Virginia Tech may not have been the typical Virginia Tech team in 2011, but the previous year should be a good learning curve for the Hokies as they move in to 2012. Before the Hokies put a cap on their spring schedule with their spring game on Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN3.com), here are five things we are paying attention to for the Fighting Frank Beamers.
1. Who will Logan Thomas be handing off to?
We’ll get to the Hokies quarterback in a minute, but the more pressing concern this spring has to be the running back situation. Virginia Tech loses David Wilson, who set a Virginia Tech school record 1,709 yards last fall. That is a lot of yardage to replace, and when the leading backs returning in 2012 combined for under 60 yards on the ground last year, the running back position deserves special attention.
Frank Beamer will hope to see Daniel Dyer and Michael Holmes emerge as a dependable running back, and given Virginia Tech’s history the running back position may be on fine shape. Thomas is more than capable of tucking the football and taking off when he needs to, but if Virginia Tech is going to make a run in the ACC then they will need to have an option to hand off to as well.
2. Logan Thomas needs to develop chemistry
With Logan Thomas coming off a season in which he passed for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns, what exactly is expected of Thomas in 2012? The Hokies have one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, but Virginia Tech loses some talent at wide receiver. How much of an impact will that have on Thomas? That should be something that we see develop a bit in the spring game, as we get a glimpse to who will be Thomas’ go-to receivers in certain situations. Like the running back position, Virginia Tech loses top receivers in 2012, which puts D.J. Coles and Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts. The experience may not be there with this trio of receivers, but the skill set should be more than enough to keep Virginia Tech’s offense moving forward without stalling too much along the way.
“I got great receivers in every position,” Thomas said following Thursday’s practice, as quoted by Gary Cope, one of my colleagues at Examiner.com. “I got six of them that can go make plays and just hopefully I’ll be able to hang in there and throw them the ball and let them make plays.”
With new players needing to fill holes at running back and receiver, this should put a little bit more pressure on Thomas early on, but it will be important for the Hokies to ensure Thomas doesn’t have to do everything in order to have a successful season.
3. Finally, what about the offensive line?
We may as well just wrap up talking about the offense by touching on the offensive line, which returns just one starter from a season ago with center Andrew Miller. With one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC and a knack for being able to run the football, it can not be stressed enough just how much this offensive line unit needs to find a rhythm as quickly as possible. Only one school allowed fewer sacks than Virginia Tech in the ACC, which sets the bar fairly high for the new blend of linemen in 2012. Looking to provide that stability includes a transfer from Georgia, Brent Benedict, and senior Nick Becton and junior David Wang. If these players can put together a cohesive unit, then Virginia Tech’s offense should be in fairly good shape in the fall.
4. Who steps up on defense?
When you talk about Virginia Tech football odds are you are going to mention defense. Last season the defense allowed 17.6 points per game, the second highest average since 2003 but down from 2010. When we last saw the Hokies they were unable to take advantage of a strong performance against Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, allowing Denard Robinson and the Wolverines to accumulate just 184 yards of offense and allowing 3.5 yards per play. This year the Hokies don’t lose a lot on defense in terms of numbers, but there figures to be some shuffling around to find the best combination when on defense.
Having Bruce Taylor back at linebacker is a big plus. So is the return of all-ACC corner Kyle Fuller and defensive end James Gayle. The latent is there for the Hokies, but if the offense does struggle to find their footing in the fall, the defense will be taxed to slow down some tricky offenses, including Clemson and Florida State.