Virginia Tech football is headed into the summer workout portion of the schedule, but leaves spring with some questions to answer both on offense and defense. Here’s a look at the top questions Virginia Tech football has to answer on the offensive side of the ball.
1. Running Back Situation Continues to be Cloudy
After spring practice, the running back situation continues to be the most cloudy area on the Hokies’ roster with no clear starter at this point. While Deshawn McClease is still the frontrunner to lead the Hokies’ backfield this fall, this spring left us almost exactly where we entered it in terms of clarity.
Part of that was due to the fact that McClease wasn’t 100% for the whole spring. Combine that with McClease missing some offseason workouts due to being in the transfer portal and it’s fair to wonder how much of a physical hole that may have put McClease in, opening the opportunity to gain playing time wider.
There was plenty of talk about Jalen Holston throughout the spring and while he showed some potential last season as a potential power-running replacement for Steven Peoples, Holston struggled in the only public opportunity to see him perform during the Spring Game. While there are obviously a lot more data points that the public didn’t get to see, Holston hasn’t shown as much as some believed and appears to still be a back that will still primarily be limited to short yardage and red zone situations.
Caleb Steward was the big surprise of the Spring Game having the more productive performance than Jalen Holston but after not receiving that much talk during the spring, it’s hard to tell whether that was a flash in the pan moment or just the latest example of his development.
Meanwhile, Terius Wheatley missed the spring after having a limited role last season, but showed the type of speed that makes him a very intriguing name to watch once he returns at fall camp.
Wheatley won’t be the only Hokie joining the RB competition in full during fall camp as incoming freshmen Keshawn King and Tahj Gary both should make this competition interesting. King has definitely received the most hype and rightly so after having some huge games and an impressive season in Florida last season. However, it’s hard imagining a true freshman becoming the featured player at any position though running back is one of the easiest to do so at.
The one wild card could be the grad transfer market with the Hokies showing interest in Clemson’s Tavien Feaster. If the Hokies were able to add Feaster, it would be hard to imagine him not being the favorite to be the top guy in the backfield as a proven back who has averaged no less than 5.6 yards per carry in each of his three seasons at Clemson.
Running back remains a mess that the Hokies may not have an answer to till they arrive in Chestnut Hill to open the season against Boston College.
2. The Backup/2020 Starting QB Battle Remains Opens
Though Justin Fuente hasn’t officially named a starter for this fall at QB, it would be shocking if it would anyone other than incumbent Ryan Willis. With that likely to be settled rather quickly, the focus at quarterback will turn not only to the battle to be Willis’ backup, but also the 2020 starting QB battle that will, in earnest, truly kick off in fall camp.
Quincy Patterson gained the edge last season emerging as the backup QB for the Hokies over Hendon Hooker but with Hooker returning and Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister joining, the Hokies will have a very healthy competition for that opportunity.
Patterson remains the most intriguing of the bunch as the redshirt freshman QB still hasn’t been on campus for a full year even if it feels like he’s been in Blacksburg a lot longer. That has led to some unnecessary impatience about Patterson’s development that will take time. Fortunately, Patterson was able to gain some experience last season due to the new redshirt rule, which should be valuable in his development going forward.
Hooker is an interesting case as the redshirt sophomore may, in essence, be fighting for his future at Virginia Tech in this competition. With Patterson being younger, losing the QB battle to him would almost certainly block his path to being a starter at Virginia Tech, making a grad transfer a serious possibility to find an opportunity.
Burmeister is the major wild card in all of this and though he likely won’t be eligible, even though he is pursuing a waiver that I’m not show what merits he has for, he definitely can be a force in the 2020 starting QB proxy battle that will take place. The Oregon transfer will have to adjust to his new surroundings and a new offense which could be a challenge, but the fact that he’s had to do this once already at the collegiate level should only help.
Get ready for a backup quarterback battle that will, in effect, be the start of the long battle for the 2020 starting quarterback job which may be one of the most competitive in all of America.
3. Pair of Interior Offensive Line Spots Remain Open
While Lecitus Smith appears to have the left guard spot locked down, center and right guard remain open for competition in part due to the fact that the full competition for those position hasn’t truly begun.
Zachariah Hoyt has the incumbent position at center yet it’s definitely not a guarantee he remains the starter especially if Brock Hoffman gets the waiver through appeal that he should have already received. Hoffman, a two-year interior OL starter at Coastal Carolina, has the versatility to play either guard or center and seems likely to start the summer at center with Vance Vice likely wanting to sort that competition out first. Additionally, John Harris has shown the versatility to play guard or center with the redshirt freshman being a sleeper in the competition at center.
Meanwhile, right guard should be one of the most wide open battles with Harris and either Hoffman or Hoyt likely to be among the top contenders for the job. Tyrell Smith has shown plenty of versatility during his time at Virginia Tech and the redshirt senior should be a name to watch at right guard in part due to his vast experience as a swing man offensive line who could come in almost anywhere.
Additionally, Doug Nester definitely can’t be forgotten as the incoming four-star recruit from West Virginia will start out working at guard and already has the size and talent to compete for the job from his first day in Blacksburg. While it still seems unlikely that Nester will win the job, Vance Vice has shown that he isn’t afraid to start a true freshman as he did at left tackle with Christian Darrisaw.
The battles at right guard and center may not get the same attention as other positions, but these position battles have the potential to be some of the most interesting and competitive of the fall.