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April 13, 2013

Good And Bad Of Scrimmage 2: Defense

With a deeper playbook and numerous redzone situations, Saturday morning's scrimmage offered a better glimpse at the potential of offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler's new offense. Many would say the defense was victorious in the battle of offense and defense, but a total of five touchdowns were scored on the day (compared to zero on Monday) by five different players.

Overall, it was another productive performance from the defense- with some hints of progress from the offense. The intensified day began with an Oklahoma drill that included two huge hits by Kyle Fuller, and the pace stayed at a high level throughout.

"That, to me, was a good scrimmage right there," Head Coach Frank Beamer said. "A lot of plays on both sides, and a lot of plays on both sides that you learn from. I'm pleased with our progress, the learning and competition that's taking place, the energy we're practicing with, and we're efficient too."

Statistically, the Hokies didn't gain as many yards as Monday (265 vs 232 today). But the yards were accumulated in 16 less plays and overall the unit looked more fluid.

Five other observations from Virginia Tech's second scrimmage (including a Logan Thomas analysis):

1. Logan Thomas was extremely effective and looked drastically improved from five days ago.

Although he was just 6-16 for 119 yards and 1 touchdown (also a rushing TD), Thomas had a very productive day. Around 4 or 5 passes were dropped, he made one bad decision (floated an incomplete pass over the middle), and balls were zipping around the field.

"He reminds me of guys I've had that play in the NFL," Loeffler said about Thomas. "He picks things up fast."

Given the fact that Thomas has improved this much over such a short period of time, one has to be curious where his progress will be come August 31.

2. While the defense produced another impressive performance, there's still some work to be done in the secondary.

There were three plays over 40 yards on Monday, and today included a 35-yard touchdown by Demitri Knowles on a beautiful strike from Thomas and two separate 20+ yard passes. Giving up big plays is a rarity for a Bud Foster unit- it just can't happen if this defense is to return to elite status.

"I think we really need to improve on the deep protection by the secondary," linebacker Tariq Edwards said. "And tackling as well- we need to be flying around to the ball and you can always improve on that."

Fuller was beat by Knowles on the long touchdown and Donovan Riley was beaten by Joel Caleb for a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brian Rody (third-string offense). While there's been some flipping between Riley and Donaldven Manning at corner, there's one youngster who just might steal the spot from the two...

3. Brandon Facyson is a true freshman that enrolled in January, but you can already tell he's going to be a star for the Hokies. And it might begin this year.

On Monday, defensive coordinator Bud Foster praised Facyson's closing speed. Sure enough, the 18-year-old impressively jumped a hitch route today and intercepted Mark Leal. He also had one breakup, bring his team-high total in the two scrimmages to three.

"I'm very long, so along with the closing speed, I can get my hands in there and make a play," Facyson said. "That's been one of my attributes that I like, and I just want it to get better."

I've always been skeptical of true freshmen playing on Foster's defense because of the complex reads that each defender must make pre-snap and post-snap. But it certainly appears that that's something Facyson is taking very seriously and may be able to cheat the learning curve a bit.

"I want to get all the formations down and have the ability to have the urgency to react to plays quickly," Facyson added. "I watch Kyle Fuller all the time, and the way he processes things, it's so fast. I just want to be like that."

4. Tariq Edwards & Jack Tyler looked solid stuffing the run together, until Tyler (unofficially) dislocated his finger while making a tackle.

Hokies running backs combined for just 27 yards on 27 carries- yikes. The offensive line was getting more push today, but not much. It's pretty clear the front seven of the defense is much more talented and further along than the offensive front for Virginia Tech.

Edwards believes the chemistry between him and fellow linebacker Tyler is vital to the defense's success.

"Communication for our defense is the key, getting aligned, and letting people know around us what the play or formation is," Edwards said. "Me and Jack know pretty much everything that's going on, and we need to transfer that information to everybody else. I think we do a great job of preparing our guys every play."

While the lack of rushing yards is probably more of a signal of the offensive line's long process, you can expect that there isn't likely to be many 100-yard rushers against the Hokies this season.

5. It's looking like Charley Wiles will need to find an important role for Dadi Nicholas.

The redshirt sophomore has had his share of off-the-field troubles, but it appears that Nicholas has kicked his performance up to a new gear. He led the Hokies with 6 tackles, had 2.5 tackles for loss, and one sack. (all at defensive end)

"He's got a lot of athletic ability, has fun when he plays. Big guy like that with long arms, he can block kicks, I think he's valuable in many ways," Beamer said about Nicholas. "What I'm interested in is the final product, and right now that final product is looking pretty good."

"Daddy" now has 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss in two scrimmages- some could argue he's been the most impressive defensive standout. It's hard to imagine him unseating J.R. Collins or James Gayle (who didn't play today), but it would be very surprising if Nicholas isn't used in a big way come the fall.

The Hokies will practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday before Virginia Tech concludes spring practice with next Saturday's Spring Game at 3 p.m.


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