Tech Talk Live Notes: Justin Fuente Talks About His Team

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Virginia Tech Talk Live

Tech Talk Live kicked off for the 2018 season on Monday night, and head coach Justin Fuente was the guest.

On Josh Jackson being named the starter…

I feel great about Josh and his development.  He continues to get better.  After the Spring Game, I kind of gave him a gentle public ribbing about continuing to develop and not get comfortable and kind of fall in love with the process a little bit more, and he’s certainly done that.  I feel really good about his overall mastery of what’s going on on the other side of the ball and what we’d like to do to try and attack those things.  I’ve just been pleased with him. 

On the other quarterbacks…

I really feel like the other guys have made big strides as well and deserve some opportunity to go compete, but it was pretty clear that Josh was the guy.  And I don’t say that because I’m disappointed in the other ones.  I think the health of our quarterback room is as good as it certainly has been since I’ve been here, in terms of developing young people.  Hendon Hooker has made tremendous strides.  I’m just pleased as I can be…seeing him in the spring, and seeing him in the fall.  As pleased as I can be with his overall development.  We’ve got the youngster Quincy Patterson in there taking some reps, and you’ve got Ryan Willis who has actually played Division I football, who can really throw the ball around, a really live arm.  I’m excited.  Brad Cornelsen has done a great job with those guys.

On whether the team is where he wants them to be…

I’m enjoying this group, I know that.  We only have seven scholarship seniors, but we have seven great examples of what it means to be team first, to work hard, be diligent and unselfish.  Our young people are doing a good job of learning from those guys.  Camp was really short this year…they’ve changed the rules on us again, which I think is fine quite honestly.  But we reduced practices from 29 to 25 before the first game, and that’s four pretty big practices that have gone out the window.  So we had to force feed them a little bit.  We didn’t have time to mess around or dilly dally, we had to get it all in and then continue to go back through it, and the kids have done a good job of absorbing all that.

What will the rep distribution look like over the next 13 games…

We’ll continue to work good versus good for this week.  We’ll only start to work our scout team into it as the week goes along.  We had a good meeting and talked personnel today, and practice plan in terms of our philosophy.  There’s still some situational work that we need to get to.  But particularly starting tomorrow and Wednesday will be heavy good versus good, and then Thursday we’ll start to introduce a little bit of scout work, and Friday a little bit more scout work, and then our mock weekend.  So Josh [Jackson] will settle in with the ones, and we’ll continue to figure out what Quincy [Patterson] can do, and continue to ask Ryan [Williis] and Hendon [Hooker] to work with the twos and master the entire package.

On Ben Hilgart and what he was able to accomplish over the summer…

As a head football coach, you just turn the team over to your strength staff (in the offseason).  We’re really fortunate to have the best strength coach in all of America right here.  I really believe that with all my heart.  It’s got something to do with how much you bench press and how well you run, we have science behind that, but even more than that, in a bigger picture, it’s your mentality, the things we believe in and talk about on a daily basis, it gives us an advantage we feel like.  Ben continues to push that along in the summer.  The other neat thing about it is your team takes more ownership too…it becomes more of the players’ team, which is what we want.

On the new redshirt rule…

I think it’s a great rule.  It’s great for the kids.  We all know why it was passed, to stay away from the unfortunate situation where you try and redshirt a kid, but through injury or attrition you are forced to play him at the very end of the year.  Now he can play in any four games.  It’s going to be interesting to see how everybody manages it.  There are still going to be guys, quite frankly, they’re just not ready.  They’re not even up for consideration for playing in four games.  There will be some guys who no matter what, you’re playing them.  It’s the guys in the middle, trying to figure out…do you want to try to look at them early, or do you want to try to save them until late, which I think is going to be interesting.  Each coach is going to have to mull those things over on a weekly basis…I think those are going to be continuous conversations that go on throughout the year.

On the new kickoff rule…

We’ve talked a lot about that rule.  There’s a couple of other timing rules that are going to be interesting as well, but the fact that you can fair catch a kickoff return and get the ball at the 25 certainly adds a unique twist to things.  Also, if you fair catch it, but drop it, then you get the ball right there…you don’t get the ball at the 25 anymore.  It’s led us to all these conversations.  What if we’re playing in a downpour?  Is it better for us to fair catch it?  But if we drop it, we’re going to end up on our own three yard line.  What about cross field kicks?  Do we want to automatically fair catch those?  I think it’s probably a good rule.  They are trying to make the game safer.  I don’t think we’re doing, quite honestly…we’ll study the data to try and figure it out.  But in the years to come, I think there’s going to be more and more regulation in terms of that play. There’s times in the game where a different mentality comes about, just in terms of putting your punt returner back there and having him fair catch the ball no matter where it is.  Shibest and I have talked about this in circles.  You get those cross field kicks, sometimes they are opportunities for big returns, and you hate to give up that opportunity.  I think the biggest thing is your comfort level with your kickoff return team. 

