Throughout the offseason, Campus Union will talk with a few team experts to go over some of the most intriguing storylines and questions in advance of the 2014 campaign.
There’s no telling how much longer Frank Beamer will keep coaching Virginia Tech, but after bringing in one of his best recruiting classes (on paper) in recent memory -- No. 24 according to Rivals, with eight four-star prospects -- chances are that he’ll stick around for at least a little while to see how well the new crop of Hokies perform. Virginia Tech, which brought new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler into the fold last fall, suffered its share of injuries in 2013. The disarray contributed to the Hokies' 8-5 (5-3 ACC) record, which allowed Duke to grab the Coastal Division title.
SI caught up with Joe (@thekeyplay) from The Key Play to review the 2013 season, to discuss which reinforcements in '14 should be able to help Tech sooner rather than later and to preview the quarterback competition that's brewing now that Logan Thomas has finally moved on.
SI: Injuries looked like they would derail Virginia Tech's 2013 season early on, but the Hokies bounced back and were actually in a position to contend for the Coastal Division before Duke ended up with its surprise ACC championship game appearance. What did you see out of the team overall? Were expectations were tempered due to the injuries? Were you looking for more?
The Key Play: I thought the defense played at a championship level before cornerback Kyle Fuller was relegated to the sidelines with injuries. Aside from punting, special teams was nothing to write home about.
The offense was a work in progress but showed signs of improvement over the course of the season. Starting tight end Ryan Malleck suffered a left labrum tear before the season. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has put it on the record a couple of times that Malleck was one of two players (the other being Logan Thomas) the Hokies could not afford to lose on offense. He was a big part of what they wanted to do, not only in the passing game, but the running game, too.
Given how well the defense played, I thought it was reasonable for them to make it to Charlotte. Losing 13-10 against Duke at home, in a game where Tech intercepted 4 passes and held the Blue Devils to 198 yards, was a backbreaker.
SI: Where did you fall in your opinion of Logan Thomas? You've had a couple months to reflect on his career. How will the Hokies replace him? Does Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer have the inside track?
TKP: I think Logan Thomas was one of the most mismanaged talents to play at Virginia Tech. He has such a unique combination of arm strength, size, speed and power. I think the coaching he received his first couple of seasons failed him. In an alternate universe his career turns out much different if he had Loeffler molding him his entire career. Thomas made his fair share of mental mistakes, and Tech has been trying to restock the cupboard on offense the last two seasons.
It’s cliche, but Virginia Tech won't try to replace him. For the last couple of years it's been an offense built entirely around Thomas. I don't know the numbers off the top of my head, but look at the percentage of total offense he accounted for in 2012 and '13 [Thomas accounted for 71.5 percent of the Hokies' total offense in '12, and 70.2 percent in '13].
Going forward, I think Tech will put a QB under center that balances, not anchors, the offense. I don't think any QB has the inside track. Brewer along with the three 2014 signees seemed to have all been told the same thing: They'll have a chance to come in and compete, and may the best man win.
SI: Speaking of the 2014 signees, what's the makeup of the class as a whole? On the surface, as you'd expect from the Hokies, it looks like it's heavy on athletes and defensive talent. Are there any candidates who can contribute right away?
TKP: By the recruiting service rankings, it might be the best class Tech's signed on paper. They addressed almost every need they had but floundered a bit along the defensive line. Tech was hoping to sign defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (who probably would have been in the two-deep on day one), but he ultimately went to Florida State.
There's a plethora of offensive talent. Running back Marshawn Williams enrolled early and probably won't redshirt. Another four-star running back, Shai McKenzie, also enrolled early, but he's recovering from an ACL tear. He could be a special player. Holland Fisher, a kid Alabama wanted a year ago, prepped a year and signed in February. He's a versatile prospect that has the skills to play rover, free safety or maybe even whip linebacker.
Given Tech's lack of depth at defensive tackle, Ricky Walker will probably see the field early. I'm most excited about the wide receivers. Isaiah Ford (Tech flipped him from Louisville) and Cameron Phillips are two highly regarded guys that could come in and push for playing time with a good August camp.
And I'd be remiss if I didn't add it was nice to sign four offensive linemen who played on the line in high school. Tech has had some success moving tight ends inside (Duane Brown), but there were some busts too. Jeff Grimes left the offensive line in a much better place than he found it.
SI: You mentioned balance offensively as a main goal heading into next season. Is there hope that will happen? Were Hokies fans pleased with Loeffler overall in year one despite what seemed to be real struggles to move the football last year?
TKP: I'm hopeful it'll happen. Four out of five starting O-linemen return, and there's talent on the roster (Wyatt Teller, Alston Smith) that will try to take away starting jobs. Ryan Malleck should be healthy. True freshman tight end Kalvin Cline, who is poised to become a big time contributor on offense, gained a ton of experience as a blocker. Running back Trey Edmunds' leg (broken left tibia) might be a question mark, but only because he hasn't carried the ball with contact. I have only read that his rehab is progressing well. Marshawn Williams is a promising young tailback, and J.C. Coleman ran hard against Virginia.
Loeffler doesn't have Thomas to lean on, and that's a good thing. Given the talent returning and the new players coming in, Tech should be able to run the ball more effectively. Breaking in a new quarterback is never easy, but [whoever it is will] have the luxury of more talent around him.
The fans who understood that change doesn't happen overnight were probably more accepting of the offensive shortcomings last year. I think Loeffler did the best he could with the talent on the roster, and for the most part he did a really good job coming up with some creative game plans.
SI: What's the ceiling for the Hokies in 2014? Is winning the Coastal Division a realistic goal, or is Virginia Tech falling behind a bit in the ACC?
TKP: Unfortunately it's going to be tough for Tech to win a division with FSU, Clemson, and ... oh, they're on the other side? Being in the Coastal, the Hokies ended up with an extremely manageable schedule. At UNC and at Pitt are their toughest road games, and there's a bye in between them. Tech gets Western Michigan at home before the Tar Heels. (I think North Carolina will be sneaky good this year.) The Hokies host Georgia Tech, Miami and Boston College. They're on the road against Duke, but they get a bye before going to Durham.
Winning the Coastal is a very tangible goal. Right now everyone in the ACC is lagging behind FSU. Clemson will come back to the pack this year, and it should be a rather competitive conference.MANDEL: Has ACC finally earned more respect?; more College Football Mailbag