Tech Talk Live Notes: 2020 Season Debut

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Justin Fuente, Tech Talk Live
Justin Fuente kicked off the 2020 season on Tech Talk Live. (Dave Knachel, Virginia Tech Athletics)

Monday night was the season debut of Tech Talk Live, and Justin Fuente talked about the offseason, the preseason, and preparing for UVA.

On how he and the team are doing with less than two weeks until kickoff…

I’m not complaining. We’re doing everything we can to handle all that’s going on. We have great support; our medical staff has been incredible in terms of helping us with guidelines and ways to handle everything we’re dealing with. It just seems to change a lot. It’s a difficult situation because we’re not positive of the rules of engagement with the league and how many guys have to be eligible to play and so on and so forth. So, it creates some anxiety. Our students have been back on campus for a couple of weeks now, and that’s led to more cases in our community.

This will be a big week for us in terms of testing and the health of our football team. We have a large number of guys that are out right now, but we’ll kind of see. As I said last week, I’ve made three long-term plans, and now we have to just take it day by day. We still have to have an endgame of what we’re trying to work towards and how we’re going to peak for games. That makes it a little bit difficult when the target keeps moving all over the place.

Our kids have been resilient, and our coaching staff has been flexible. I’m certainly appreciative of everyone who is helping us get through this. It’s a daily if not hourly event right now.

On whether the Big 12’s plan has given him any clarity on what the season could look like…

No, I really hope we take a good look at our own guidelines and blaze our own trail with that. There are a lot of variables in terms of making the guidelines, but we need them. The big thing seems to be centered around the walk-ons. Should they count? Should they not count? Should we take roster size? Should we take 90 guys? Or 85? Whatever it is. I do know that the ACC is looking at that particular aspect of it. I don’t know what they’re going to decide, but I would anticipate that we’ll have a decision relatively quickly. If I’m not mistaken, Miami opens on Thursday, so we’ll need to get that done quickly.

For the parameters on the position groups, I think some of them are a little far-fetched. I think we could turn this into an eighth-grade junior high game pretty quickly. The player’s safety needs to be on the forefront of our minds when we go out there. This is a mean, physical sport, and we need to make sure the people that should be on the field are on the field in order to compete at this level.

On the testing and cancellation policies…

There’s a lot of stuff that comes with that, but my understanding is that the final test will be administered on Friday on-site if you’ve traveled. You should get the results sometime on Saturday morning depending on when kickoff is. You have to contact trace, or at least have some parameters of contact tracing. There are a lot of things in play there. What if you’re in another state and you have a few positive cases? There are some states that say you have to stay there.

It seems like every time you answer one variable, ten more show up. My understanding is that the game could get cancelled all the way up until kickoff. Hopefully, that last test comes back with a large portion of them negative and we don’t have that situation, but it’s possible.

On his current priorities with two weeks left before kickoff…

Somebody asked me the other day if we could play today. This was about a week ago, but I thought to myself, “I don’t know, I’m just trying to find a way for us to practice today and have that practice be meaningful.” That’s been part of it. We’re cross-training guys on both sides of the ball. I’m a firm believer that you can either sit around complaining about things, or you can try and fix it. We’re training guys in case of emergencies on both sides of the ball so they could fill in and help out and create a way for us to continue to be flexible. Particularly, early on, having some ability to adapt on the fly schematically and with personnel is going to be incredibly important.

On getting the team game-ready…

There’s a large amount of people who have to get to that point. Usually, on any given team, there’s a large number of guys that, after a certain period of time, know they’re not going to play. They’re either too young or they have too many guys in front of them. That’s not the case this year. All of our guys have to be ready to play. We’re trying to get them to understand that they may not be able to play as well as Rayshard Ashby or James Mitchell, but they have to be able to contribute and fill that role.

We get so lost in all of these variables that are out of our control, but we have to focus on the next step, that’s it. We have to do the very best that we can do to not let the other circumstances affect our attitude and our effort because we have control of those every single day. What happens to us, because we’re human, is that we start to worry about other things, or we’re upset about something that happened before or happy about something that happened before. We have to do everything in our power to put those things aside and do our best with our attitude and our effort. Then, we can do what’s next on the block.

We have some guys who are there, but as a group, it’s really important that we reach the roster 1 through 100 or 1 through 120, not just 1 through 40. We have to get all of them to understand that they could be called on at a moment’s notice.