More on the redshirt rule, and whether there is an inclination to take a look at guys early in live action, and then decide what to do…

Certainly.  I don’t know that the very first game this year is the time to ask for volunteers to play.  That’s a pretty elite opening game.  But, you’re right.  There’s a great chance that there will be some opportunities, one way or the other, to get some guys in and continue to get that live evaluation. 

On Rayshard Ashby…

Really excited about Rayshard Ashby.  Not to diminish anybody else, but I think he’s just got a chance to be really special.  Incredibly intelligent, hardworking, reminds me a lot of Andrew [Motuapuaka].  He’s really become the leader in that room, and done a great job.  He’s going to be a leader on the team.  I put him on our leadership council.  Just really pleased with Rayshard.  His maturity level is far beyond his years.

On the other linebackers…

We’ve got several young guys in there kind of rotating around.  Dylan Rivers and Dax Hollifield are the first two that you start to think about, so Bud kind of manipulates those guys around between the mike and the backer position. But those guys had good camps.  Keshon Artis is a true freshman that’s shown some pretty good aptitude at an early age.  He’ll be one of those guys who we try to figure out exactly how we handle his eligibility in terms of this year.  I’ve been pleased with those guys.  Bud…he’s been pushing them hard, and they needed it because they have some big shoes to fill.

On Divine Deablo and the safeties…

Divine is super talented.  He’s had a couple of almost freakish injuries with his foot.  But he’s healthy, and wee managed him throughout camp to try to get him to the season.  He’s just a great kid and a great worker.  Khalil Ladler is another one that gives us, we refer to it as artificial depth, he can line up at all three safety positions.  He can line up in the alley, he can play free safety, he can play rover.  Really pleased with him.  Really sharp.  Great communicator back there.  Reggie [Floyd] has been really steady for us.  Chamarri Conner is the next Reggie.  He’s number 22, and Reggie’s number 21.  We call him Reggie, Jr.  He just reminds you so much of him.  He’s absolutely one of those young people that we’re super excited about.  We’ve got Devon [Hunter] who has made huge strides, he took just about every rep in the spring.  DJ Crossen is a youngster who shown some really special coverage skills, and he has a bright future.

On Caleb Farley and the young cornerbacks…

He’s absolutely healthy.  He can absolutely fly.  He really has some makeup speed in terms of being able to catch guys from behind, or track guys down.  He’s continuing to find his comfort level with the position.  Bryce Watts has continued to mature, and he’s the most experienced guy out there.  He’s continued to get better.  Jovonn Quillen, he’s been a special teams player, he’s vying for time at corner. And then some young guys that have really done a really job.  Nadir Thompson is another true freshman who I think we’re all going to be excited about. 

On the process of finding a kickoff returner…

We had James [Clark] back there [last season], and in the very first game he runs one all the way back to the 20 yard line, and then he got a broken hand.  Well, it’s hard to put a guy with a broken hand back there to return kickoffs.  So we did rotate some guys back there.  I’ve been pleased with Caleb [Farley].  He wants to do it, he’s excited to get the ball in his hands.  Terius Wheatley is the other guy in there who can run a little bit, who I think has a chance.  A little bit bigger guy back there, I’ve always felt a little more comfortable with.  Just a guy who can maybe run through an arm tackle, who has that vision to see creases, because there’s a lot going on, a whole lot of people flying around…just finding those creases and having the courage to hit that thing. 

On the backup defensive linemen…

We’ve got some young ends that have bright futures.  Houshun Gaines is going to start, and he’s made huge strides as a starter, and Trevon Hill on the other side, but Emmanuel Belmar and TyJuan Garbutt are really making big, big strides.  Emmanuel had a great summer, he’s worked incredibly hard.  He originally was a linebacker, and he’s continued to get bigger and stronger.  TyJuan’s playing fast and at a much higher level than he had been.  On the inside, we’ve got Ricky, and we all love and adore the way he goes about his business.  And then we moved Vinny inside.  Jarrod Hewitt is another guy, much like Emmanuel, who has just had a great summer and really got himself in fantastic shape.  He can really move and run.  He can really help us in there.  We’re continuing to develop that depth. 

On Tyrone Nix…

There were a lot of different ways we could have gone.  Quite honestly, we have some guys on the staff who could do the job that I would have been comfortable with.  But I really felt like, if I got to pick, I wanted somebody in the room with Bud, to help Bud with big picture decision.  Brian Mitchell has done some of that before, he’s been a coordinator.  But I just think when you can get people who have had to think about it from a big picture perspective, and had to answer those questions and face those problems week in and week out, it just helps.  As long as there isn’t an ego issue in there, which there’s not in that room or any of our rooms.  Not just coaching the safeties, but having regional ties, he’s a good fit on the staff, gets along with everybody, he’s a likeable guy.  He’s a great teacher and coach.  He’s demanding, but the kids have been very receptive to his teaching style…I thought it was an absolutely perfect fit.  I’m tickled to death.  I’ve had some history with him, and Bud’s had some history with him.  I’ve coached against him before, so I felt like we were really lucky that we were able to get him hired at that time. 

