Friday Q&A: Chris Clarke, WR, and OL

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Clarke, shown here soaring at the 2014 NBA Top 100 camp in Charlottesville, has displayed his versatile for Cape Henry this season.
Clarke, shown here soaring at the 2014 NBA Top 100 camp in Charlottesville, has displayed his versatile for Cape Henry this season.

1) OrangeHokieFan: Will Chris Clarke be more of a small forward under Buzz Williams, or will he be an undersized power forward?

Chris Coleman: Good question. Much of the answer is dependent upon whom the Hokies are able to sign this spring and in the future. There are several different scenarios that could play out. Those scenarios could include player transfers. They could include the addition of more high school players. They could include JUCO recruiting. They could also include possibly taking a fifth-year transfer if Buzz has a throwaway scholarship and can’t find a younger player to give it to.

Right now, three power forwards are eligible to be on the roster next year: Shane Henry (Sr.), Zach LeDay (r-Jr.) and Kerry Blackshear (Fr.). On paper, that would make it seem like there won’t be much playing time available for Clarke at power forward. However, the Hokies still have only one center – Satchel Pierce (So.). That would mean guys like Blackshear and Henry would have to see some at the center spot. They are completely unsuited for that role, but unless Tech adds another center this spring Buzz Williams won’t have any choice.

If that happens, then I think we could expect to see Clarke playing the undersized power forward role at times. It would be similar to what Deron Washington did as a freshman, though Washington did it on a full-time basis.

I don’t expect that scenario to happen though. Christian Beyer was Virginia Tech’s best post player this year, and quite frankly it wasn’t even close. The problem with that is that Beyer’s talent level is that of a LM (Low Major…think Appalachian State, Cambell, Liberty, etc.). That was the level where he ideally would have been playing college basketball. If you think Shane Henry and Satchel Pierce are automatically going to start tearing it up overnight, well…I guess you and I just have different opinions of their ability levels.

That’s why I don’t think the above scenario will play out. I don’t think we can be successful with Satchel Pierce getting the majority of minutes at center, and I don’t think Shane Henry and Zach LeDay have the talent to be anything above role players at power forward. Kerry Blackshear has ability, but most scouts regard him as a high ceiling guy who might not be ready right away. That’s why it’s imperative that Buzz sign more post players this spring, otherwise we aren’t going to be all that much better next season.

If Buzz can sign a JUCO center and a JUCO power forward who are both capable of starting next season, or at least playing major minutes, then I project Clarke to see most of his time at small forward. That is his best long-term position. However, I do think we’ll see him at power forward a little bit next year, even if Buzz is able to bring in another couple of bigs this spring.

That’s the complicated answer. However, there’s a different answer that is a lot less complicated.

Ultimately the guys who play the hardest will start. If Clarke is the best fit at power forward among those five, then he’ll play power forward. If he’s the best fit at small forward, then that’s where he’ll play.

YouTube is a great resource. Last week I spent some time watching every Buzz Williams video that I could find, including videos of him running practices at Marquette. The #1 message to his team in one of the videos that I watched was that the five hardest playing guys would be the starters. His philosophy hasn’t changed since he left Marquette.

I’ll be able to answer this question better after the spring signing period and at the conclusion of the spring semester at Virginia Tech. At that point, we’ll know exactly who is going to be on the team next year.

Buzz Williams
Buzz Williams

2) bourbonstreet: What do we know about Buzz Williams that we did not know back in September?

CC: I can’t presume to speak for everyone. As a guy whose job it is to sit around and research Tech’s coaches on a daily basis, I don’t think I’ve seen anything that really surprised me personally. I don’t say that to make it sound like I automatically know more than everybody else. I say that because I’ve spent time reading every Buzz Williams article I could get my hands on and watching every YouTube video available.

