As practice opens for Virginia Tech and UVa, there are questions abound


It wasn't too long ago that 10-plus wins and a bowl bid were enough to keep Virginia Tech's fans smiling and thumping their chests throughout the offseason.

Last season, the Hokies went 11-3 and ended the year with a 40-12 loss to Stanford in the Orange Bowl. While 10 wins won't ever go out-of-style (even though Tech leads the nation with seven consecutive 10-plus win seasons), there's a sense of restlessness among the Hokie faithful. Maybe Tech coach Frank Beamer sensed it in the offseason, which was earmarked by several changes on the Hokies' coaching staff.

Given Tech's manageable schedule, is this the year the Hokies make another run at a national championship? Here are a few things that need to be addressed before that kind of lofty goal can even be reasonably discussed:

1. What are the main areas of concern as practice gets underway?

While Beamer almost certainly would supply a list that stretches eyeball-to-floor (that's just the nature of coaching), there are a few areas that will demand his attention. Is wide receiver Danny Coale the best punter available? Is there enough quality depth at the defensive tackle positions? Is Cody Journell the best option at kicker? Will Jeron Gouveia-Winslow take the outside linebacker role and instill confidence in the coaching staff this month? Is Josh Oglesby the definitive choice at No. 2 tailback behind starter David Wilson? Who's the best backup quarterback? What's the deal at right tackle with starter Blake DeChristopher out (more on that one below)?

2. So, Logan Thomas — is he the real deal at quarterback, or is he simply over-hyped?

The only thing we really have to gauge him on right now are his physical tools and one big-time third-and-16 completion to Coale last season for a 24-yard gain in the first quarter of Tech's 31-17 win at No. 24 Miami. Perhaps the pass against the Hurricanes was a sign of things to come, but who knows? That's much to go on right now. At 6-foot-6 and 254 pounds, Hokies men's basketball coach Seth Greenberg would probably love to use him on the low post. At the very least, Thomas should have good pocket presence and field vision — two assets that no quarterback will dismiss. How does he react when opposing defenses blitz him? Or when secondaries mix coverages to confuse him? Those kinds of tests will give us a better idea of what Tech has with this promising sophomore.

3. Does new play-caller Mike O'Cain need to get more comfortable with his new role before the season?

In truth, it's hard to imagine O'Cain being much more cozy with the situation, especially considering he has used his role as quarterbacks coach for the past two seasons to groom Thomas. O'Cain got to call plays for two separate seasons in the first decade of the current millennium — 2000 at North Carolina and '04 at Clemson — so he's no stranger to the responsibility. He'll have the benefit of working with four returning starters on the offensive line, a potential backfield star in Wilson and one of the most experienced wide receiver groups in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Getting Tech's offense to surpass what it did last season (41st in the nation in total offense; 402.3 yards per game) in offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring's last year as the play-caller (and Tech's last season with quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running backs Darren Evans and Ryan Williams) will be a tall task.

4. Will Tech be prepared on the offensive line if DeChristopher isn't ready to go by the start of the season?

Well, the word out from Tech's training staff is DeChristopher (strained left pectoral muscle) won't miss any games, so at least there's optimism for a speedy recovery. Let's say for argument's sake DeChristopher isn't ready to go for Tech's season-opener Sept. 3 against Appalachian State. Michael Via, who is also Tech's No. 2 center, and Vinston Painter will be the first two behemoths given a shot to replace DeChristopher with the first unit offensive line. Via and Painter actually got a little extra work in spring practice at right tackle because DeChristopher often sat out up to five plays when the first team offensive line went against the backup defense. In any case, though the early-season schedule is a snoozer (Appalachian State, at East Carolina, Arkansas State and at Marshall in September), putting a new starting quarterback on the field with a shaky situation at right tackle isn't a real confidence-booster (at least it's not Thomas' blind side).

5. Which of the incoming freshmen could find playing time with strong preseason practices?

Keep an eye on the defensive side of the ball this month. That's where all the true freshman possibilities will likely emerge. Defensive tackles Kris Harley, who was considered by most recruiting analysts to be one of the nation's top 20 players at his position coming out of high school, and Luther Maddy, defensive end Corey Marshall, safeties Ronny Vandyke and Michael Cole and cornerback Boye Aromire may all have opportunities to get on the field. Aromire may miss a few days of August practice with a bad cut on his leg, but he has the advantage of having already gone through spring practice with the team. On offense, it appears less likely a true freshman will work his way up the depth chart into a position to play. Of course, that situation could change if injuries enter the picture.


