Second day in full pads today for Virginia Tech, as the Hokies held their sixth practice and first mini scrimmage, in which their backups saw all the action.
The 30-play scrimmage was a chance for Tech’s young defensive linemen to get some work, and their position coach, Charley Wiles, was looking forward to watching the film, so he could evaluate those guys heading into Saturday’s first full scrimmage.
That will be an important day for the only true position battle of the spring – punter. Wide receiver Danny Coale still slightly leads Scott Demler in that competition.
There is also the matter of trying to figure out who will back up quarterback Logan Thomas. Quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said on Saturday that redshirt freshman Mark Leal led Ju-Ju Clayton (Hermitage), and that continues to be the case, even though Leal missed the mini scrimmage with a groin injury. His status for Saturday is uncertain.
Redshirt freshman Ricardo Young, another reserve quarterback, also missed the mini scrimmage. He had fully returned from the foot injury that sidelined him in the spring, but he recently suffered a leg injury (Tech didn’t provide any more specifics) that does not seem serious. But he wasn’t out there today.
So for what it’s worth, Clayton completed 3 of 4 passes for 12 yards in the mini scrimmage.
Before moving on to the defensive line stuff, it’s worth noting that right tackle Blake DeChristopher (Clover Hill) is wearing a blue jersey, as of today. He was previously wearing a green one, which means he can’t practice. Blue means he is limited. So he is progressing in his recovery from a strained left pectoral muscle. Trainer Mike Goforth has said he doesn’t expect DeChristopher to miss any games.
Wiles was frustrated that he couldn’t get a better look today at true freshman defensive tackle Kris Harley, who suffered an oblique injury during middle drill and will be re-evaluated by the training staff before his status for Saturday is determined.
It is a tough break for Harley, who had already slipped behind true freshman Luther Maddy in the battle for a No. 2 tackle spot (and the right to not redshirt).
“He’s probably right now, though, a little bit behind Luther,” Wiles said. “Just not as good. He’s a little bit fat. Needs to get in better shape. I asked him to come in here at 280 or under. He came in at 288 [listed at 287]. He’s not as quick as Luther right now.”
Said Maddy: “I ain’t trying to redshirt my freshman year. I’m trying to play right away.”
Harley said on Saturday that he did early morning summer running so he wouldn’t come to Tech out of shape. But he is still a bit heavy right now, though not too far overweight, by any means.
“Good prospect,” Wiles said of Harley. “He’s doing some good things. I can tell he’s going to be a good player for us. But Luther has more quickness and probably, at this point, without seeing them scrimmage, so it might be a little unfair, but maybe appears to be a little bit more instinctive football player.
“But I think, again, all the freshman kids, I don’t think we’ve got a kid in there that’s like, ‘Uh-oh, he’s not going to be able to play here.’ … I think we’ve got five kids up front that are going to play for us. Let’s see how quickly and all that.”
Those five are Harley and Maddy at tackle (Harley was a much higher-rated recruit, though that’s not worth anything at this point) and Dadi Nicolas, Justin Taylor and Corey Marshall at end. Wiles has said Matt Roth needs another year to physically develop, but mentioned he liked how Roth looked tonight.
Wiles liked the way junior Isaiah Hamlette looked, as well. He had a tackle for a loss, a sack (the only one of the scrimmage) and a quarterback hurry. This is Hamlette’s fourth year in the program and he has barely played (14 snaps last year).
Wiles said Hamlette and sixth-year senior Kwamaine Battle are currently his backup tackles, with Maddy pushing hard.
“Can he be more productive than either one of those guys?” Wiles said. “I don’t want Luther to be the fifth guy. Being the fifth guy, it’s not worth it [to not redshirt]. You need to be the third or fourth guy.”
Maddy, who is 6-foot-1 and 283 pounds, would be quite the recruiting steal for the Hokies if he ends up being a productive player, especially as a freshman. His only other scholarship offer was from Western Michigan.
Wiles recruited him, but things didn’t really get serious until late in the process. Maddy wound up picking Tech on Feb. 1, the day before signing day. Usually, it is the top recruits who wait until that late to choose a school.
Wiles offered a quick recap tonight about Maddy’s recruitment. It’s important to remember that he attended Atlantic High in Delray Beach, Fla. The Hokies got receiver David Clowney and cornerback Brandon Flowers out of there. Current All-American corner Jayron Hosley went there, as did Leal. Maddy was one of two Atlantic kids in Tech’s 2011 class, along with Nicolas.
