Virginia Tech's Running Back Situation Remains Unclear After Spring Practice

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | May 05, 2017
Entering the spring, one of the biggest questions for the Virginia Tech Hokies was whether one of the running backs would stand out after a season in which no running back really seemed to take control of the starting job. Throughout the spring, many wondered if Travon McMillian could seize the job back or if a younger guy like Steven Peoples or DJ Reid could claim the job. However, the Hokies leave the spring with an unclear running back situation that opens the door for a healthy Deshawn McClease and true freshman Jalen Holston to compete immediately. Travon McMillian likely is the leader at the running back spot given his track record but McMillian hasn't been the best fit in Justin Fuente's offense and only had 5 carries in the Spring Game, tied for third-most among VT running backs, with both Steven Peoples and DJ Reid receiving more carries. However, Peoples did split some carries between the first and second team offense while Reid's carries only came with the backups. On top of that, Terius Wheatley led the Hokies in rushing yards unofficially with 32 yards while McMillian was fifth in rushing and fourth among RBs. McMillian has struggled to fit in with Justin Fuente's offense while a couple late season fumbles led him to being in the dog house over the final few games with McMillian not having more than nine carries in his final four games. McMillian broke the 100 rushing yard barrier only twice last year with only 33 yards combined in each game that came after including -3 yards at Pittsburgh after 131 yards against Miami. Meanwhile, Steven Peoples looked solid as a bruising, physical tailback that definitely fits the role of being a short-yardage tailback that can do some damage running through people. However, Peoples' upside at the RB spot seems somewhat limited as while Peoples is definitely faster than Sam Rogers, Peoples doesn't have great speed but he does have the work ethic that makes him a serious contender to be the Hokies' starting tailback. Peoples definitely has earned a role in Virginia Tech's offense due to his great work ethic and the fact that he undoubtedly the Hokies' best power back but it's much less clear if he can be the featured guy especially after in his limited 16 carries, his longest run was 7 yards. While Peoples can get a few yards consistently, there are definitely question marks about whether he has the speed to get the big explosive plays that can help flip momentum. However, one thing that is clear is that McMillian and Peoples are both ahead of DJ Reid who Justin Fuente said multiple times this spring was behind McMillian and Peoples on the depth chart. Reid has shown flashes at time as more of a big back power runner but Reid still hasn't been able to fully put it together and after another spring where he didn't really seem to make big strides, it's hard to see Reid earning much playing time if any in the fall. Terius Wheatley showed lots of promise in the Spring Game and definitely appears to be someone who will be a solid running back for the Hokies in the future but Wheatley seems to be right around DJ Reid for now, and a redshirt seems likely for him even with his solid 5 carries for 32 yards in part due to how those carries didn't come till later on in the Spring Game. While the Virginia Tech's running back situation is already cloudy because of these four guys, it's less clear than that because Deshawn McClease wasn't fully healthy this spring and Jalen Holston wasn't on-campus yet. McClease showed some promise last fall very limitedly before getting injured against Tennessee while Holston was always around the top of the board for Virginia Tech at RB and in theory, Holston should be a good fit in Justin Fuente's offense. McClease isn't a big tailback but he has great speed and acceleration while being a little bigger than JC Coleman was. McClease is versatile and definitely can be used as a solid target in the passing game, something that McMillian and Peoples don't necessarily seem to be great fits for. The thing with McClease is he is not much of a power runner and is more of a speed back that may not be able to be more than a 10 to 15 carry per game guy. However, Justin Fuente seems comfortable with having 2 or 3 guys spilt 30-35 carries per game so McClease definitely will have a solid chance to be that leader in carries while McClease impressed Fuente enough last spring to get first team reps over McMillian in the 2016 Spring Game. Jalen Holston is the big unknown in all of this as he has the prototypical size that you would want from your featured tailback but he now has to adjust to being at the collegiate level. However, if he's as good as Virginia Tech's staff believes he is, Holston will be a serious contender for the starting tailback job and will definitely earn some carries in the fall. Many hoped that Virginia Tech's running back situation would begin to clear up and that one guy would begin to stand out but for now, that is far from the case in what is a murky running back situation that presents more questions than answers.

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