By Norm Wood
Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
May 6, 2008
BLACKSBURG As he untied his cleats and unfastened the straps on his shoulder pads after Virginia Tech's annual spring game, Victor Harris looked as if he hardly had broken a sweat. Of course, he didn't get to scratch the surface in the spring game on any of the new responsibilities he'll put on display in the fall.
With a roster full of teammates who also will have to make massive transitions, Harris knows how critical his leadership and preparedness will be this season. He'll be expected to build upon a first-team All-ACC junior season at cornerback, but he'll also increase his roles on kick and punt return duties, as well as add much-anticipated wide receiver responsibilities for the first time.
In truth, he's one of the few old hands on this Tech squad, but he's also one of the most promising "new guys" on a team that will be inexperienced at wide receiver, running back, defensive tackle, linebacker and kicker.
"My primary position is cornerback, and we ain't going to get that mixed up," said Harris, a 6-0, 192-pound native of Highland Springs, Va., who led Tech last season with 16 pass breakups, including five interceptions. "If coach needs me to go in there and get a few yards, I'm going to do it."
Harris and the rest of the receivers still don't have a really good idea of whom they'll be catching passes from next season. Quarterbacks Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor finished the spring in a dead heat for the starting role.
There's at least one intriguing scenario that was rumored to be in consideration at the end of spring practice. What if Taylor, who would be a sophomore next season, was redshirted and Glennon, who is headed into his senior season, got the starting job? No more two-quarterback system, as Tech used in its last five games last season, going 4-1.
Taylor would continue to practice as if he were going to play, but if Glennon never faltered, Taylor wouldn't get in a game and would have an extra season to get bigger and improve his reads. Glennon did the same thing in his second season at Tech.
Tech coach Frank Beamer isn't letting much out of the bag just yet regarding his quarterbacks.
"I think we keep on going right now," Beamer said. "I think this (duel for the starting quarterback job) needs to go into the fall, and we'll make a decision at some point based on what's best for our football team."
In truth, redshirting Taylor is a farfetched idea. He provides a unique element on this team: elite scrambling ability, coupled with improving passing precision.
Both Glennon and Taylor looked comfortable making decisions in the spring behind an offensive line with more depth. Though center Ryan Shuman sat out the spring while recovering from knee surgery, Tech still will feature four returning starters on the line, including Shuman, left tackle Ed Wang (who moved from right tackle), left guard Nick Marshman and right guard Sergio Render. Redshirt freshman Blake DeChristopher had a solid spring at right tackle.
If Tech's line continues to progress, there's a decent chance that the running game could see improvements next season, even with the dismissal of Branden Ore and some unfortunate spring injuries.
Junior Jahre Cheeseman broke his left fibula before the start of the last week of spring practice, and junior Kenny Lewis had shoulder surgery in the last week of practice. Cheeseman should be able to participate in all summer drills, which means he'll likely go into preseason practice in a competition with redshirt freshman Darren Evans for the starting tailback job.
Neither Cheeseman nor Evans made a big enough impression in the spring that Lewis or incoming freshman Ryan Williams or redshirt freshman Josh Oglesby can be completely ruled out for the starting job.
The backfield depth will give Tech an opportunity to increase its 134 yards rushing per game of last season, which was only good enough to put the Hokies 82nd in the nation in rushing offense, an uncharacteristic lack of production.
Some receivers need to emerge, or opposing teams simply will be able to load up to stop the run. Junior walk-on Brandon Dillard was Tech's most exciting player in the spring. He'll probably man one of the starting positions, while converted quarterbacks Ike Whitaker and Cory Holt will compete with Harris, redshirt freshmen Danny Coale, Ervin Garner and Patrick Terry, and as many as seven incoming freshmen.
Junior Greg Boone and redshirt freshman Andrew Lanier also showed that they're ready to provide some assistance at tight end. Both players could challenge junior Sam Wheeler, who sat out the spring with a torn ACL, for playing time.
The receiver situation easily would be Tech's most unstable position if the starting kicker job weren't so uncertain. Beamer seemed excited about senior Dustin Keys at the end of the spring, but Keys didn't start kicking with consistency until the last week of spring practice. Punter Brett Bowden looked very strong in the spring.
Some promising front seven defensive players stepped up. Tackles John Graves and Cordarrow Thompson were impressive, while senior linebackers Purnell Sturdivant and Brett Warren look as if they'll be tough to keep off the field as starters. Thompson lost 35 pounds in the offseason.
Defensive depth is another story. Losing tackles Barry Booker and Carlton Powell, end Chris Ellis, linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall, free safety D.J. Parker and cornerback Brandon Flowers means that the core of Tech's defense, which finished third in the nation last season in scoring defense (16.1 points per game) and fourth in total defense (297 yards per game), is gone.
