Virginia Tech football concluded its final scrimmage yesterday, and the opening game against Boston College is just 12 days away.
That’s never more apparent than in the Fuente household where Justin Fuente’s daughters have their own excitement heading into the season.
“There’s just a little sign in our house that’s a countdown,” Fuente said. “How many days until football? And those girls know the answer.”
Over the final scrimmage, Fuente noted that there are a number of players with bumps and bruises who need to start healing heading into the matchup in Chestnut Hill. Some of those players battled through the scrimmage, and with the help of the new GPS tracking technology that the Hokies wear in practice, coaches are able to get a better grasp of the health of each player.
“The kids just want to know how fast they ran,” Fuente said. “We want to make sure we are monitoring the guys. I think we more concretely know when we need to taper back. That’s my hope as soon as we get through it, that we’ll have a better feeling for when we really are legitimately fatigued.”
In reality, the technology provides information to find the most efficient work rate. If a player is off balance or his stride is slightly off, the coaches are able to see that data.
Fuente admits he still doesn’t fully understand what all the numbers exhibit, but it’s still helping the program in ways previously unimaginable.
“There’s a lot of variables and possibilities you can get into,” Fuente said. “We are still figuring it out way more than I ever envisioned.”
Position Battle at Cornerback and Running Back
There are a number of positions that are still up in the air with Boston College right around the corner. Fuente noted that they had “lengthy discussions” earlier in the day with all position coaches about reps and roles of certain players, but he wasn’t ready to go into complete details.
Cornerback coach Brian Mitchell all but confirmed last week that Caleb Farley will play a prominent role in the first cornerback spot. That leaves the second cornerback spot up for grabs.
When asked about the battle at the position, Fuente was quick to name sophomore Jermaine Waller as a guy who has stood out in the lead up to the start of the season.
“The first person that comes to my mind is Jermaine Waller, with the offseason he’s had and how he’s played through camp,” Fuente said. “He’s been really, really good for us. He’s always been a highly intelligent guy. He’s picked things up quickly. He’s kind of putting it all together for us right now and has been really, really consistent through camp.”
Waller was a player who showcased some physicality and coverage skills in the spring game in April. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound defensive back had seven tackles, a pass breakup, and one forced fumble in limited action last year.
In a perfect world, Jeremy Webb would be completely healthy and be the alpha in the cornerback room, but there’s still so much that goes into recovering from two Achilles injuries.
“I would say that he looks good physically,” Fuente said. “I’m pleased with what he’s out there trying to do. He just hasn’t played a lot of football.
“It’s hard for me, because it’s not just that he’s been hurt. It’s that he hasn’t even been out there. He hasn’t even practiced. We are pleased with what we’ve seen. He continues to work and tries to perfect his craft, and I see him improving on a daily basis.”
On the other side of the ball at running back, Jalen Holston, Deshawn McClease and freshman Keshawn King appear to be the three-headed backfield heading into the season. Fuente hasn’t shown the propensity to use a workhorse running back, and that appears the case again this year.
“I would say Deshawn and Jalen have really done well,” Fuente said. “Jalen has had a great offseason. He’s done a great job from a leadership standpoint. Great attitude and work ethic, I’ve really been pleased with him, as [well as] Deshawn.
“In addition to that, Keshawn has come in and provided us some spark and had some flashes. To what extent that will be? I’m not sure yet. I do feel like as I’m standing here right now it will be to some extent though. I just don’t know how much as we get into game plan and all that stuff.”
A Look at Special Teams
Virginia Tech left a lot to be desired in the kicking game last year, and they will try to improve on special teams in 2019.
With kickoff specialist Jordan Stout entering the transfer portal and having landed at Penn State, Brian Johnson returns to field goal duties having gone 12-for-18 last year, but just 3-for-8 from 40+ yards. The main area where the Hokies will miss Stout is on kickoffs, as he was a touchback machine.
“Brian has been the guy kicking field goals, taking primarily the reps with the ones,” Fuente said. “We’ll continue to see how he handles kickoffs. [Parker] Romo’s done a good job, so we’ll see as we continue heading down the stretch here how that shakes out.”
The punt return game was a disaster in 2018 and fans were just hoping to keep possession at the end of each punt towards the end of the year. Fuente named Hezekiah Grimsley and Tayvion Robinson as the two guys who were getting the majority of the reps as punt returner.
At Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Grimsley was the district’s top punt returner, averaging 24.6 yards per return along with three touchdowns. There’s been a willingness from him to try to nail down the position this offseason.
“He’s gone and attacked it like it’s something he really, really wants,” Fuente said. “He’s been very, very consistent. It’s not always easy to treat every rep like it’s a game. That’s a difficult mental task. He’s done a really good job of trying his best to treat every rep as if it’s live action.”
With those areas covered, Fuente also mentioned a number of names in contention at kick returner including Caleb Farley, Terius Wheatley, Nadir Thompson, Keshawn King, and Deshawn McClease.
Brock Hoffman Update
The Hokies still haven’t heard word on Brock Hoffman’s appeal. There was some visible frustration from Fuente who quipped, “After we find the verdict, I hope you guys ask me a lot of questions.”
If Hoffman were granted immediate eligibility, he would likely be slotted into the center position, one where there were a number of snapping issues last year. As it stands, though, it leaves Vance Vice and Co. in a bind not knowing if they’ll have the 6-foot-3, 316-pounder.
“I’ve met with [Hoffman] and he’s preparing himself mentally and emotionally both ways,” Fuente said. “I really feel for him because this is a legitimate situation. I’m hopeful that in the end everything gets sorted out and all parties are pleased. In terms of game planning and reps, you have to have contingency plans. You have to operate in some form or fashion for both scenarios.”