Virginia Tech football is entering a unique phase of their fall camp. With the season opener vs. West Virginia less than 10 days away, the Hokies are getting ready to go through their mock weekend.
Virginia Tech will spend their next few days running through their routine, something that head coach Justin Fuente says is normal for him.
“We’ve been going through the same schedule leading up to the game for many years now,” Fuente said.
The Hokies will practice on Friday in full pads, and then take the pads off the next two days. Tech will run through their normal Thursday meetings before Saturday’s practice, and then transition into the Friday portion of their schedule after that practice. The team will load up afterwards and head to the team hotel in Roanoke to go through Friday night meetings and such, before heading back to The Inn at Virginia Tech.
After spending the night at The Inn, Tech will wake up Sunday morning and run through their normal Saturday routine. The Hokies will then arrive at Lane Stadium and run through normal pregame stretches and drills, before participating in a simulated, scripted game without pads.
As complicated as it might be, Fuente sees real value in walking his team through the ritual before it happens for real in a little over a week.
“Just in an effort to check off the box a lot of things as coaches, but hopefully it adds some comfort to the players when we do it for real,” Fuente said. “We’re pretty specific and meticulous about where they’re supposed to be, how they’re supposed to be there, how it’s all going to work. Kind of giving them a little ease of mind when we are doing it for real is kind of the goal.”
At this point, the Hokies are anxious to get into the real season. Fall camp has gone on for nearly a month now, but even though Virginia Tech is excited to play West Virginia on Sept. 3, they understand that the next few practices are extremely important.
“I think there is an element of anticipation, certainly, to get to go play the game,” Fuente said. “I think they also know they’re not ready to play the game. There’s quite a bit of work to be done. There’s an entire week. I don’t want us to peak, so to speak, too early. I want us to understand that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that we’re working towards something, not just ambiguously practicing for no reason. There is a reward at the end of this, and it’s coming quickly. I think they’re ready to move out of camp mode and into preparation mode for the first game.”
Hokies not close to being satisfied with receiving depth
Coming into fall camp, the Virginia Tech coaching staff realized that wide receiver was one of the most challenging questions to answer. With Tech’s season-opener just days away, that question remains unanswered. Fuente was asked how close the Hokies are to hitting their magical number of eight reliable receivers.
His answer was rather blunt.
Wide receivers coach Holmon Wiggins agrees.
“I would agree, and usually I try to agree with the bossman,” Wiggins said.
Fortunately for Virginia Tech, they have seen progress. Younger players will play a big role for the entire season at receiver, but the group has developing to do.
“The one thing I will say, is those guys have basically come in and done what we asked them to do,” Wiggins said. “When we recruited those guys, we told them, ‘Hey, the cupboard’s probably going to be a little bare, and we need you guys to kind of come in humble, but ready to work and kind of ready to go out and play.”
“They’ve got to continue to get better and to develop,” Fuente said. “We’ve got some young guys out there that are trying to understand what it’s going to take to play on a consistent basis. I’m optimistic they’ll get that and they’ll figure that out, but not eight.”
For now, Wiggins says the Hokies have four receivers they feel comfortable with, but don’t ask him.
“There’s a few guys in there,” Wiggins said. “Right now, I’m kind of holding my cards close to the vest. There’s some guys who are trying to work hard to earn that trust, and kind of get into that circle, and hopefully get into this rotation because we need their help.”
Right guard still up for grabs
Virginia Tech is also still searching for an answer at right guard, and it sounds like the position has been a bit of a revolving door lately between Kyle Chung, Braxton Pfaff and Parker Osterloh.
“It really goes day-by-day,” offensive line coach Vance Vice said. “Obviously, all of those guys are in contention. Even on the right (tackle), I’ve spread them all evenly over there. Even on the left side. I’ve looked at every combination there is, it’s just trying to find five guys.”
Even if Virginia Tech fails to find a standout option, it sounds like the coaches would be confident in whoever takes over the starting position, or if they had to use some sort of rotation.
“I’m comfortable, yeah, with those guys,” Fuente said. “They’re all accountable guys. I don’t know that any one of them is leaps and bounds better than any of the others. Do I trust them? Yeah, I do, which is a good thing and that’s a big word in this program. How it all shakes out, we’ll see.”
Taylor making impact as undersized defensive tackle
One question that seems to have been partially answered is who will fill primary backup roles at defensive tackle. Fuente, defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive line coach Charley Wiles are likely turning to redshirt freshmen Jarrod Hewitt and Jimmie Taylor.
Taylor is an interesting story. He played primarily on special teams and some at defensive end against Liberty and Tennessee as a true freshman in 2016, but missed the rest of the year due to injury. After receiving a medical redshirt, the coaching staff approached him about moving inside to defensive tackle. Unfortunately for him, that move was delayed due to Tech’s lack of numbers at defensive end in the spring, and Taylor is just now getting acclimated to things.
“He’s got a really good football IQ, he’s a smart kid,” Wiles said. “Football makes a lot of sense to him. He worked there most of the summer, because when we had our exit interview or whatever coming out of spring, he knew where he was headed, and it was unfair to him not to give him all of those reps in the spring, but we just couldn’t do it. We had eight defensive linemen in the spring period, and we didn’t get anybody hurt and we had a two-deep, and it worked. But there is a lot of carryover, there is.”
At 6-foot-2 and 256 pounds, Taylor doesn’t fit the prototypical role of a defensive tackle. Still, Taylor has found a way to be effective for Virginia Tech in practice.
“I wouldn’t say he has tremendous quickness, but he plays a lot bigger than he is,” Wiles said. “I mean when he strikes you, he’s a physical kid. When he puts hands on you, he’s playing with good technique. Jimmie’s got some strength, and he’s playing a lot bigger than he is.”
“You like for the undersized guys to be quick,” Fuente said. “The thing Jimmie brings to the table is he understand the scheme and he’s tough. He’s there every day, working hard. He’s embraced the move inside, in terms of continuing to add some weight, but he understands what Charley and Bud (Foster) are asking him to do. He’s in the right spot more than not.”