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Virginia Tech Hokies"/>
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Virginia Tech Hokies
2009 Record: 10-3 (6-2 in ACC)
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Ryan Williams :: Lee Coleman/Icon SMI
Boise State (Landover, Md.)
at Boston College
at NC State
at North Carolina
at Georgia Tech
at East Carolina
Tennessee (Chick-fil-A Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ryan Williams, RB: He ranked fifth nationally with 127.3 rushing yards per game as a freshman last season.
Tyrod Taylor, QB: The third-year starter is coming off a season in which he proved to be a capable passer.
Rashad Carmichael, CB: The big-play corner could bring composure to a young defense.
Ed Wang, LT: The key role of protecting Taylor will have to be filled by a youngster.
Cody Grimm, OLB: The playmaker forced seven fumbles last season.
Jason Worilds, DE: Career numbers: 34 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, 67 QB hurries.
6: The Hokies have finished the past six seasons ranked in at least the top 12 nationally in both total and scoring defense. They were 12th in total defense and ninth in scoring defense last season.
Once a cause for concern in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech's offense improved last season. The Hokies ranked 50th nationally with 392.1 yards per game, their most since 2003. They had 28 passes of 25 yards or longer and 29 runs of 20 yards or longer, compared to 19 such passes and 21 such runs in 2008, when they played 14 games, one more than they played last season.
Tech fans have much to like about the offense, which returns every starter except left guard, left tackle, tight end and fullback, a rarely used position.
Senior Tyrod Taylor is back for his third season as the starting quarterback. His top three receivers -- Jarrett Boykin, Dyrell Roberts and Danny Coale -- are all juniors. And sophomore Ryan Williams is coming off a season in which he broke the school rushing record.
Experienced backups Greg Nosal and Andre Smith step in at left guard and tight end, respectively, leaving sophomore left tackle Nick Becton as the biggest question.
One day near the end of spring practices, defensive line coach Charley Wiles' voice sounded as though he had been gargling rock salt. That's what a spring's worth of loudly coaching young players will do to you. "We've got a long way to go," Wiles said.
He lost three of his four starting linemen and his top backup tackle. He feels OK about his new ends, senior Steven Friday and junior Chris Drager. But end Jason Worilds' early departure for the NFL left Wiles searching for depth this spring. At tackle, third-year starter John Graves is one of the defense's senior leaders. Snaps at the other tackle spot figure to be split between junior Kwamaine Battle and sophomore Antoine Hopkins.
The defense lost five other starters in addition to the linemen. Perhaps the toughest to replace will be Cody Grimm at outside linebacker. Competition between sophomores Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (No. 1 coming out of spring) and Alonzo Tweedy figure to continue through August. Neither saw significant action last season.
Senior cornerback Rashad Carmichael led the Hokies with six interceptions in 2009 and could be poised for a breakout season.
Senior Brian Saunders replaces Brent Bowden at punter. The kicking situation was less certain in the spring. Fifth-year senior Chris Hazley emerged atop the depth chart, beating out junior Justin Myer, who handled kickoffs as a freshman and sophomore. This is the fourth consecutive season Tech has had a new kicker. The previous three also were fifth-year seniors.
Tech didn't play for the ACC Championship last season but did beat Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to earn its sixth consecutive 10-win season. To build on that, the Hokies must plug the holes on defense. It hasn't been that long since coordinator Bud Foster needed to replace this kind of talent; he lost seven starters after the 2007 season. But he has said this might be a bigger rebuilding job.
Might this mean that Tech's offense has to carry the load early while the defense finds its identity? Time was, that would have been an outlandish thought in Blacksburg. Now, it could be coach Frank Beamer's reality.