By Ryan O'Halloran
Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
April 25, 2005 BLACKSBURG Just call it the Marcus Vick Effect. On April 16, Blacksburg-area hotels were sold out, traffic on nearby Route 460 was backed up for two miles, and 34,000 Virginia Tech football fans flooded Lane Stadium for the Hokies' spring game. It was their first glimpse of Vick, the junior quarterback who was suspended last season. Last spring's attendance was 18,000, and expectations were minimal following late-season collapses in 2002 and '03. This year's attendance is a sign of the buzz for the 2005 Hokies, who come off a 10-3 ACC championship season and return 15 key contributors. They also welcome back the services of the ultra-talented yet relatively inexperienced Vick, whom coaches named the team's starting quarterback soon after the conclusion of spring drills. One national publication that visited Blacksburg during the spring floated the idea of ranking Tech No. 1 in the nation. A recent web search revealed that the Hokies are ranked as high as third and no lower than 10th. In 2004, Tech wasn't even ranked in the preseason. "I guess we'll try not to pay attention to it," All-ACC cornerback Jimmy Williams said. "But it's out there, and we all know it. We'd rather start out in the top 10 than not be ranked like we were last year." Senior leadership galvanized the Hokies last year after a 2-2 start. Tech won its final eight regular-season games to win the conference title and finished No. 10 nationally. Williams and fellow seniors Darryl Tapp, Jeff King and Cedric Humes have assumed the leadership duties to make sure the team-first attitude continues. "Last year's seniors gave us the blueprint," said Tapp, an All-ACC defensive end. "Now it's up to us to come out every day with intensity, emotion and leadership." Team unity is great, but the X factor for the Hokies is Vick. If his performance matches or exceeds that of ACC player of the year Bryan Randall, Tech might be favored to win every game. If Vick struggles after a two-year layoff, Tech's season will be a crapshoot. Following two brushes with the law in early 2004, Vick was suspended from school for the fall semester. After treating the spring as a chance to prove that the rust is off, his knowledge of the offense remains strong, and he's mature enough to lead a team, Vick clearly established himself as the favorite to start the opener Sept. 4 at N.C. State. Vick began the spring behind sophomore Sean Glennon and redshirt freshman Cory Holt. By the end of the spring, quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers said the competition wasn't even close. In three scrimmages, including the spring game, Vick was 31-of-53 passing for 406 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Glennon was 23-of-54 for 196 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. "I think the coaches expected this from me," Vick said. "I don't feel like I've lost a step. I know what's going on out there, and I feel I can manage the team." Vick showed flashes of his potential in 2003. He throws a solid long ball, makes good decisions and, like his famous brother Michael, can make plays with his feet. "He has a tremendous ability to escape and has an uncanny knack of throwing the ball in a really small space and from any body position," said Rogers, who coached Donovan McNabb at Syracuse. "I don't have a crystal ball, but I believe he has a chance to be a special player." The Hokies' offense averaged 30.7 points per game last year, but that was a misleading figure skewed by games of 63, 62 and 55. In six other contests, Tech failed to break 20 points. Besides the quarterback situation, the focus of offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring during the spring was the line. The only returning full-time starters are Will Montgomery, who moved from center to left guard, and left tackle Jimmy Martin. The favorites to start with Montgomery and Martin are center Danny McGrath, right guard Jason Murphy and right tackle Reggie Butler. Incoming freshmen Antonio North and Brandon Holland will get a look during preseason practice. "There's obviously some concern there," said Stinespring, who coaches the line. "We've been in an uphill battle since the 2001 season, getting replacements in there and getting the depth back to where it needs to be. We've had some injuries, and some guys just didn't come through." Running backs Humes and Mike Imoh return after combining for 1,325 yards and 11 touchdowns. They figure to split the work in 2005. Receiver Eddie Royal (28 catches, 470 yards) missed the spring after January leg surgery but is expected to be ready by August. Receiver Josh Hyman and King, a senior tight end, also will be favorite targets. Defensively, the Hokies have to replace three of their four starters in the secondary and veteran