“I didn’t know if we were going to have any scholarships or not,” Wiles said of why things got going so late with Maddy. “His defensive line coach [Kelsey Brooks] is a friend of mine. Chris Bean, the head coach there, is a friend of mine. Luther basically had one place that he was going [Western Michigan]. Kelsey was like, ‘You need to take this guy. I’m telling you man, this kid can play.’ Chris Bean endorsed him.
“We had talked in the fall, but we were tied up with other guys [recruits]. I was able to get coach Beamer by there when we were down to see Robert Lockhart [a wide receiver Tech got for 2011 who lived in nearby Boca Raton]. Got the film in front of [Beamer, who met Maddy on the vist].
“The way it worked out down the stretch, which is kind of funny, y’all [reporters] were all hatin’ on us about our recruiting, who we didn’t get. Nobody knows Luther, and he’s a big-time football player, like a lot of these guys that we got. Five-star, four-star, this, that. He’s going to Western Michigan and he can play. It just shows you there’s no scientific thing.”
So what did Wiles see on film that impressed him about Maddy?
“Get off, chased the ball, played hard, played with leverage, instinctive-looking kid, played fast,” he said.
You have to wonder if Wiles got even more excited when, after seeing those things, he heard Maddy’s only other offer was from Western Michigan.
“We really don’t get caught up with that,” Wiles said. “I swear to God. To get our man David Clowney, we beat Toledo, and he’s a pretty good player. I’d say we’re pretty good evaluators. Write a story on that.”
(This blog will have to do for now.)
Wiles will spend the rest of this week trying to figure out how many snaps to get these backups in the scrimmage, which will be more complex than today’s scrimmage was, and will result in the two-deep starting to take shape. And those guys in the two-deep will obviously get the majority of the reps as preseason practices continue.
“We were being very basic [today],” Wiles said. “We were just getting lined up, playing base defense. You’ve got to be able to run the whole defense, though. We’ve got a lot going in every day and we practiced some stuff with the varsity today. Can those kids stay up to pace with what we’re doing?”
Wiles plans to mix the backup candidates in with the second group on Saturday, since playing them with the third group won’t do much good.
“You don’t get a true evaluation, because we’re probably not as deep over there in the third offensive line as we are at other areas,” he said. “You’ve got to get them up there with the twos, because when threes go, we’re not going to call anything but base stuff. You don’t get an evaluation [of]: Can they run the defense?”
At end, redshirt freshman Duan Perez-Means (Hermitage) entered August as the backup to J.R. Collins. But Perez-Means struggled a bit early on, and now redshirt freshman Zack McCray and true freshmen Marshall and Taylor are very much in the mix to win that No. 2 spot. (The other No. 2 spot is being solidly held – for the time being, Wiles emphasized – by sophomore Tyrel Wilson, who had it coming into August.)
“If you look at [Perez-Means’] strength numbers, he’s not as strong,” Wiles said. “We’ve got to win football games. We’ve got to get the best guys on the field. So I’ve got to evaluate Corey Marshall. I’ve got to evaluate Justin. I’ve got to evaluate the other ends and see can they be better? [Perez-Means] practiced really well yesterday. Up until yesterday, it was just kind of a little bit all over the place.”
Wiles didn’t want to offer any definitive comments on the competition between McCray, Marshall and Taylor until he watched the video of the mini scrimmage.
He has talked a lot about McCray needing to play meaner, dating back to the spring, and he made some comments about Marshall already this month. But what about Taylor, who enrolled in January after attending Hargrave Military Academy in the fall?
“To me, he made more of a jump this summer probably than any of our kids,” Wiles said. “He was about 220 coming out of spring. He gained about 10, 12 pounds [listed at 230]. His bench went up markedly. He’s gotten stronger. He’s got a tremendous amount of quickness. He’s just a really raw, inexperienced guy with ability.”
Taylor said he got 12 snaps in the mini scrimmage.
“You’ve got to take what you get and make something out of it,” he said. “It’s a little difficult [not getting many snaps], but if you want to play, you’ve got to go out there and do good.”
He said he still needs to work on adjusting his attack after a tight end runs out for a passing route and pushes him off to the tackle, though he added that things haven’t been too overwhelming in the first week.
He went to Hargrave to improve his SAT score, which was 900 – 30 points shy of what he needed. He got a 970 while at Hargrave to academically qualify. He also benefited from the military experience of Hargrave, though he wasn’t looking forward to it.
“It helped a lot, not just the part for me being able to get my SAT score up, but turning into a man, with the rules and stuff,” he said. “It was a good thing. I knew with military, it was going to be a lot of tough stuff, waking up every morning and wearing a uniform. It wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
He said he would prefer to play this year, “because going to Hargrave and sitting out a year [he played football there, but had to defer his enrollment at Tech to improve his SAT score] and coming here and sitting out another year, I don’t want to sit out a year.”