Ends Jason Worilds and Orion Martin, one of only four returning starters on defense, likely will join Graves and Thompson on the line, while senior Cam Martin, another returning starter, will join Sturdivant and Warren at the linebacker spots. Behind those guys, nothing is really certain, especially at tackle.
Despite the losses of Parker and Flowers, the secondary actually might be a strength for Tech if Harris and junior Kam Chancellor continue to progress.
Chancellor moved from strong safety to free safety in the spring and didn't miss a beat. Junior Dorian Porch appeared to edge out sophomore Davon Morgan at the strong safety spot, while sophomore Rashad Carmichael and redshirt freshman Cris Hill will continue to fight for the starting cornerback job opposite Harris.
While Harris is destined to spend the rest of the spring waiting to see which magazine covers he winds up on, defensive coordinator Bud Foster knows the most important cogs on his rebuilt defense will be the ones that need the most attention. There's no telling if the rest of Foster's defense can play at Harris' level. It's an unfamiliar spot for Foster, who seldom has had to deal with this much player turnover.
"We've got to strengthen ourselves just like a baseball team," said Foster, regarding Tech's need to develop some depth in the middle of the field. "Kind of what we're looking for is to make sure people can't run on us and then work from the inside out."
SPRING 2008 OVERVIEW
LB Xavier Adibi, DT Barry Booker, LT Duane Brown, PK Jud Dunlevy, DE Chris Ellis, CB Brandon Flowers (early NFL), LB Vince Hall, WR Justin Harper, WR Josh Morgan, RB Branden Ore (dismissed), FS D.J. Parker, DT Carlton Powell, WR/PR Eddie Royal
PK Jared Develli, LB Corey Gordon, WR Josh Hyman, DS Scott King, DS Bart McMillin, DT Kory Robertson, FB Carlton Weatherford
2008 Returning Starters^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. Class
QB Sean Glennon 6-4/223 Sr.
TE Sam Wheeler 6-3/267 Jr.
LT Ed Wang 6-5/312 Jr.
LG Nick Marshman 6-5/357 Sr.
OC Ryan Shuman 6-3/314 *Sr.
RG Sergio Render 6-4/324 Jr.
DE Orion Martin 6-3/252 Sr.
LB Cam Martin 6-1/204 Jr.
FS Kam Chancellor 6-3/225 Jr.
CB Victor Harris 6-0/192 Sr.
Special Teams (1)
P Brent Bowden 6-3/206 *Jr.
- -has utilized redshirt season
^ -six/more 2007 regular-season starts
Other Tested Returnees
TE Greg Boone, RB Jahre Cheeseman, OT Richard Graham, OG Brandon Holland, FB Kenny Jefferson, RB Kenny Lewis, TE Andre Smith, QB Tyrod Taylor, OC Beau Warren
DE Nekos Brown, DT John Graves, LB Cody Grimm, FS Davon Morgan, RV Dorian Porch, LB Purnell Sturdivant, CB Stephan Virgil, LB Brett Warren, DE Jason Worilds
Year BE/ACC Overall Postseason
1998 5-2 (2) 9-3 Music City Bowl (W)
1999 7-0 (1) 11-1 Sugar Bowl (L)
2000 6-1 (2) 11-1 Gator Bowl (W)
2001 4-3 (3) 8-4 Gator Bowl (L)
2002 3-4 (4) 10-4 San Francisco Bowl (W)
2003 4-3 (4) 8-5 Insight.com Bowl (W)
2004 7-1 (1) 10-3 Sugar Bowl (L)
2005 7-1 (1C) 11-2 Gator Bowl (W)
2006 6-2 (2C) 10-3 Chick-fil-A Bowl (L)
2007 7-1 (1C) 11-3 Orange Bowl (L)
ACC: 27-5 (.844)
Overall: 99-29 (.773)
Date Opponent 2007 Record
Aug. 30 East Carolina* 8-5 (6-2)
Sept. 6 Furman 6-5 (4-3)
Sept. 13 Georgia Tech 7-6 (4-4)
Sept. 20 at North Carolina 4-8 (3-5)
Sept. 27 at Nebraska 5-7 (2-6)
Oct. 4 Western Kentucky 7-5
Oct. 11 OPEN
Oct. 18 at Boston College 11-3 (6-2)
Oct. 25 at Florida State 7-6 (4-4)
Nov. 1 OPEN
Nov. 6 Maryland 6-7 (3-5)
Nov. 13 at Miami 5-7 (2-6)
Nov. 22 Duke 1-11 (0-8)
Nov. 29 Virginia 9-4 (6-2)
- in Charlotte
NOTE: Most game times still TBA.
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