On the team’s conditioning entering the season…

We did not have the benefit of an entire summer of training, and we had no spring football. I thought it was very evident in our practices early on that we weren’t in as good of shape as we usually are. We tried to build that into the schedule. We gave them some time off so they could get their legs back, and we shortened down some practices.

Now, you’re down some guys, and it amplifies it even more. You can’t rep those guys who are out there too much. It’s a delicate balance when it comes to trying to get our guys ready to go. Everybody is dealing with the same thing though. We’re all in the same boat. With all of that being said, I’ve watched a few games on TV and there hasn’t been a noticeable difference in the quality of play from the small sample size that we’ve seen. They’ve been able to pull it off, so we should be able to as well.

On Raheem Blackshear…

He’s just an all-around, really good football player. He can return punts, he can return kicks, he’s got receiving skills, he has running back skills, and to top it all off, he’s highly intelligent. I’ve watched him practice for a month now, and all we’ve done is move him all over the place and send him to different drills. I’m sure he’s made a mistake, but I can’t think of very many of them. He’s been really impressive. He’s a great kid, who’s a pleasure to be around. I’m happy for him and anxious to get him out there on the field.

On preparing for UVA…

We’ll work some good on good in there this week and start to turn our attention toward Virginia. We’ll probably have to service each other more than truly breaking up into scout teams. This weekend, we’ll go through our mock preparation, which holds a little bit new meaning now in terms of, we’ll pretend we just had our Thursday and Friday practice, we’ll go to the hotel and have our meetings and eat our meals.

We’ll go home, we won’t stay, but we’ll get up the next morning and go through our pregame rituals before playing a kind of scripted game out here in Lane. With all of the nuances we have to adhere to now, that’ll be an experience for everybody, even the guys who have been around for several years. Next week, it’ll be full-bore game prep turning towards Virginia.

On his offensive line depth…

It certainly helps. We have a bunch of guys with experience. We probably have six or seven guys who are probably at a different level than the others, but the others have played quite a bit and a lot of teams in our league would like to have them. They’ve created competition and continue to get better. They’re also a tight-knit unit, which I like to see.

They’re a good group of guys that really get along and can give each other a hard time. They want each other to have success, but they also go out there and compete. I feel good that we’ve got them. I’ve also been really impressed with our two pups [true freshmen Kaden Moore and Parker Clements) . I hope we don’t play them this year, but I’m really excited about the future with those two guys. They’re much more athletic than we knew, and they’re picking it up pretty quick, so that’s been an added bonus for the future.

On special teams…

I’m excited about the guys who actually kick the ball between kickoff, field goal and punt. For the whole operation, it’s going to be about the other guys, and we’ll see if we can make some plays. Tayvion [Robinson] coming back at punt return is big. When we made the change to put him back there as our returner, there was an obvious difference in our punt return team. He was really dynamic, explosive and brave back there. I think the guys on the punt return unit know that and will take some more pride in trying to spring him. That’s what happened when Greg [Stroman] was back there, and we were so explosive.

On kick return, we’re thinking about getting Khalil [Herbert] back there, we’ve thought about Raheem going back there, and we’ve thought about putting Keshawn [King] back there. Keshawn was very productive when he was back there last year. Hopefully, we can make some more plays in the return unit to help garner more attention from those groups. I think we have a chance to be pretty good.

On opening with a rivalry game…

It’s certainly going to be unique. It reminds me a little bit of the West Virginia deal when we opened with that rivalry game. In the circumstances we’ve been under, there’s nothing traditional about anything we’ve been doing. We might as well kick it off with a bang and be ready to go for a really big one.

On left-handed quarterbacks like UVA’s Brennan Armstrong…

I’ve had one on scholarship before, but none have played. It is a little bit different just from your traditional thinking. If you watch a game with a right-handed quarterback and there’s a touchback, the team will put the ball on the left hash to give them the field to their strong side. All of the “nakeds” and the boots will be to the strong side. Obviously, that part is flipped. Now, it’s a left-handed dominant football team. It just forces us to think differently.

It’s not that big of a deal. Usually, on your call sheet, if you’re in the middle of the field, you run plays to the strength of your quarterback. It would be to the left now. It shouldn’t be too big of a deal, and I think the shotgun makes it even more similar. They’re not taking those traditional drops like they used to from under the center.

