Justin Fuente received a contract extension yesterday with the athletic department hoping to keep him in Blacksburg until at least 2023 now. With that news, now seems like a good time to take a look at the rest of the coaching staff and what challenges face them going forward starting with the offense.
Brad Cornelsen is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Obviously, he’s got a busy spring ahead of him. With the loss of Jerod Evans, Cornelsen and Fuente are conducting another quarterback competition. Alongside that, Cornelsen needs to implement the broader scheme for the entire offensive side of the ball. That job won’t be as difficult as it was in the first season last year, but there are always challenges introducing new players to a system.
Obviously, the offensive and defensive coordinators will be most important behind the head coach on any staff. For Virginia Tech, the offensive coordinator has it a little easier because Fuente is also involved. That doesn’t discount what Cornelsen is doing with the quarterback competition.
Looking further into the offensive side, the next important position in my opinion is wide receivers. Holmon Wiggins is in charge of that aspect of the offense. The receiving corps will be one of the most interesting positions to watch this season.
After having both Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges last year, Wiggins didn’t have to worry a ton about the position. However, with both of them departing for the NFL, Wiggins feels that “it’s kind of like the universe has flipped a little bit.” Cam Phillips will be the most experienced receiver, backed up by C.J. Carroll, and after that… there isn’t much we know as fans. Fuente and his offense revolves around the wide receivers so this is an important position to get figured out as spring practice finishes up.
Finally, the other two aspects of the offensive scheme work together. The running backs and the offensive line. For running backs, the man in charge is Zohn Burden. He’s been left with a slightly empty cupboard after the departure of Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie.
There’s a good look at the running back competition here. Given the history of fumbles from this position last year, hopefully that will be one of the main focuses for Burden this spring. I expect McMillian to be the main workhorse, but look for some other running backs to make an important impact. Steven Peoples is apparently practicing well this spring, with Fuente saying that Peoples is running “better than what we’re giving him credit for.”
For the offensive line, Vance Vice is in charge. He has lots of returning players, so there isn’t as much of a real worry for the Hokies this spring. In terms of who to expect to see starting, the staff has come out and said that Tyrell Smith is the frontrunner at right tackle and Braxton Pfaff being in the same situation at right guard. If injuries start to plague the line, the outlook for this skill group might change but at this point, fans don’t need to be worried.
The tight end position isn’t a huge aspect of the Hokies offense, as detailed here. However, with the departure of Bucky Hodges and the emergence of Chris Cunningham later on in the season, James Shibest has options this season on how to implement the position into the offense. I am expecting that Shibest develops the tight ends for usage in the red-zone, much like last season.
However, Cunningham could also fill some of the usage that Bucky got last year if he is able to develop well this spring. Watch for Dalton Keene, an early enrollee, to make some noise in the fall. He may not be a full-time tight end either. Look for him to possibly fill the H-back role that was vacated by Sam Rogers graduating.