Before September, we knew that Buzz Williams pushed players to their limits. We knew his boot camp was hell. We knew he had player turnover at Marquette. We knew he was a strange person (as he himself will admit). We knew he would do funny things on the sideline. All that stuff was common knowledge well before he coached his first game at Virginia Tech. He certainly didn’t throw me any curveballs.

While it didn’t surprise me, perhaps the thing that was unknown the most about Buzz was his X’s and O’s, particularly in the halfcourt offense. I don’t remember 1980’s Tech basketball, so I can actually say that I can’t recall ever seeing a Tech team that was fun to watch offensively. The offense that Bill Foster and Bobby Hussey ran made Tony Bennett’s look exciting. Seth’s was depended on the guards getting penetration rather than ball movement and crisp passing. Stokes and JJ? Well, we won’t go there, unless you want to talk about turnovers.

Buzz is absolutely the best offensive coach I have personally seen at Virginia Tech. We actually run set plays, the ball movement was pretty good considering our personnel, and we weren’t terrible with turnovers despite playing at a fairly high pace at times. Our biggest issues were that our point guard is probably better suited to playing a backup role in the ACC, and we didn’t have any quality big men. Besides that, everybody else was a freshman.

I think most of you agree about the X’s and O’s, and also that inbounds plays out of timeouts were very good. However, we shouldn’t be surprised by that. Marquette finished in the top 10 in offensive efficiency once, and in the top 15 another time. They also had a top 35 finish, and only one of Buzz’s teams finished outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency (remember, there are 351 teams in college basketball, so you can be #150 in a basketball ranking and still not be terrible).

I believe that once Buzz gets some players with experience and some upgraded post talent, we’re going to be fun to watch offensively. That would be a welcome change of pace, wouldn’t it?

Wyatt Teller
Wyatt Teller

3) uvabasher: What will our starting OL look like next year and what do you hope it looks like? Also, would like you to address the development of players with Hokie parents, like Kyle Chung and Alston Smith?

CC: As I’ve noted before, in a perfect world this would be my ideal starting offensive line…

LT: Jonathan McLaughlin (Jr.)
LG: Wyatt Teller (r-So.)
C: Eric Gallo (So.)
RG: Braxton Pfaff (r-Fr.)
RT: Augie Conte (r-Jr.)

It’s not a perfect world, though. If the Hokies can’t find anybody who can play the right guard position effectively, they will have to put Augie Conte there. I’m not sure he has the body bend to block effectively on the inside, but if he’s our best option then Stacy Searels won’t have much of a choice.

The other options at right guard are Alston Smith (r-Jr.) and Billy Ray Mitchell (r-Fr.). Neither one of those guys is ideal. Smith got blown off the ball by a very soft UNC defense when he actually got reps last year, and Mitchell isn’t quite as developed as a guy like Braxton Pfaff. Tech could also play Wade Hansen at right guard, but I don’t think he’s suited for that position.

I really don’t know how it’s going to shake out. Even if my “ideal” starting lineup actually happens, that lineup will feature a true sophomore at center and a r-freshman at right guard. There are going to be issues with the offensive line again most likely, no matter what that starting lineup turns out to be. It was neglected for too long, and unfortunately it takes years to rebuild an offensive line. We’re finding that out the hard way.

With regards to Kyle Chung (r-So.) and Alston Smith, those are two totally different stories. Chung is playing center, and he has had two shoulder procedures since his arrival at Virginia Tech. It’s impossible to get a scouting report on him because he has been hurt all the time. He’ll have a chance to factor into the two-deep this year once he recovers from his injury, but he absolutely must stay healthy from here on out.

This is a huge spring for Alston Smith. There is a wide open starting spot at right guard, and as a r-junior he should be one of the front-runners for the job. As I noted above, I’m not sure how physical and strong he is. If it doesn’t work out for Smith this spring, then there’s a very good chance that it never will.


4) JRHokie: When do you think Coach Beamer will give a conference interview or a video interview?

