Hokie Nation is excited for the Virginia Tech spring practice to begin! There are still a lot of questions on the minds of the Hokie faithful, but thankfully, who will replace the recently departed coaches is not one of them. On Monday, Virginia Tech hired Elijah Brooks away from Maryland and he will coach the running backs. The Hokies also added veteran offensive line coach Ron Crook to the staff. While these personnel decision filled two huge vacancies, there are still a few question left to answer during spring practice.
The team is young and is coming off a 3-8 season where the offense was Virginia Tech’s worst in almost half a century. That unit is now seeing a shuffling of offensive coaches, and coordinator roles appear to land squarely on one man. There is also a lot of youth and inexperience on the offensive line.
The defense appears to be in better shape leading into spring ball, but there were a few key losses and there is a lack of depth or experience in several positions. How will these questions be answered in the next month? Will they even be answered this spring? Let’s take a deeper dive into the 5 most pressing questions heading in the Virginia Tech spring practice.
What Changes Will Result from the New Staffing on Offense?
Just a few short weeks ago, Virginia Tech lost both its quarterbacks coach and the offensive line coach. The coaches who filled those roles, Brad Glenn and Joe Rudolph, also served as passing game coordinator and running game coordinator, respectively.
Given the situation, the Brooks and Crook hires look to be good moves for the Hokies. Head Coach Brent Pry found two experienced coaches with strong ties to the recruiting footprint. Brooks, a former head coach at DeMatha Catholic, is well known in the Washington DC area and has a good track record of both recruiting and developing his running backs. And this is at a Big Ten school.
Crook, a West Virginia native, has several decades of experience and produced a strong line for Cincinnati when they were a College Football Playoff team. He also has stops at Power 5 programs such as West Virginia and Stanford, and he is known to produce tough, physical offensive lines. When it comes to recruiting, his ties to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and southern Ohio will be a good replacement for the loss of Joe Rudolph.
Feels like a good hire. Lunch pail type of guy. Knows the area well. https://t.co/wu7Ayw9B6O
— FootballScoop (@FootballScoop) March 13, 2023
Both Brooks and Crook have experience and success, so Hokie fans can have hope for the future in these two position groups. However, with the addition of Brooks as a running backs coach, current running backs coach Stu Holt is now reassigned to coach the tight ends. That group was formerly under Tyler Bowen, who will now coach the quarterbacks.
Holt has experience coaching tight ends, so that transition should not be of concern, especially with the talent that Tech has at that position. However, many are curious how the move of Bowen to quarterbacks coach will pan out, mainly because he has no prior experience playing or coaching that position. That said, most of the current offensive coordinators in the ACC also coach their teams’ quarterbacks, so this move is not out of the ordinary. As the offensive coordinator, Bowen works with the quarterbacks anyway, so it is not like the quarterbacks are unfamiliar with him.
Short term, this could be a challenge. But long term, is it really such a bad thing? Was having three coordinators last season really ideal? This could be an opportunity for Bowen to shine as the sole coordinator. Brent Pry has raved about Bowen as a great young mind, maybe this will be his chance to show it?
As Brian Marcoline explores in his article from The Key Play, losing two coordinators might be what was needed. It is an interesting opinion for sure, but only time will tell if Marcolini is right. For now, Hokie fans will have to be patient, as the spring practices likely will not fully answer how these new staffing changes will affect the offense.
Who Will be the Starting Quarterback?
Speaking of the quarterback room, this is probably the position of greatest interest to Hokie fans. Incumbent starter and captain Grant Wells did not perform to expectations last season. His 2,171 passing yards, 59% completion rate, and 9 touchdowns were much below his averages at Marshall. But how much of that is on Wells? The entire offensive unit grossly underperformed. With potential starters added through the transfer portal at running back and receiver, will Wells put up better numbers this year if he retains his job?