While there may be star potential on his roster with guys like offensive tackle Morgan Moses and cornerback Chase Minnifield, Mike London isn't concerned with players he knows he can depend on heading into his second season as Virginia's coach.

There's too much uncertainty at other positions for London to get the warm fuzzies for too long about his more reliable players. Coming off a 4-8 season, heading into a fall that will see U.Va. play a reasonable non-conference schedule along with an Atlantic Coast Conference slate that includes games at North Carolina, Miami and Florida State and against Virginia Tech, London and his staff have their work cut out for them if the Cavaliers hope to sniff bowl-eligibility this season.

Here's where it all starts for U.Va.:

1. The question everybody wants answered — who's going to be the last man standing in the quarterback competition?

Given the shortage of specific information regarding the progress of each quarterback in the race, placing all four names — Michael Rocco, Ross Metheny, Michael Strauss and Hampton High graduate David Watford — in a hat and picking one out at this stage might qualify as just as scientific as analyzing the situation. Give it another two weeks. London and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor should have a much clearer picture at that point. The hunch here is the competition is really down to two guys — Rocco and Metheny. After spring practice, Watford just looks like he needs a redshirt year to grow. Prediction? Let's say Rocco. Confidence in that prediction? Nil.

2. Can Kevin Parks provide a one-two punch in the backfield with Perry Jones the way Keith Payne was able to do it last season with Jones?

It may seem a little funny to think about Parks, a 5-foot-8, 195-pound redshirt freshman, being compared in any way, shape or form to 6-3, 255-pound Payne, who finished his senior season last year. Yet, Parks will be the replacement "power" back option to replace Payne. Parks is a very tough between-the-tackles runner and generates a ton of forward momentum with his tree trunk-like thighs. Of course, Parks ran for a North Carolina-record 10,895 yards in high school, so he knows how to eat up yards. At 5-8 and 185 pounds, Jones may look similar to Parks in terms of stature, but Jones is more elusive and creative running the ball. It's a fascinating combination, but it remains to be seen if Parks can be anywhere near as effective as Payne (team-high 749 rushing yards last season).

3. Is there enough talent at linebacker to help improve the Cavaliers' abysmal 2010 rushing defense?

No unit on U.Va.'s defense will play a more significant role in trying to give the Cavaliers a boost after giving up 203.7 rushing yards per game (106th in the nation in rushing defense) than the linebackers. While middle linebacker Steve Greer was encouraged Wednesday about getting to play a potentially injury-free season, he may have some overwhelming responsibilities in U.Va.'s 4-3 approach if the Cavaliers don't get more out of one of their starting outside linebacker spots. Gloucester High product Aaron Taliaferro is atop the depth chart at outside linebacker heading into practice, but he has been an inconsistent player at best in his first three seasons on the field. LaRoy Reynolds, who led the team with 66 tackles last season, is back at the other outside linebacker position. He's a promising player who looks like he's in his element at the position after being moved there from safety last year. Ausar Walcott, a starting linebacker last season, has moved to backup defensive end. U.Va.'s linebackers may demand more attention than any other unit this month.

4. Regardless of which quarterback wins the starting job, will he have anybody dependable to throw to other than wide receiver Kris Burd?

Though U.Va. lost receiver Dontrelle Inman (51 catches last year) after last season, there's still plenty of potential amongst the pass-catchers. Burd, who had 58 catches for 799 yards and five touchdowns last season, is back and completely healthy after having Feb. reconstructive ankle surgery. Wide receiver Tim Smith, a Chesapeake native, should provide another target after missing all but two games last season due to a foot injury. The expectations for him are already huge. Matt Snyder is also returning at receiver after finishing with 30 catches for 393 yards last season. Then, there's true freshmen Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell — both of whom were highly-recruited prospects that could see ample playing time. At tight end, U.Va. has a trio of guys in Colter Phillips (18 catches for 155 yards and three touchdowns last season), Paul Freedman and Jeremiah Mathis that gained valuable playing experience last season.

5. What in the world can London do to generate more interest in his program and get Scott Stadium filled again?

Other than taking an enormous bus around campus an hour before game time and physically carting students and fans to the front gates of the stadium, the only thing London can do to change the positively library-like quality of Scott Stadium is get his team to win games. After working to encourage fans and students to show up for the spring game, it looked like London was going to get a pretty good turnout for it, but cruel fate intervened with a hailstorm about a half-hour before the game. Many fans chose to scrap plans to attend the game, which ended up being played under near-perfect partly cloudy conditions. Scott Stadium seats 61,500 fans, but the average home attendance has been more than 13,000 fans under capacity for the past two seasons. That's the kind of apathy that can only be remedied with on-field success.

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