April 8, 2008
BLACKSBURG At first glance, there's something different about Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor this spring. Yes, there's a full crop of hair where there was none last fall, but that's not it. Something else was missing last fall, but it's not anymore.
It's the ripple and tone in his biceps, as if an extra layer of muscle has been surgically implanted under his skin. After all, it has been only a little more than three months since he was seen scrambling for his life in Tech's 24-21 Orange Bowl loss to Kansas.
Taylor achieved one of his goals in the offseason to get bigger. He said he has gained nearly 14 pounds to get up to about 225. He hopes the extra weight will make him more sturdy, so he can avoid injuries such as the ankle sprain that kept him out of two and a half games in his freshman season.
Oh, but there were other offseason goals. Tech's coaching staff has to decide whether it will use two quarterbacks again next season, or if it will entrust Taylor or senior Sean Glennon to carry the load. Taylor knows the best way to create some separation between himself and Glennon is to study more.
"Right now, I'm just trying to learn how to read defenses like the back of my hand," said Taylor, who completed 72 of 134 passes for 972 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions, while rushing for 429 yards and six touchdowns last season.
That sounds like the same thing he said last fall, which has to be a good sign. The learning process is still in effect, and Taylor is receptive.
If Taylor is speaking honestly, there has been very little discussion among Glennon, Taylor and Tech's coaching staff about using the two-quarterback rotation next season. Tech employed both Glennon and Taylor last fall in five games, compiling a 4-1 record in the process.
That's not to say Tech won't use it again next season. In truth, it actually appears as if Tech has prepared this spring to use the same approach next season, because Glennon and Taylor have split the reps at starting quarterback almost down to the exact number of snaps.
That's by design. Tech quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain, who still admits not being the biggest fan of the two-quarterback system (though his position on the approach has softened a bit after last season's success), planned to give Glennon and Taylor equal opportunity to play this spring.
"We're just going to let it play out," O'Cain said. "I told them that if it works out (with two QBs), that's great. If it doesn't work out, that's great. Every year is different. The individuals are different, and the folks around them are different. Last year, I almost felt like it united our team to a degree. I think everybody understood what we were trying to do. It didn't matter which QB was in there. ... Whether it'd work next season or not, I don't know."
Speaking of different folks around them, Glennon and Taylor may have gotten a preview of what to expect from their receiving corps in the fall. Senior Victor Harris, a first team All-ACC cornerback last season, spent the first half of spring practice working with the wide receivers. He moved back to cornerback for the second half of the spring.
Harris was at times inconsistent catching the ball, but he showed an aptitude for route-running and blocking downfield. There's no guarantee that Harris actually will see the field at receiver next season, but his mere presence this spring at the position is a further indictment of just how unprepared Tech was for the departures of seniors Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, Justin Harper and Josh Hyman.
Tech's top two receivers on the depth chart heading into the spring were converted quarterbacks Cory Holt and Ike Whitaker, who also is Tech's leading returning wide receiver after having just three catches for 17 yards last season.
At least one of Tech's seven incoming freshman receivers certainly will help with the depth at the position, but Harris might have to pull double duty just to provide another threat.
TAILBACK PICTURE STILL UNCLEAR
As spring practice comes to an end, it's becoming more apparent that redshirt freshman Darren Evans and junior Jahre Cheeseman are going to play prominent roles in Tech's backfield next season. Yet the exact roles Evans, Cheeseman, redshirt freshman Josh Oglesby and junior Kenny Lewis will play are still uncertain.
Though Evans and Cheeseman received extended work in Tech's first scrimmage of the spring, and the backs responded with more than 50 yards rushing each, it's hard to read too much into that. Tech's coaching staff may have wanted to get both players a little more contact than usual to see how the young backs responded.
If nothing else, Evans has shown the ability to run between the tackles and bounce outside (like former Tech tailback Branden Ore), and Cheeseman has displayed more elusiveness than any other back.
While Oglesby seems to be the No. 4 back out of the tailback group, Lewis has been steady. Of course, Lewis may have an advantage over the other three backs.
After spending three years as an outfielder in the Cincinnati Reds minor league system and going to spring training before coming to Tech, he already knows what it's like to have to fight for a starting job every day. Going through spring practice with the starting tailback job on the line isn't that much of a pressure situation for him.
"It's the same exact thing, except I don't have Ken Griffey sitting beside me," Lewis said. "It's some big shoes to fill, but it's a great group. (Running backs coach Billy Hite) always recruits guys that can do their thing. I mean, there's guys here (such as Evans) that ran for over 1,500 or 2,000 yards in high school. I can't do that unless I'm playing Madden '09' or something."
Cheeseman has picked up where he left off last season, when he entered in a reserve role in a few games and ripped off a few dazzling long runs. He included a 70-yard run as part of his six carries for 84 yards late in Virginia Tech's 27-3 win at Georgia Tech. Glennon said nobody is going to outwork Lewis, but Cheeseman's running style tends to grab more attention than the other backs.
"Kenny Lewis has always worked as hard as anybody I know, so if he's not ready, it's not because of a lack of effort or work," Glennon said. "Jahre Cheeseman is a guy that a lot of people it seems have been waiting to see get his chance. In practice, he's kind of made a few oohs' and aahs' in there. Everybody has kind of been like, When he gets his turn, let's see if he can do it out there.'"