His main competition will come from recent Baylor transfer and four-star dual threat quarterback Kyron Drones. Pry has praised Drones for his strength and athleticism, but with only limited P5 experience, will he be game ready this fall? Can he be competent both with his arm and his legs? He definitely looks the part of past successful dual threat quarterbacks at Virginia Tech, but that does not guarantee that he will be successful.
A point of hope for Hokie fans is that Pry admitted on a recent Techsideline podcast (it’s around the 24:30 mark) how he would like the quarterback to run more. As a defensive coordinator for so long, Pry knows that having a quarterback that can run stresses a defense. When 11 defenders only have to account for ten players, it gives them the advantage. However, a running QB negates that edge because all eleven offensive players have to be covered. Pry would like to see more of this.
In the podcast, Pry also said that Wells could have run more last year. Be careful about reading into this though – Pry is not naming a quarterback. Wells is a fairly mobile guy and we saw him use his legs successfully at times last season. Pry is merely stating that he wants his quarterback to run more, regardless of who is under center.
As much as Hokie Nation wants to know who its quarterback will be, don’t look for a starter to be named at the conclusion of spring practice. Pry is most likely going to carry this competition into the summer practices like he did last year. Wells has the upper hand right now, having been in the system for a year. But Drones was brought in for a reason. These two will push each other beyond the next 15 practices. Have patience – this decision is likely to come at the end of August.
What Will the Offense Look Like?
A mentioned above – and repeatedly for at least four months – last season’s offense was historically bad. Hokie fans should expect change. But how much?
The Hokies started last season trying to be the team that lined up and smashed it down the opponents’ throats. That did not happen. And the skill positions lacked both skill and depth, so the Hokies struggled to score for most of the first half of the schedule (they actually did not score 30 points in any single game last year!)
With the added talent at running back and receiver, coupled with Pry’s desire to call more quarterback runs, the offense should improve. But what will this spring tell us about the scheme?
Is Tech going to implement more read option to generate those quarterback runs? Will Tech use more outside runs and – gasp – bring back some jet sweeps? Will we see much of this in the spring, or will it be relatively vanilla like last spring to avoid revealing too much? And with the new coaching positions decided so recently, will much of this practice season be more about acclimation than implementation?
There are a lot of unknowns on the offensive side of the ball. This spring could show some signs of offensive change, but Hokie fans likely won’t really know their offensive identity until a few games into the fall season.
Will the Offensive Line Improve?
Let’s be real – how many Hokie fans were super-excited to get Joe Rudolph, Wisconsin line coach, on the sidelines in Lane Stadium last season? However, the line struggled a lot, and one year later, Rudolph is gone and the Hokies are left with a very young group of linemen.
Now what? Coach Crook gives fans reasons to be excited that he can develop this group, but can and will that happen this year?
There is a lot of talent in this position group. However, outside of redshirt junior tackle Parker Clements and guards Kaden Moore (r-junior) and Jesse Hanson (r-senior), there is not a lot of experience. It will be up to Crook to quickly get this group ready for September.
There will be a new left tackle. Sophomore Xavier Chaplin is huge (6’6”, 338 lbs.) and has a high ceiling, but he does not have much experience, and he was hurt for a lot of last year. Even still, he is the expected front-runner for the position. Redshirt junior Bob Schick is likely to be one backup at tackle, and incoming freshman Layth Ghannam has as good of a shot as anyone to be the other backup.
Center is looking like a battle between redshirt sophomore Jack Hollifield and true sophomore Braelin Moore. Like Chaplin, they are both promising players, but they are very green. So are the guys behind them.
Think about this – for all the struggles of the offensive line last year, those five players were still the best option at their position. The starting five played the vast majority of snaps for the entire year, so this position group is very much lacking in experience. That is about to change though.
How quickly the new guys settle in will help this group tremendously. And hopefully Parker Clements can rebound from his injury. Not many know that he had a torn meniscus and had surgery prior to last year. He could not lift for four months heading into summer practices, and it took him most of the season to get back to his previous form. Let’s hope he can rebound this year and lead this young group.