lineman Jim Davis. Sophomore D.J. Parker was moved from cornerback to free safety and is the frontrunner to replace Vincent Fuller. Sophomore Roland Minor, who had two interceptions against Georgia Tech last season, seems a lock to replace Eric Green at the corner opposite Williams. Aaron Rouse scored on an interception return in the spring game and will get the first shot at rover. Williams, who considered entering the NFL draft after leading the Hokies with five interceptions and 14 pass break-ups and earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2004, will anchor the secondary. "He understands what the expectations of the staff are of him and how we want him to conduct himself on and off the field," Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "He wanted to come back here and show guys what it takes." The front seven returns mostly intact. Tapp led the Hokies with 8.5 sacks last season and is part of an end rotation that also includes Chris Ellis, Nolan Burchette and Orion Martin. Ellis was dominant throughout the spring. Martin, a walk-on transfer from Norfolk State, had two sacks in the spring game. Senior Jonathan Lewis and sophomore Carlton Powell will enter the fall as the starting tackles, although Tapp could be moved inside on passing downs. Linebackers James Anderson (48 tackles) and Vince Hall (64 tackles) return as starters. They will be joined by sophomore Xavier Adibi (25 tackles), who sustained an arm injury in the 2004 season opener but returned to play in the final six games. Hall and Adibi are stars in the making. "They understand their position and the scheme a lot better and where they fit," Foster said. "They're highly motivated guys and that makes my job a lot easier." The special teams must replace punter Vinnie Burns, but Nic Schmitt performed well throughout the spring. Sophomore Brandon Pace (21-of-27 on field goals last year) returns as the placekicker. Royal returned punts and kickoffs last year, and Williams worked on punt returns during the spring. Coach Frank Beamer knows the Hokies have talent. Now it's about putting the pieces together. "We got a lot accomplished in the spring, but we understand and can't stress enough that we have a ways to go," Beamer said. "We have some good football players, but how we fit as a team and how we improve in the summer is a key, key issue for this team right now." Spring 2005 Overview
The PooP After 18 seasons in Blacksburg, Frank Beamer has an incredibly smooth-running operation, and now an ACC title after just one season in the league. The Hokies almost always have established stars at key positions, more big-time players on the way, very few gaping holes and an impressive amount of reliable depth. They also have an outstanding staff, a motivated fan base (35,000 at the spring game!), a low attrition rate and lots of hard-working, football-loving kids. Tech's last seven records 9-3, 11-1, 11-1, 8-4, 10-4, 8-5, 10-3 identify the program as a title contender in rare years, a reliable winner otherwise. The rock-solid formula in Blacksburg should work well again this fall, when the returning talent and the non-conference schedule (Ohio, at West Virginia, Marshall) leave another double-digit win total within reach.
Probable 2005 Starters
Coming On Strong Just eight months after entering the 2004 season with enormous question marks at tailback and wideout, the Hokies boast outstanding depth at both positions. Two seniors (Imoh, Cedric Humes) and two redshirt freshmen (George Bell, Branden Ore) form a wonderful top four at tailback, and the senior-less receiving corps offers plenty of size, speed, elusiveness, versatility and big-play capability. Rock-solid returning starters: RB Mike Imoh, WR Eddie Royal, TE Jeff King, OL Jimmy Martin, OL Will Montgomery, PK Brandon Pace, DE Darryl Tapp, DT Jonathan Lewis, DE Noland Burchette, LB Vince Hall, CB Jimmy Williams. Also looking good: LB Xavier Adibi, WR David Clowney, DE Chris Ellis, WR Justin Harper, RB Cedric Humes, DE Orion Martin, CB Roland Minor, RV Aaron Rouse, P Nic Schmitt, QB Marcus Vick.
Cause For Concern? One of the things that makes this program great is that it typically has fewer serious holes than anyone else. Nevertheless, breaking in three brand-new starters in the secondary where experience, communication and cohesion are vital to preventing big plays is almost never a seamless process. Also: fullback, offensive line depth, new quarterback, new punter, new deep snapper.
On The Sidelines The following players missed all or most of spring drills: DE Noland Burchette (triceps), OL Tripp Carroll (leg), FS Justin Hamilton (ankle), WR Eddie Royal (leg).
Spring Cleaning The following scholarship athletes left the program in the last 12 months with eligibility remaining: OL Andrew Fleck (medical), DT Carl Howard (transfer/Rutgers), TE Maurice Reevey (dismissed).