BLACKSBURG – If Shane Beamer had his way, it would be off-limits to even look hard in Trey Edmunds’ direction in the days leading up to Virginia Tech’s season-opener Aug. 31 in Atlanta against No. 1 Alabama.
Not only does Edmunds possibly represent the future of Tech’s running game, but he’s also 100 percent healthy and ready to play. Hey, in Blacksburg these days, it’s the little things that count.
In what has been the biggest period of change in the last 20 years under Frank Beamer, it’s also been perhaps the most devastating offseason for Tech’s football program in terms of attrition and injuries.
“We need to put (Edmunds) in full body armor and a glass case when he’s just walking around campus and to the dorm and back or whatever,” said Shane Beamer exactly two weeks from kickoff against Alabama. “Obviously, he can’t get hurt. We’ve got to be very smart about how we use him.
“There’s no question when you … look at those names that were on that (spring depth chart) and look at it now, it’s completely blown up.”
Other than losing quarterback Logan Thomas, Tech’s preseason injury list looks like a who’s who of players the program could ill-afford to lose.
Possible starting running back J.C. Coleman has suffered two sprained ankles and, whilehe has said he expects to be healthy enough to play against Alabama, was at a self-diagnosed “60 percent” on Tuesday. Backup running back Tony Gregory is done for his career after a fourth ACL tear.
Projected starting outside linebacker Ronny Vandyke is out for the season with a right shoulder dislocation. Starting cornerback Antone Exum will miss at least the first month of the season while he continues to rehabilitate his injured right knee.
The injuries don’t include the preseason departures of cornerbacks Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes, defensive end Jarontay Jones, offensive tackles Adam Taraschke and Jake Goins and free safety Greg Jones – all of whom transferred, quit football or are sitting out for medical reasons. Then this week came the news that defensive tackle Corey Marshall, a key part of the Hokies’ interior line rotation, has taken a leave of absence from the team for “personal reasons.”
In the midst of a profound philosophical renaissance taking place on Tech’s offensive side of the ball after the hiring of coordinator Scot Loeffler, there were still serious personnel questions to be answered just days before having to play the nation’s best team.
While agreeing to go along with coveted freshman Wyatt Teller’s proposal to switch from defensive tackle to offensive tackle smacks of desperation from Tech’s coaching staff, it could also end up being a brilliant move.
Throughout the preseason, new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes hasn’t been able to get comfortable with his offensive tackles. It’s been a revolving door of experimentation, even though Loeffler refuses to call it a series of experiments.
Grimes has worked freshman Jonathan McLaughlin at left tackle. Grimes has looked at freshman Parker Osterloh and redshirt freshman Augie Conte at both tackle positions. Grimes has tried junior Mark Shuman at both tackle spots, before Shuman went down in the second week of the preseason with a torn lateral meniscus.
Though the 6-5, 282-pound Teller may not be truly ready to play offensive tackle at any point this season, he seems to fit the mold of what Grimes is looking for in his linemen – long-armed, athletic and quick.
Sure, a redshirt season could do wonders for Teller’s development, and he may wind up getting that year to incubate. On the other hand, just three days after moving Teller to offensive tackle, Frank Beamer didn’t sound like a coach interested in only watching his newly anointed tackle practice this coming season.
“I think we get him ready to play as soon as possible,” Beamer said.
Newcomer Fuller Shines
Teller could conceivably be the injection of life Tech has been looking for on the offensive side of the ball, but there’s more confidence from Tech’s coaching staff that it’s found the same kind of positive young influence on the defensive side. In the preseason, freshman Kendall Fuller has been everything he was advertised to be before even arriving in Blacksburg.
The bad news regarding Tech’s injuries wasted no time getting started this preseason, as the update regarding the status of Exum’s knee came on the first day of practice. Fuller, who worked strictly at nickel package outside linebacker for the first few days of practice, was quickly moved to first team cornerback to fill in for Exum.
“To be able to tell a kid once, maybe twice, certain things, and for him to be able to grasp it as a true freshman, that’s phenomenally amazing,” Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said. “Now, he does have his brothers, Kyle and Vinnie, who’ve played in the system, so he does have an advantage, but usually, a kid is going to mess up a lot more than what he’s messing up. That’s been the most impressive thing about him.”
That’s the good news, but there are no such saviors in the backfield or at outside linebacker for Tech.
When Darren Evans went down with a torn ACL in the 2009 preseason, redshirt freshman Ryan Williams was waiting in the wings. Of course, all Williams did was run for a then-school single-season record 1,655 yards in ’09.
Though Coleman’s injuries obviously aren’t anywhere near as devastating as Evans’ knee injury, it does look like Edmunds could have to shoulder the load in the backfield in his first college game against the best team the college game has to offer. Edmunds has shown a lot of promise, but he hasn’t displayed Williams’ level of ability.
At outside linebacker, defensive coordinator Bud Foster is trying to make do with walk-ons Josh Trimble and Derek DiNardo, which speaks volumes about the state of Tech’s recruiting at the linebacker positions.
Good outside linebackers certainly don’t grow on trees, but it’s hard to imagine Tech could be in a position where it wouldn’t have a capable scholarship second team player to at least work at the spot.
It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Tech employ its nickel defense a lot this season (at least until Exum can get back on the field), which means Fuller and fellow promising freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson will be in the spotlight … which also means there’s the potential for things to get interesting for Foster’s unit.