The end of spring practice is almost here as Virginia Tech is making their final preparation for their Spring Game on Saturday. The Hokies have some new faces on offense while also having some experienced guys competing for playing time. With that said, here’s a look at what we’re watching in Saturday’s Spring Game on offense.
1. The QB Situation
While we probably won’t learn a lot about who will be starting at QB next season, we may get some insight as to who is giving Josh Jackson the best challenge for his job between Ryan Willis and Hendon Hooker.
Right now, it still would be surprising if Josh Jackson wasn’t the starting QB when the Hokies face Florida State on Labor Day night. However, Justin Fuente isn’t afraid of competition and is leaving the quarterback job open if Willis or Hooker is able to take it from Jackson.
While Jackson did struggle during November last season, the now redshirt sophomore QB should improve this upcoming in part due to that experience. Though guys like Damon Hazelton will be out, this game should give a chance to see Jackson’s chemistry with other guys like Sean Savoy, Hezekiah Grimsley, and Phil Patterson.
Meanwhile, Ryan Willis will get his first chance to show off his skill set with the first team offense while Hendon Hooker will have over a full year under his belt now. Don’t be surprised to see both of these guys receiving some reps with the first team though the number of first team reps may give us a small picture.
Willis doesn’t have the mobility that Hooker or even Jackson bring to the table, but he does have an impressive arm. Meanwhile, Hooker profiles as an athletic, dual-threat QB who can make guys miss with his legs and be a playmaker as a runner. While Hooker has the most athletic upside of the trio, he still has some work to do in other areas to help close the gap between him and Jackson.
Saturday likely won’t tell us much about the quarterback situation though the one safe assumption is that Josh Jackson likely still is the top guy at quarterback.
2. Who is Stepping Up at RB?
While the wide receiver spot has had a few important players out due to injury (including Damon Hazelton), the running back spot has been fairly healthy with Jalen Holston starting the spring limited before recovering to full strength later this spring.
Last season, we saw Deshawn McClease and Steven Peoples emerge as the top two guys. McClease was particularly good over the final few games of the season helping Virginia Tech have one of their best offensive performances of the year in the Camping World Bowl against Oklahoma State. McClease gave the VT backfield an explosive, speed guy who wasn’t afraid to run between the tackles either, something that VT had been lacking all year.
Expect McClease to receive a good amount of first team carries Saturday and don’t be surprised if he ends up receiving the most carries. However, there is plenty of room for competition at RB from guys like Steven Peoples, Jalen Holston, Coleman Fox, and Terius Wheatley.
Jalen Holston had a steep learning curve last season transition from an option offense in high school to a modern, spread offense. Holston has continued to get more adjusted to this offense, but it will be interesting to see how one of Justin Fuente’s top offensive priorities in his 2017 class is continuing to adjust to the offense.
If Holston can find his stride, he has the chance to make a big impact on the VT offense and potentially emerge as the top back next season. If not, Holston will remain behind McClease and Steven Peoples while opening the door for other guys to move ahead of him on the depth chart.
Steven Peoples has become the Sam Rogers of the running back room and should have a role no matter what as a tough, power runner who can get the job done in short-yardage situations. Terius Wheatley redshirted last season, but brings a speed threat that makes him a guy to watch as one of the fastest players on the Hokies’ offense.
Coleman Fox has been having a good spring from what we’ve heard and also has been working some in the slot. Fox showed last season that he is most effective in space with VT trying to find different ways to use him in space whether that in the backfield or in the slot.
The Spring Game should start to give us some insight into how the Hokies’ RB rotation will shake out with McClease, Holston, and Peoples among those likely at the top of the depth chart.
3. Offensive Line Shakeup
One thing that has become fairly public this spring is the fact that Virginia Tech is having a shakeup on the offensive line with Wyatt Teller and Eric Gallo gone. Despite returning three starters, only Braxton Pfaff appears to be staying at his current position of right guard.
Meanwhile, the Hokies have moved Kyle Chung back inside to center while also moving D’Andre Plantin to left guard from offensive tackle where he received some major playing time in the final two games with Yosuah Nijman being out. In addition, Silas Dzansi has said that he is working as the first team left tackle, pushing Nijman to right tackle.
Plantin and Chung both seem to be doing well at their new spots and likely to start while Nijman has the versatility to play either side depending on who the second best offensive tackle is. For now, that’s pushing Nijman to the right side though Dzansi should continue to receive some tough competition from Tyrell Smith who appeared in line to start at right tackle last season before injuries held him back.
This will give us a chance to see if the current starting five have been able to build some chemistry and how guys like Chung, Plantin, and Nijman are faring at different spots. Chung may be under the greatest microscope after struggles snapping the ball cost him his chance to take the center job during the 2016 season. While Chung is clearly one of Virginia Tech’s best offensive linemen, the Hokies need him to be improved at snapping. However, all signs appear to be pointing towards the fact that he has made improvement in that area.
One thing that we may see during the Spring Game are guys working at multiple positions. One thing that Vance Vice has made a priority is developing guys who can work at multiple spots like Kyle Chung and Tyrell Smith, who can play all five spots, or guys like D’Andre Plantin who can play all spots except center.
While Virginia Tech’s first team offensive line appears to be Dzansi-Plantin-Chung-Pfaff-Nijman, don’t be surprised to see guys like Plantin, Smith, and even Chung get time at multiple spots during this scrimmage.