Virginia Tech is doing its best to navigate through a critical, unexpected change on its coaching staff that could result in seismic adjustments to its 2014 recruiting class if it can't do some last minute damage control.
Tech has already lost one recruit in the wake of offensive line coach Jeff Grimes' departure to Louisiana State, but the Hokies are trying to keep that number of departing recruits from ballooning.
Brady Taylor, a 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle from Columbus, Ohio, reneged on a commitment he made last July to Tech, and committed Jan. 20 to Ohio State. Though Grimes getting the job in mid-January at LSU certainly played a role in Taylor changing his mind, it's fair to say Taylor was already considering his options long before Grimes left Blacksburg.
Taylor grew up an Ohio State fan. When he finally got a scholarship offer in the first week in January from Ohio State, Taylor wasted no time scheduling an official visit for two weeks later. He committed to Ohio State immediately after the official visit to the campus.
While Taylor was arguably the best of Tech's offensive line commitments in the 2014 class, Tech is still trying to keep its four remaining offensive line pledges in the fold - all of whom, like Taylor, were recruited primarily by Grimes.
Colt Pettit, a 6-4, 250-pound senior from Deshler, Ohio, affirmed his commitment to Tech via Twitter within a day of Grimes leaving for LSU. At one point, Pettit was also being pursued with offers from Illinois, Purdue, Illinois, Ball State, Miami (Ohio), Marshall, Kent State, Akron, Ohio, Bowling Green, Toledo, Western Michigan and others.
Billy Ray Mitchell, a 6-3, 290-pound senior from Paramus, N.J., was scheduled to welcome Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler for an in-home visit just days after Grimes took the LSU job. Mitchell's offer sheet is more impressive than Pettit's, with scholarships from Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, North Carolina State, Buffalo, Tulane, Southern Mississippi, Central Michigan, Akron and Miami (Ohio).
Eric Gallo, a 6-2, 275-pound center from Holland, Pa., has offers from Temple, Buffalo, Villanova and Massachusetts. Tyrell Smith, a 6-3, 260-pound offensive tackle from Ramsey, N.J., has offers from Florida Atlantic and Massachusetts. Like Pettit, Smith has affirmed his commitment to Tech since Grimes' departure.
On Friday Virginia Tech announced the hiring of former Texas offensive line coach Stacy Searels. Searels' resume also includes stints as the O-line coach at LSU and Georgia.
All of the offensive line commitments will surely be interested to see what time of scheme Searels plans to run. At Texas he was known to use more of a downhill blocking approach, which is different from the zone-blocking scheme Grimes favored. The five offensive line commitments in the '14 class were recruited with specific roles in mind in the zone-blocking scheme.
The success Tech's coaching staff has in making the four remaining offensive line commitments feel comfortable in the 11-day stretch before the Feb. 5 signing day will determine just how many of those commitments actually end up on Tech's campus.
RAINES' DROP-OFF PUTS TECH'S FRONTCOURT IN FLUX
Just a few days before Tech started its men's basketball season, forward Cadarian Raines expressed his excitement about being healthy and ready to prove he could make an impact in the ACC over the course of an entire season.
His favorable impressions of his senior season may have ended before Tech even got out of November - long before it even got into the meat of its ACC slate.
After dealing with foul trouble as a starter in the first seven games, playing more than 21 minutes in just one of those games and scoring in double figures only once in those games, Raines hasn't started again - a span of 11 games.
His reduced minutes weren't due to an injury or illness. It wasn't designed to work him into a new role or bring him off the bench of a valuable sixth man. It was a benching.
He didn't even get on the floor against Radford, Virginia Commonwealth, Boston College or Clemson. Through Tech's first 18 games, Raines was shooting 49.2 percent from the floor, contributing just 5.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game while averaging only 15.6 minutes per contest in 14 games played.
"It was just what the other guys (in Tech's frontcourt) were doing, not what he was not doing," Tech coach James Johnson said.
With the 6-9, 238-pound Raines struggling to get his game straight at the outset of the bulk of the ACC slate in January, and forward C.J. Barksdale dealing with ankle and knee injuries and the flu in a frontcourt not exactly blessed with depth, Johnson was forced to experiment.
Going back to the Dec. 31 game against Maryland-Eastern Shore, and through Tech's first four ACC games of the calendar year, the Hokies used four different frontcourt lineups in five games.
Barksdale, senior Jarell Eddie, sophomores Marshall Wood and Joey van Zegeren, freshman Trevor Thompson and even junior walk-on Christian Beyer got opportunities to start, but not Raines.
It remains to be seen if Raines will enjoy a sustained breakthrough after coming off the bench Jan. 19 in Tech's 70-63 loss at Notre Dame to have 20 points on 8 of 15 shooting from the floor and six rebounds in 22 minutes. Johnson is keeping his fingers crossed, because Tech could use a resurgence from a player it was depending on entering the season.
"I thought he responded to the benching," Johnson said. "He'd been practicing hard (prior to the Notre Dame game), and tried to move forward in the depth chart. His attitude has been great. He kept his head in the game and his head in practice. I kept telling him the opportunity is going to come, and be ready when it comes."
However, Raines' results in his next opportunity were underwhelming: He scored just five points (on 2-of-10 shooting) in 24 minutes in Virginia Tech's home loss to Wake Forest.