The skill positions were addressed through the portal. The line was not. These coaches must have great faith in this young group. Spring practices will be very important in developing these guys and establishing a depth chart.
Can Tech Replace Dax?
Like the offensive line, the linebacker position is not without promise. It is without experience, though, especially in Dax Hollifield’s mike position. Sixth-year senior Alan Tisdale and VMI transfer Stone Snyder are early candidates to win this job, but they will not lack for competition.
Keli Lawson, Jaden Keller, and Jayden McDonald, all redshirt sophomores, are all in the mix for the mike linebacker. They are also vying for the will position as well.
Lawson is poised for breakout year. After changing position from receiver then battling through his own injury last season, he showed flashes of brilliance later in the year. Pry and defensive coordinator Chris Marve have both been impressed with Lawson this winter. Marve tweeted about Lawson’s progress, and Pry talked about Lawson’s attributes. “He’s adding weight, he competes like crazy every single snap,” Pry said. The coaches are high on him, and Lawson has the potential to play on Sundays.
This week has been 🥶SPECIAL🥶 to watch the growth and maturation of @LawsonKeli .
Absolute DOMINANCE this week. Keep Hunting Bloodhound🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
As a man thinks, so is HE!!! pic.twitter.com/lXKlTRyHi7
— Chris Marve (@Coach_Marve) February 3, 2023
Keller was highly praised last spring and summer. But he could not work his way into the starting job. He is physically gifted, and now he has another year under his belt. He could win one of the linebacker roles.
And McDonald is a tremendous worker who has added 22 pounds to his frame since signing with the Hokies. Don’t be surprised if he is one of the starting three linebackers in the fall.
But a bigger question is this – who will fill Dax’s leadership position? He was the heart and soul of this unit for several years. Tisdale or senior sam linebacker Keonta Jenkins are the likely guys, but if not them, one of these redshirt sophomores will have to rise up and assume this role.
Who Will Transfer Out of the Program After Spring Practice?
The final question will likely wait until after the spring game to learn its answer…who will enter the portal and leave the program?
At last count, the Hokies are still over the limit with 92 scholarship players. The roster needs attrition. At least seven players will need to leave the team to get down to the 85-scholarship limit (more if the coaches intend to sign any more transfers after spring practice).
There are crowded position rooms at quarterback (6), running back (7), and wide receiver (at least 15). A few transfers are likely to come from there.
Tech has lots of offensive linemen, but they are all so young. The same is true with the defensive backs – will those positions see attrition?
And of course, it is conceivable that the loss of Brad Glenn and Joe Rudolph could result in a few unexpected transfers out.
Regardless of where they come from or why they leave, players are going to have to exit the program to get down to 85 scholarships. And if they do not voluntarily elect to enter the portal, then there are going to be a few tough conversations after the spring game.
Final Thoughts on the Virginia Tech Spring Practice
As the Virginia Tech spring practice begins, Hokie Nation should watch carefully to see if any of these questions will be answered. My guess is that most will not, and the uncertainty will carry over to summer practices.
And that is not necessarily a bad thing. There will likely be changes to the offensive scheme, and the quarterback battle will likely be intense. Let the process happen. There is no need for the staff to reveal too much now in terms of new scheme. Nor is there a need to name a starting quarterback. There is plenty of time before the opener on September 2. The coaches will likely use it to their advantage.
And in terms of the youth and the leadership? That cannot be rushed either. Development is a long-term process, and leaders don’t just show up, they emerge. So look for those questions to take a little longer to provide answers.
Regardless of how long these answers take, and if there even are answers, Hokie fans should be excited that football is back. Pry is a great cultural fit for Hokie Nation, and his enthusiasm is infectious. He is building a program – stone by stone. As everyone knows, a strong building needs a solid foundation. And that is where Pry and the program are right now – building that foundation. It takes time, so let’s support the process and get ready for some spring football!
To read more of my articles on Virginia Tech football, click here.
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