CC: As we all know, Frank has been out of action since December because of his throat surgery. The surgery was complicated enough that he lost his powers of speech and has been working with a speech therapist. The last word we got was that he was progressing, but still had a little ways to go. The good news is that he has finally been able to resume most of his recruiting duties, particularly when a prospect is on campus.

As to when he’ll do his first interview with the media? That’s an easy answer. Virginia Tech sent us the spring practice schedule last week, and it included this nugget:

“Coach Beamer will hold a joint interview session after the first practice for everyone.”

Therefore, I can accurately tell you that Frank’s first public appearance and interview will come on Tuesday, March 24 at approximately 5:30-5:45pm.

Demitri Knowles
Demitri Knowles

5) vtox1: Who ends up as the third receiver after Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford, if you include Bucky Hodges as a tight end, after all is said and done?

CC: Does Kalvin Cline count? Because right now I would say Virginia Tech’s top five receiving targets are (in no particularly order) Phillips, Ford, Hodges, Ryan Malleck and Kalvin Cline. Loeffler is going to line up his tight ends all over the field this season.

Out of all the others on the roster, my guess right now would be Demitri Knowles. I think the coaching staff will try to put him in positions to succeed this spring, because they’ll be wanting to build his confidence back up after a very tough 2014 season.

Why would I guess Knowles? It’s quite simple. Let’s compare his career catches with the other candidates:

Demitri Knowles (r-Sr.): 67
Deon Newsome (r-So.): 7 (for only 19 yards)
Kevin Asante (r-Sr.): 2
Charley Meyer (r-Jr.): 1
Carlis Parker (Jr.): 0
Jaylen Bradshaw (r-Fr.): 0
Kendrick Holland (r-Fr.): 0

There’s simply no comparison. If Deon Newsome takes a step forward, I can see him challenging for that slot role. I’m very intrigued by Jaylen Bradshaw as well. However, right now I’m going with Demitri Knowles.


16 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I guess I have to ask why Buzz brought in Henry and LeDay if they can’t play? Or cant be more than “spot players”?

  2. Do we really need a slot receiver with 3 hybrid TE’s? We already know SL is working with 3 and 4 TE sets…why even bother with identifying a slot receiver? Sure, it’s a nice weapon bur if Bucky & Brewer van get their timing down…

  3. Note that in an interview with the Roanoke Times yesterday, Scot Loeffler indicated that Conte will stay at Right Guard.

    ” I think [Wyatt] Teller will stay at the guard position. I think Augie [Conte] will stay at the guard position. You’ve got Jon McLaughlin and we’ve got to fill in for the center and a left or right tackle based on what we want to do with Jon”

    “.. we’re going to try to keep Augie inside if we can.”

    1. Injured then surpassed by freshmen. Not surprising for a walk-on. (the getting passed by scholarship freshmen part that is)

  4. I think Bradshaw and Holland impress this spring. Holland has some height but it’s ye tto be seen if he can be a deep threat.

  5. I don’t see Knowles contributing much ever again..there was a reason why he didn’t see much time last year when healthy

    1. You could argue that reason was the paperboy. Without Willie that slot role is wide open and Knowles has by far the most experience of the guys fighting for that spot. If Bradshaw can’t take the position I’m thinking Knowles wins it.

    2. I agree.
      In fact I would not be surprised if he’s not on the team this fall. Same with Asante. They are both r-JR’s who should be graduating this May if they haven’t already.

      As for Bradshaw & Holland… Holland especially brings something to the table that none of our other WR do. Size. Carlis Parker also has great size & athleticism but he hasn’t shown much in the way of actual WR skills.

      I think you see Holland out at Split End and Phillips moving inside to slot in 3-WR sets. Or maybe Bradshaw coming in at slot. The 3rd legit candidate being Deon Newsome if he can continue to do develop as a WR beyond taking hand-offs on the jet sweep. (typically the jet sweep motion man comes from the slot)

      But generally I predict a lot of 2-WR, 2-TE sets.
      Ford, Phillips, Hodges, Malleck/Cline.

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