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Solid 2014 Class Frees Up Hokies

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 10:45am
By: Virginia Tech Insider

BLACKSBURG – The effectiveness of any recruiting class can’t be fully judged for three-to-five years, but Virginia Tech has at least put itself in position to recruit with an eye for best overall talent as opposed to needs in the immediate future.

After next season, Tech will lose six scholarship offensive linemen, including at least three projected starters. Tech addressed that issue in the 2014 class by signing four offensive linemen.

Tech will also lose two scholarship wide receivers (one projected starter), two scholarship defensive tackles (at least one projected starter) and two scholarship safeties (both projected starters) after next season. The Hokies did what they had to do by signing four receivers, two defensive tackles and three or four players capable of playing safety in the 2014 class.

So, what does that mean for the 2015 class? Well, based on the progress of the aforementioned incoming freshmen that either play right away or work with the scout team, Tech might be able to look a little deeper into the future to predict needs.

As it stands right now (obviously not taking unforeseen attrition into account), among scholarship players Tech is slated to lose after the 2015 season, there are three linebackers, two running backs and two defensive ends.

Again, these positions may not develop into real immediate areas of need if multiple incoming players at each position show steady improvement right away, but perhaps Tech goes after a few top recruits at those positions in the ’15 and ’16 classes with a little more fervor as insurance policies.

Of course, Tech did sign four running backs, two linebackers and two defensive ends in the ’14 class, so those positions were far from ignored in the most recent recruiting cycle. Keep in mind we’re talking about possible down-the-road concerns at this point.

Incoming freshman running backs Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams could be in line for immediate playing time this coming season. If they do play, and play well, Tech’s coaches may deem it unnecessary to devote a lot of effort and resources in pursuing another running back recruit so soon.

Defensive ends Josh Sweat from Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va. and Clelin Ferrell from Benedictine School in Richmond, Va., and linebackers Jahvoni Simmons from Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach and Ricky DeBerry from St. Christopher’s School in Richmond are all priority elite recruits in the 2015 class for Tech.

With long-range needs at those positions, Tech may aim high in terms of defensive recruiting efforts for the 2015 class. After bringing in the receivers, running backs and three quarterbacks in the 2014 class, it wouldn’t be too stunning to see Tech turn the bulk of its attention to the other side of the ball in the 2015 class.

Will Johnson (And Changes) Stick Around?

Though it remains to be seen if Tech basketball coach James Johnson will get to continue building what he’s been working on with minimal positive results, he’s going to be faced with a philosophical crossroads if he does return.

After spending his first season as Tech’s coach – and nearly three-quarters of his second season – trying to implement his preferred style involving defense founded on man-to-man principles and an offense in constant fast-forward mode, Johnson has changed his approach.

Since late January, Tech has practiced with a 2-3 zone on defense and a slower pace on offense that emphasizes working the ball into the low post. Johnson debuted the changes in a game Feb. 8 at No. 25 Pittsburgh, which defeated Tech 62-57 in two overtimes.

It was a strategy move based on necessity – no backcourt depth because of injuries – and though consistent winning results haven’t come, signs of improvement have been apparent.

In Tech’s first four games (at Pittsburgh, against Miami, No. 14 Virginia and N.C. State) with the 2-3 zone and the less frenetic offensive pace, the Hokies went 1-3, but they gave up an average of 58.9 points per game – down from 69.7 points per game in their first 22 contests.

A slower work rate on the offensive end lends itself to fewer possessions, which provides an obvious explanation for why Tech’s point production dropped from 66.8 points per game in its first 22 contests to 56.5 points in the first four games after it changed its style. Yet, Tech started to get bigger contributions from some critical players after the changes were made.

Freshman point guard Devin Wilson was averaging 9.4 points and 4.7 assists per game through Tech’s first 26 games, including 12.3 points and 6.8 assists per game in the first four games of the zone/slowed-down offensive look. 

Freshman forward Trevor Thompson was putting up 4.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in Tech’s first 26 games, including 7.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in the first four post-strategy adjustment games.

Sophomore forward Joey van Zegeren may have benefited from the changes more than any Tech player on the offensive end. He was also already Tech’s best low post defender prior to the changes. He averaged 5.7 points and five rebounds per game in Tech’s first 26 contests, including nine points and 5.3 rebounds per game in the first four games in the Hokies’ new style.

Tech phases out underperforming seniors Jarell Eddie and Cadarian Raines after this season, and welcomes in guards Justin Bibbs and Jalen Hudson and small forward T.J. Lang next season along with the healthy return of guard Adam Smith (missed half the season with calf muscle and fibula injuries) and the key pieces of this season’s squad. So, the time could be right for a more permanent philosophical change.

Of course, the only person that can answer whether Johnson will be the overseer of where Tech goes from here is new athletic director Whit Babcock. He may have pressure from impatient boosters and alum to get some new blood in the big office in Tech’s basketball department, but Tech’s incremental improvement with new looks on either end of the floor could give Babcock something else to consider.