On the ex-players who came out for a special practice over the weekend…

I think it’s a great opportunity for them to come out and be around.  We enjoy practicing in front of them.  We had a team meeting before the practice and told our kids that those guys and their families would be out there.  One day our current players are going to be those guys.  They want to see, when they come back to visit, a group of guys who are working hard, that are trying their best to represent Virginia Tech and carry on the tradition.  We want to continue to grow it and make it accessible to those guys and their families. 

On how he feels about the group of players who are surrounding Josh Jackson this year as compared to last year…

I do feel a lot better, at wide receiver particularly.  We’re not there, we’re not a finished product, but we will be in the next couple of years.  I’m really excited about what we’ve recruited, what we’ve got here, what we’re developing.  Last year Hezekiah Grimsley and Sean Savoy show up, and they are immediately inserted into playing time.  They handled it fine, but they still weren’t ready to practice on a daily basis, and do the things that we needed them to do.  They’ve made huge strides.  Damon Hazelton sat out last year after his transfer, he’s been through a little bit of an injury deal, but he’s back and getting comfortable, getting his timing and feeling good.  I really like where he’s going.  Tre Turner is a true freshman that’s going to play.  He continues to work hard, he’s got a high aptitude, he’s got some talent.  We’re coming along.  I just think through this year, if we can stay healthy we’ll be more productive, and in the next couple of years I think it will really take off.

On Deshawn McClease, Steven Peoples and the running backs…

Those two guys have really distanced themselves from everybody else.  We’ve managed them throughout camp.  We still give them plenty of work, but we want to make sure they are ready to go.  Deshawn has done a good job embracing not just the weight room, but the life away from the weight room that he needed to gain weight, in terms of what he’s eating.  The nutrition staff has done a great job with him.  Those two guys have really separated themselves, and I like it because they are completely different.  One is a big, burly sucker and the other is a small, skilled scatback type of player.  And then Jalen Holston and Terius Wheatley are kind of battling it out.  Terius has done some really, really good things.  Jalen played quite a bit last year.  He’s continuing to develop his body to become the type of player he needs to be. 

On managing the reps of McClease and Peoples…

We give them a little bit, just a taste, and then get them out.  While I think it’s important to get them ready to play, and I certainly don’t want them standing over there not doing anything, but I also think it’s important that we use those reps intelligently for a purpose.  The guys below them need that work.  There are plenty of reps to be had for those other guys.

On the offensive line…

It’s going really well.  I like our three seniors, Chung, Pfaff and Nijman.  It seems like they’ve been around forever, and I’m happy for that.  I think Nijman feels much better than he did a year ago from a health standpoint.  He’s playing better.  They’ve done a great job with those young guys.  We’ve got several young, talented offensive lineman that are continuing to get better.  Silas Dzansi is a freshman, Christian Darrisaw is a freshman, Lecitus Smith is a freshman.  Zachariah Hoyt is a sophomore.  Those guys are continuing to improve, using those older guys as great examples.  John Harris is a true freshman who was in there getting really good work.  We’ll see how that all shakes out, but I’m pleased with those guys.  We’re working every day, and we’ve got a good mix of some older guys and some younger guys who are eager to prove themselves.

On the tight ends, including true freshman James Mitchell…

I’m pretty excited about the young man.  He’s just done a great job.  Dalton [Keene] and Chris [Cunningham] are really solid players.  I don’t think that anybody quite understands the amount of, for lack of a better word, dirty work, that they have to do during the game in terms of pass protection, run blocking.  They really do a fantastic job of that.  James and Drake [DeIuliis] are kind of different bodies, much taller, longer guys, more of on-the-line type guys that can kind of flex out as a receiver and have a little bit of versatility.  But to see James go through camp, and handle camp, and the knowledge base that you have to have…that’s the second hardest position on the offense next to the quarterback.  You’ve got to be really sharp at center, quarterback and tight end/H-back to play in this system.  And we’re certainly there at tight end right now. 

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9 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Fu certainly sounds more optimistic this preseason than he did after last fall camp. He sounds very impressed by the leadership from the older guys and the sheer talent and intelligence of the the youth. This year could turn out better than most are expecting, especially if we can find a way to pull off the upset in Tally. Go Hokies!!!

  2. Really excited about this years team. With all of the talent on the team (the cup is full in most places), the sky is the limit. The youth and combination of veteran leadership will gel over the next 2-3 years to make us really fun to watch. I going to enjoy this team “growing up” in front of our eyes. The recruiting uptick we have seen in the last few years is about to become a team we can become proud of.

  3. “…Jalen Holston and Terius Wheatley are kind of battling it out. Terius has done some really, really good things. Jalen played quite a bit last year. He’s continuing to develop his body to become the type of player he needs to be. ”

    Sounds like Wheatley may see more playing time than Holston, a bit of a surprise for me.

  4. ….”So Josh [Jackson] will settle in with the ones, and we’ll continue to figure out what Quincy [Patterson] can do,…..”

    sounds like CJF is high on QP as he mentions him before HH and RW. wonder if we’ll see him play this year in a couple games

    1. I think more about how to play QP for 4 games.
      Do you have him run scout or work with starters?
      I think starters so he can learn O.

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