Newport News (Va.) Daily Press
April 26, 2004 SPRING 2004 OVERVIEW BLACKSBURG When Virginia Tech wrapped up its spring football game April 24, Tech's coaches had to feel a lot better about their roles than they did when practice opened 28 days earlier. For a while, they had to feel like babysitters. By the conclusion of spring practice, a total of 11 incoming freshmen and rising redshirt freshmen were listed as either starters or second-team contributors on the team's updated depth chart. That's more than enough youth to make any coach cringe, but there's little doubt the Hokies are dealing with talented youth. How realistic is it that the whippersnappers high on the depth chart now will still be there when Tech opens its season Aug. 28 against Southern California in the Black Coaches Association Classic? It's all a matter of how quickly those young players can negotiate the learning curve and adjust to the speed of the college game. "It just comes back to learning your position," said Bud Foster, Tech's defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach. "Knowing your key reads, trusting what you see, doing what you're taught and just tying it all together and getting enough reps so you can play at the speed you're capable of." Though the Hokies will enter the summer months with more freshmen and redshirt freshmen listed with the first or second team on the defensive side (six) than on the offensive side (five), it appears more neophytes on offense have a legitimate chance of starting. The young receivers made the most noise this spring. Freshman Justin Harper, who enrolled in January, moved up to the second team at split end by the end of April. "I don't want to redshirt," Harper said. "So you've got to come out and make an impression. I'm doing everything (Tech receivers) Coach (Tony) Ball tells me to do." Redshirt freshman Josh Hyman was the beneficiary of senior flanker Richard Johnson's strained quadriceps (yet another injury), which kept Johnson out for most of the spring. The injury paved the way for Hyman to move up to the post-spring starting spot at flanker. Regardless of whether Hyman is able to hold down the starting job, he made a statement by having a better spring than flanker David Clowney, who was the only true freshman to play for the Hokies last season. With so many young receivers on the field, it may take a while for Tech's quarterbacks to discover their most dependable targets. "We threw (freshman) Josh Morgan and Justin Harper and Josh Hyman right in there," said Bryan Stinespring, Tech's offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. "You're talking about two of those three guys (Morgan and Harper) have only been on campus for three months. They didn't always run the route they were supposed to run, and they weren't always in the spot they were supposed to be in. That threw our completion rates off (this spring) as much as anything, honestly." Freshman George Bell, another January enrollee, and redshirt freshman John Kinzer also made their presence felt in Blacksburg. Bell, a prep All-American tailback from North Carolina who was one of Tech's most celebrated signees in February, initially spent most of his time during the Hokies' practices at fullback. Bell moved to tailback after junior Cedric Humes broke his left fibula in practice on April 3 and was listed as a second-team tailback by the end of the spring. Meanwhile, Kinzer took advantage of the extra time at fullback after Bell's position switch and ended up being slotted as the projected starter there. Kinzer likely has the best chance of any of the freshmen and redshirt freshmen of nailing down a permanent starting job from day one this coming season. Redshirt freshman Tripp Carroll suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee near the end of spring practice, but it wasn't enough to negate the work he put in at center. He'll enter August practices as the second-team center. By the time August ends, Tech may be looking at two new starting linebackers, because redshirt freshmen Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall are coming on in a hurry. Both were highly recruited players last year, and they did nothing to diminish their stock during their redshirt seasons. Hall got in shape as a redshirt by losing 20 pounds, while Adibi bulked up by adding 20 pounds. It will be tough for Hall to supplant senior Mikal Baaqee as a starter, but Adibi has a serious chance at beating out Blake Warren. The biggest adjustment Adibi and Hall will have to make is getting used to playing in pass coverage. Both players looked their worst in pass coverage during the spring. With more emphasis placed on linebackers staying disciplined and knowing their assignments in Tech's tweaked 4-3-4 alignment, Adibi and Hall will have to focus on recognizing where to be against the pass. While cornerback Roland Minor, defensive tackles Kory Robertson and Barry Booker and defensive end Chris Ellis all redshirt freshmen emerged from the spring as second-team players, Ellis seemed to make the biggest strides toward significant playing time. Ellis showed no ill effects from shoulder surgery, which took place last October to repair a torn labrum, and should factor prominently in Tech's four-man end rotation. "I've tried to just forget about my shoulder and play like it isn't there, but it's still in the back of your mind," Ellis said. "It's held up real well. They didn't even expect me to play in the spring, and now I've worked myself into second string and I'm playing. Everything feels good. I know the plays now, so everything is coming along." Coach Frank Beamer is fond of giving his first-year players a redshirt season if possible, but he may have to take a look at some freshmen who are coming in this August to provide depth at key positions. Fullbacks Michael Green and Purnell Sturdivant could have a chance to play. Receivers Jeremy Gilchrist and Eddie Royal might have opportunities to make an impact. Depending on Humes' rehabilitation (he's expected back by mid-July), Branden Ore could factor in at tailback. Then there's the quarterback situation to consider. Backup Marcus Vick is scheduled to stand trial May 14 with teammates Brenden Hill and Mike Imoh on multiple charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor. What if Vick is convicted, and Jim Weaver, Tech's athletic director, is forced to discipline Vick by suspending or dismissing him from the team? In that case, freshmen Cory Holt and Sean Glennon will have to be ready to compete for the spot immediately behind senior starter Bryan Randall. And as long as there are worst-case scenarios worth considering, what happens if Imoh is convicted and faces suspension or dismissal from the team, and Humes is not ready to play by the end of August? Bell could be the starting tailback by default. For a team that could have trouble continuing its winning ways this fall, it doesn't bode well that so much of the Hokies' depth will be dependent upon the maturation of young players. At least this spring provided some positive signs. "I think we're moving in the right directions," Beamer said. "I think there's some things we still need to do. I think we need to keep working, that's all. We're kind of young. Not kind of young, we are young."
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