October 10, 2006
BLACKSBURG -- Frank Beamer has a lot of pet phrases.
Virginia Tech's veteran football coach begins a lot of sentences with "absolutely" or "I'll say this," and those who have been around him for a while have learned to mimic the inflection to perfection.
He refers to opponents as "that (name of team) crowd" and talks about how they "fly around" out there. If one of his players is doing well, Beamer almost always will say, "I like what he's all about right now."
In recent weeks, a new phrase has cropped up on the list of Beamer-isms. "We are what we are," Beamer will say. What the heck does he mean?
Beamer has been at Virginia Tech for 20 seasons now, and his success has put him in the $2 million a year class. He's a good ol' country boy, and he plays that to its maximum value. Pity the fool who thinks that actually defines him. Beamer is sharp as a tack and, if pressed, he could tell you with great accuracy before the season what a given team's record will be when it's all done.
He knew in August that he was faced with an interesting season, and he knew the team's 4-0 start was basically nothing but fool's gold. A Tech team in a down year still is going to be better than most. This Tech team wasn't as good as that record made it look, and Beamer knew that.
They are what they are, but what they are isn't totally apparent yet. The next month will be considerably tougher than the first. In its next four games, Tech has Thursday night appearances at Boston College and against Clemson. It goes to Miami and has a non-league home game against Southern Mississippi.
Check back in a month, and this could be a different column, for better or for worse. It will be a very telling stretch for the Hokies, who face the very real possibility of going to Miami with a 5-3 record.
Here's one version of what the Hokies were through five games:
* A team with a rapidly improving quarterback.
Sophomore Sean Glennon is in his first year as the starter, and he's bright enough to know that many in Hokie Nation were hollering for redshirt freshman Ike Whitaker before Glennon took his first snap.
Oddly, it took a losing effort to turn a few heads. Though the Hokies lost to Georgia Tech, Glennon won a lot of converts with a 339-yard passing day that could have been considerably better had some very catchable passes actually been caught.
Glennon coughed it up twice against the Yellow Jackets after getting blindsided, with one of the fumbles leading to a touchdown. Despite considerable pressure all day, though, he showed some toughness and leadership.
The opinion here always has been that Glennon isn't necessarily a stopgap at quarterback, holding down the spot until Whitaker or current Tech commitment Tyrod Taylor passes him.
Glennon is a competitor. Pushing him out of the job before he's out of eligibility isn't going to be easy for anyone, and each week he's showing that might not be a bad thing.
* A team with an offensive line that needs to improve rapidly.
Tech knew before the season that this would be the biggest area of need, and that's turned out to be true. Including the tight ends, the Hokies had three new starters, two with little experience. The tight ends have been wildly inconsistent, both as blockers and receivers. Three of the drops against Georgia Tech came from the tight ends.
Sergio Render, the true freshman from Georgia who made enough of an impression to become the starting guard, hasn't played as well during the season as he showed in the preseason. A false-start penalty against Render early against Georgia Tech was a critical mistake. The party line is that he's improving, which may be the case, but it's still a trouble spot.
The real problem for the entire line is that there doesn't appear to be any viable alternatives this season. The Hokies' 2007 recruiting class includes a lot of well-regarded and highly ranked linemen. That's good news for the future but not so much for the present, since they're still playing in high school.
* A team with a very good but not perfect defense.
Georgia Tech seemed to sense early that there were a couple of spots it could go after, and it did.
Brandon Flowers, a sophomore cornerback in his first year as a starter, is off to an excellent start. Macho Harris, the other sophomore cornerback in his first year as a starter, is catching up after a slow start.
Senior outside linebacker Brenden Hill, another first-year starter, has had moments of brilliance. He returned an interception for a touchdown against UNC. He's in the offensive backfield a lot. He's also had moments where he's been a step behind. Hill has played a variety of positions during his career at Tech and can't be expected to have typical fifth-year knowledge at this one. The hope among the coaching staff is that his great moments will increase as the season goes along, and that the step-behind moments will decrease.
Free safety D.J. Parker is a lot like Hill. Parker started last season even with Justin Hamilton, before Hamilton eventually took over the position full-time. Parker's main competition this year, Cam Martin, missed time after hernia surgery and is just now getting back up to speed. Parker is the Hokies' only viable option right now at free safety, and they need him to be considerably more consistent than he has been to this point.
* A team that probably won't visit Jacksonville once, let alone twice, this year.
The Hokies played in the ACC title game and the Gator Bowl last season. This year's team is good enough to extend its bowl streak to 14 seasons, but with a final record in the 8-4 range, it could be one of the lesser bowls on the ACC's long list of offerings.
Beamer is right. The Hokies are what they are. That may prove to be a solid bowl team, with lots of room for improvement. Next year, unless there are massive early NFL defections, Tech can start thinking championships again.