Virginia Tech football kicked off their spring practice schedule last week, but Thursday was the Hokies’ first media availability since the beginning of practices. The Hokies finished their fourth spring practice on Thursday night, and to be quite honest, not much has happened.
The focus so far has been teaching, something that head coach Justin Fuente really enjoys.
“Well, I think the first thing we’re trying to do is install and teach. Can they absorb it?” Fuente said. “The first four practices are just installing. For us, it’s punt and punt return, it’s base offense and base defense. What did we retain from the season, what did we not retain, what can we move forward more quickly on, what do we need to slow down and go back over? From the players, I want to see them take that teaching from the classroom onto the field. I want to see them be able to repeat it.”
Seeing guys repeat those things might take longer than normal, given how young the Hokies are at nearly every position. Take a gander up and down Virginia Tech’s depth chart (unofficially), and you’ll see dozens of young players who are competing for starting roles.
“I do like the way they’re trying to go about it,” Fuente said. “I do believe it’s important to them. I do believe they’re genuinely excited. There’s a lot of young guys running around out there that are trying hard. As position coaches, it’s their job to get them dialed in to the techniques and assignments that we’re asking them to do, and it’s my job as the overseer of all of it, it’s my job to get us to work together so we can see those strides of improvement.”
With so many young players, it’s nice to have guys like Ricky Walker. The standout defensive tackle is entering his redshirt senior season, his fifth year in the program. Walker is one of the most, if not the most, experienced players on the team. This is his team, and he’s continued to serve as a leader.
“It’s always great to have examples,” Fuente said of Walker. “He’s served as a great example for a long time, of how to go about your business and how to be mature, how to practice and prepare, and ultimately give yourself the best chance to play well.”
This spring has been weird for Walker. He’s missing his battery mate at defensive tackle, Tim Settle, who’s likely to be selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. Both linebackers who played behind Walker last season — Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds — are gone. Cornerbacks Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson are gone, as is safety Terrell Edmunds.
Walker is one of the few men left standing from last year’s defense, meaning that it’s up to him to bring along the young defenders vying for playing time.
“It definitely feels a bit different from flying around the first two days, not hearing Andrew (Motuapuaka) make the calls,” Walker said. “We have young guys in there who are ready to play. We lose guys like Terrell (Edmunds, (Brandon) Facyson, (Greg) Stroman, but the secondary is pretty strong. Adonis (Alexander) is doing real good right now. He’s leading by example, talking more. We’ve got (Divine) Deablo, Khalil (Ladler) and Reggie (Floyd) in the secondary.
“As for me, I’m just playing ball, doing what I do. I’ll probably have to talk a little more to the linebackers and the safeties, not just the D-line. Just to let them know how to practice and what we’ve got to do, and what it takes to be a part of ‘Nasty D’.”
Walker is confident that Virginia Tech’s defensive line will be productive once again next season. Despite Settle’s departure, Walker feels good about the position. Redshirt sophomore Jarrod Hewitt separated himself from others at the position last year, and continues to make strides this offseason. Xavier Burke, Jimmie Taylor and Darius Fullwood are hoping to fill the fourth spot at defensive tackle, and Walker says they’ve improved as well.
“These guys have been coming along,” Walker said. “Compared to a year ago, last spring, Xavier Burke is more physical. He knows what he’s doing. Technique-driven. Jimmie, Jimmie’s a old head but Jimmie’s got that ‘old man strength’. Jimmie’s got some experience under him. Fullwood, just real twitchy, quick. I don’t know if he has the quickest twitch, it’s between me and him. Fullwood’s definitely coming along. I’m excited really, for this D-line, this defense and this team.”
As for Walker, he’s doing what he’s always done, except for one thing — with Motuapuaka no longer around, Walker is carrying the Lunch Pail.
“I don’t feel no pressure,” Walker said. “All of those guys you named, I trust. It started in January from seeing them work and now it’s coming onto the field.”