While 15 practices in the spring offered Virginia and Virginia Tech snapshots of what each program must improve before the football season, the on-field work didn't result in all the answers.
As U.Va. and Tech head into the summer, here are a few items that need to be addressed before the start of the season in four months, along with a couple of bright spots to anticipate:
Are we any closer to knowing who the starting quarterbacks are?
At U.Va., yes, they're definitely a lot closer. Sophomore Greyson Lambert left the spring with a clear edge on sophomore Matt Johns and junior David Watford, a Hampton High graduate who still sounds like he's working his way back into the good graces of the coaching staff after failing to meet an offseason expectation. Only an injury during the summer, or a huge step forward for Watford, likely will keep Lambert out of the starting role heading into the season-opener against UCLA.
In Blacksburg, the situation is only slightly less murky than it was entering the spring. Senior Mark Leal was inconsistent throughout the spring, and while sophomore Brenden Motley showed he has some arm strength and escapability, he still looks like he has a long way to go in terms of his mastery of offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler's offense. Freshman Andrew Ford has even more to learn. Junior transfer Michael Brewer certainly could end up winning this quarterback competition if he grasps the offense over the summer and applies it quickly in August practices.
The show-something-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace spring practice awards
With Jake McGee moving on to what he hopes is a more promising situation for his senior season than the one he obviously anticipated being in with U.Va., wide receiver Darius Jennings becomes the Cavaliers' most experienced and conceivably dangerous big-play threat in the passing game. You have to use the word "conceivably" because Jennings still has to prove he's over the recurring case of the drops that has plagued him at times in his career. He worked with new contact lenses this spring, and coach Mike London and offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild raved about Jennings' more dependable hands, but having Jennings further emerge as a senior will be essential to help stabilize an unstable quarterback situation.
As for Tech, senior Chase Williams came out of the spring as the No. 1 option at middle linebacker based both on merit and the fact backup redshirt freshman Andrew Motuapuaka suffered a broken scapula in the spring. The bottom line is Williams almost certainly is going to have to provide something at middle linebacker he has been unable to provide in his first three seasons on the field at Tech — a consistent tackling, run-stopping presence.
We now return to your regularly scheduled program
Last season, running back Taquan Mizzell was expected to move the ball for U.Va. in a number of ways. After dealing with a leg injury that hampered him for most of the last 10 games of the season, it looks a promising spring could lead to him becoming a multi-faceted threat. He didn't get to carry the ball much last season (45 carries for 184 yards), but he did show his potential as a pass-catcher (29 catches for 164 yards). Now, U.Va. will look to him to provide a one-two running punch with senior Kevin Parks, in addition to possibly lining Mizzell up in the slot and dropping him back on punt returns. If he stays healthy, he's a real sleeper breakout candidate in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Tech came into the spring needing an interior defensive line presence to come along to replace Derrick Hopkins and provide senior Luther Maddy some support. With junior Corey Marshall back in the fold after redshirting last season, Tech is getting a player that apparently has some hunger, and could offer help both as a defensive tackle and a rush end when the Hokies go to a three-man front look from time-to-time. Marshall was a force as a defensive tackle and end reserve in his first two seasons at Tech. He hasn't lost those abilities.
What's bugging the coaches?
Everybody knows about the quarterback question marks both U.Va. and Tech are still enduring, but what else is on the minds of London and Tech coach Frank Beamer as they enter the summer? What needs absolutely must be filled by early August? While Mizzell and Jennings look like they have potential to be playmakers for U.Va., there's really nobody beyond Parks who has really demonstrated yardage-accumulating capabilities. Senior receiver Dominique Terrell has tremendous speed, but he's never been known for his hands or crisp route-running. Watford threw 15 interceptions last season. Terrell, senior tight end Zachary Swanson, senior running back Khalek Shepherd and sophomore receivers Keeon Johnson, Kyle Dockins and Andre Levrone all will have some pressure on them to become go-to guys. Add the playmaker identification issue to the pressing need to become more effective on third downs and it's easy to see how they go hand-in-hand.
Beamer needs to figure out who will carry the ball alongside Trey Edmunds in the backfield (Marshawn Williams? J.C. Coleman? Joel Caleb?), but Beamer is also a one-man show when it comes to coaching kickers. He has his hands full there. A few days before the spring game, Beamer expressed confidence in senior Michael Branthover. After the spring game, Beamer's praise turned to junior Remington Hinshaw. There's obviously no easy answer at kicker yet, but incoming freshmen Michael Santamaria from Athens, Ga., and Carson Wise from Blacksburg will be given every chance to win the job. One thing is certain, Beamer doesn't want to go through another season like last season, in which Tech used four kickers who missed 11 of 26 field-goal attempts.
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun