufacture some leadership, I think it’s in there. I think it comes naturally to him.”
“I haven’t seen a dramatic change in Josh,” Fuente said. “We named him the starter because we felt like he was ready to do that. He may feel different internally, I don’t know, I haven’t asked him, but I’ve seen a guy that has grown in confidence and mastery of what we’re trying to accomplish. We saw some of that before we named him the starter, which obviously is what led us to that conclusion.”
Still, Fuente agrees that the offense is making improvements with Jackson at the helm.
“Offensively, I think they’re getting comfortable with him in there,” Fuente said. “That being said, you’re only one play away from having to change guys back there, so it’s important that we get work with (AJ Bush and Hendon Hooker) as well.”
Special teams a point of emphasis for Virginia Tech
While Virginia Tech makes progress on the offensive side of the ball, the Hokies’ primary focus of late has been special teams. Tech’s practice on Sunday morning focused solely on special teams, and it will continue to get a significant chunk of practice time for the rest of camp. Fuente hopes that the Hokies can improve on special teams in the 2017 season. In 2016, Virginia Tech ranked 46th in special teams efficiency, according to Football Outsiders.
“Well, I thought we were pretty good,” Fuente said. “We made some mistakes early in the year that I didn’t like that we got cleaned up…we got better as the season moved along. The first rule of special is teams is, ‘Don’t have a terrible thing happen.’ The second rule is to try and make a big play that creates momentum or field position for your team. There were many good examples of us making plays in special teams. Everyone always talks about the kickers in special teams, or the returners, but we focus so much of our time and energy on the details and the fundamentals that goes into those guys covering kicks, and how to avoid, how to play the ball in the air, proper technique to blocking, and all sorts of things.
“I thought we were pretty efficient last year, but there’s plenty of room for improvement,” Fuente said. “Today’s work was kind of on line with some good and some bad, some things that we have to get cleaned up as we head into the first game.”
In a game like the Hokies’ season-opener, Fuente sees special teams as a difference maker. West Virginia and Virginia Tech both have major holes to fill on offense and defense, and a key special teams play could decide the outcome.
“Special teams will play a large factor in that. Early in the season playing a quality opponent, you’ve got to make sure that you’re on point with all of those details that affect field position and momentum in a game,” Fuente said.
Facyson, Hunter battling injuries
While Brandon Facyson has been limited all fall camp, it seems as if freshman safety Devon Hunter has been limited as well. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster said on Monday that Hunter sustained a concussion early on, and was forced to sit out the team’s first two scrimmages.
Hunter’s absence has hindered his development, which should allow Reggie Floyd to start at rover. Hunter, however, figures to be in the Hokies’ plans in some way, shape or form.
“(Monday) will be a big telltale sign, so to speak, of where he is, if he’s ready to go compete,” Foster said. “I’ve been pleased with Devon’s development. We’d like it to be sooner than later, but that’s part of it, but there’s a good battle right there. There’s some good competition at that spot.”
In terms of Facyson, the redshirt-senior corner has been recovering from offseason wrist surgery. Foster said that Facyson is still limited in what he can do, but has participated in individual drills and non-contact team drills.
“He’s doing more, but I like where he’s working towards,” Foster said. “He’s out there doing as much as he possibly can with his limitations they put on that, the restrictions the docs have put on him, but I’m anxious to get him back where he can tackle and be physical, and do some things to get his timing back, because that’s a big part of playing defense.”
Foster did say on Monday that he feels good about Facyson being able to play vs. West Virginia on Sept. 3.