On not having tape on UVA post-Bryce Perkins…

It’ll be difficult. You have to do your best to predict what they’re going to do. You have to make some educated guesses. We have a little bit of film on Armstrong, and he’s been a good player. I watched him play in a few games that were on TV and didn’t see a huge drop off. He’s a good athlete that throws the ball well, so I expect that he’ll be efficient and ready to play.

You also don’t want to chase a bunch of ghosts, but you also want to be prepared for everything. We’re trying to figure out the pieces around him, too. They have issues at tailback that they’ve been trying to address through transfers and eligibility waivers, some of the same things we’ve been doing. Trying to figure out the pieces around him and starting to build your plan around that is the first step.

On strength coach Ben Hilgart…

He’s been remarkable. First of all, when all of our kids were at home, the pride our kids had in finding ways to lift weights and finding ways to train and the videos they sent to Ben, it was all optional. We weren’t mandating any of it, but they were taking so much pride in it because of how they feel about Ben and how they feel about this season.

Then, you look at the job that he and Mike [Goforth] have done to transform our indoor facility into our weight room. We have construction going on in our weight room, which is almost done, but we’re leaving the weight room in the indoor for now. It helps us from a COVID-compliance prospect and the ease of training.  All of these people in facilities had to move all of these planks in and heavy equipment in, so we had the opportunity to lift weights and practice. Now, we’re on the precipice of hopefully getting to play a game.

On running out to Enter Sandman this year…

My belief is that we will, but it will be extremely weird. We scrimmage in [Lane Stadium], so we’ve been in here before when it’s empty. We have a little bit of that frame of reference, and we usually turn on some music or something. We just put some crowd noise on the other day.

It’s going to be odd, there’s no way around it. It should not matter, but it’s going to be different. I’ve told the guys that I’ve coached in games with 100,000 people in them, and I’ve coached in games in front of 100, and I wanted to win both just the same. When you get out there and start competing, you’re going to find a way to get the job done. It will be weird to have another team in there. We’ve been in here before, but to stand across the sidelines from another team and not have anybody here is going to be weird.

On soft-tissue injuries…

We’ve definitely had more. All of those guys are back and healthy, but there was a patch in there of fall camp where it was pretty rough with hip flexors and groins and that kind of stuff. We really tried to take that all into consideration as we built the schedule. It just makes me wonder if it was just unavoidable. It was a little bit position specific, so when we’re done, we’ll go back and look at that part of it and see if there’s anything we could’ve done differently, but there certainly has been more this year.

On the quarterback competition…

I would imagine we’ll announce the starter before the game. If we didn’t know leading up to the game, we wouldn’t, but I’ll probably talk more candidly about the quarterback situation in my next media session at some point this week.

On Rayshard Ashby…

He’s remarkable. He’s not really long or super athletic, but just a smart, savvy football player. He’s a big, strong kid, but I’ve never seen one that was that skilled at getting people onto the ground. Playing linebacker is a different thing. You think of Tremaine Edmunds running the alley and how athletic he was, but the position that Rook plays is much more like playing it in a phone booth. He’s trying to get off a block or knife in between a block or having the vision to get under a guy and make a tackle. He’s the best I’ve ever seen at that aspect of working in small spaces and twisting and contorting to get a guy on the ground.

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13 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Excellent information. Thank you.. I am sure Coach Fuente will take good care of our players as best he can.. Keeping the faith. Go Hokies ..

  2. “we have a large number of guys that are out right now”. Not sure if that is COVID related or COVID and injuries, but that worried me.

  3. His tone on how Covid is currently affecting the team doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence. Hope he is just playing it close to the chest and the guys are okay. There is more at stake here than a football season.

    1. A lot of it is due to contact tracing. They haven’t necessarily tested positive but they’ve been around positives. There is a difference. A lot of the quarantined guys due to being near a positive ultimately won’t test positive. But the way the process works they have to sit for, I believe, 10 days. Best to get those out of the way now. Hopefully they can avoid contact w potential positives from here on out. This is basically about maintaining split squads in practice and film so that an entire room doesn’t get taken out (or forced into quarantine).

      1. guilt by association combined with a test that is wrong 30% of the time and symptoms often nil… what a way to run the country.

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