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April 24, 2013

Good & Bad: Spring Game

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Not to the surprise of many, the Virginia Tech defense stole the show at Lane Stadium on Saturday for the annual Spring Game.

The Orange and White teams combined to allow just 23 net yards rushing and a total of 384 offensive yards. The problem is, that's not what the fans were hoping to see from an offense that boasts three new coaches and a series of question marks.

There's still over four months to solve the offensive line issues, running back rotation, depth at wide receiver, and of course, the inconsistency of quarterback Logan Thomas. But it would have been nice to see a measurable mark of progress, instead of seeing the defense outscore the offense 14-7.

It will be quite interesting to see the improvements made over the next few months.

Five other observations from Saturday's contest:

1. While the defense will certainly be the centerpiece of the team heading into 2013, there won't be as much hype surrounding the unit. That's exactly how defensive coordinator Bud Foster's pupils want it.

"We say we don't deserve anything," defensive end James Gayle said. "I feel like we just need to continue to work hard and make sure we progress from the spring to the summer. If we do that, I think we'll be pretty well off in the season."

Even though there was a tough stretch in the middle of the 2012 season, the defense still finished with the 18th-best defense in terms of yards allowed per game and 32nd in points allowed. With the graduation of just three starters (that's including Antoine Hopkins and the tandem of Alonzo Tweedy and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow), it certainly appears this group is primed for an impressive year.

2. All three of the candidates for a starting cornerback spot (if Antone Exum can't go) played well on Saturday, but none of them were able to separate from the pack.

"I think they all have taken big steps," Kyle Fuller said regarding Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning, and Brandon Facyson. "I think for them now, it's all about being consistent. They have a lot of work to do, but I think come the fall we'll be able to rely on any of those guys."

Riley provided the best highlight of the bunch by returning a 53-yard interception for a touchdown, but he was also beaten on a few plays. Facyson had the only breakup in the game and registered 3 tackles, but he was beaten by wide receiver Joshua Stanford for a 57-yard reception on a slant early in the game. Manning added 3 tackles for the Orange team (the other two were on the White team) with the starting unit.

We'll find out who improves the most over the summer (my money is still on Facyson), but incoming freshman Kendall Fuller remains the wildcard. Rivals.com's No. 9 player in the 2013 class could immediately help in the secondary, and having a group of older brothers to show him the ropes could be incredibly useful.

"I'm going to spend as much time as I can with him, which we're doing already," Kendall's older brother Kyle said. "But I'm definitely looking forward to him coming here and contributing."

3. "Talk about your all-time backfires." --Happy Gilmore

The Virginia Tech coaches gave a 13-point head start to the White Team (made up of mainly second teamers), which in retrospect seems quite silly considering the Orange team mustered only 9 points.

"I didn't think it would be a problem," Fuller said of the 13-point cushion. "It didn't seem like the offense was playing well, but I thought they were going to be able to get it together. I know it's a Spring Game, but I have faith in those guys and they'll be alright."

Perhaps the best quote of the day came from the Spring's defensive MVP, Gayle.

"I thought it was going to be cake work, honestly," Gayle said. "But they came out there and played well, and we weren't able to overcome it. It was just one of those days."

4. Virginia Tech tight ends combined for 29 catches, 302 yards, and 3 touchdowns last season. On Saturday, the tight ends combined for 110 yards on 6 catches and scored the only offensive touchdown. Look for the position to be utilized often in the fall.

"There's a lot of routes where the quarterback looks to us first," tight end Ryan Malleck said. "I definitely have noticed (the emphasis on incorporating the tight ends)."

Malleck had three catches for 45 yards and got to the end zone on a 30-yard pass from quarterback Mark Leal. Zack McCray had a team-high four catches for 65 yards. He could have neared 100 yards had he caught a last-minute throw down the middle from Thomas.

Thomas certainly has the arm-strength in order to pick out the holes in the middle of the field. More importantly, if Malleck and McCray keeps defenses honest, it will open up the outside receivers a lot more.

Malleck already believes there's some great connections building with him and his quarterback.

"I thought [Thomas] played well this Spring," Malleck said. "Me and him connected a bunch, we starting feeling a lot more comfortable and created some chemistry.

5. The running back situation is still as clouded as when the Hokies began Spring practice.

A combined 34 yards on 17 total carries from the three starting candidates didn't exactly provide a pillar of hope for the 2013 run-game.

"I just tell [the fans], keep watching," Trey Edmunds said. "We have a lot to put in."

Edmunds sure seemed like the most impressive of the group on Saturday, which could already be narrowed down after running Michael Holmes was arrested Saturday night for his role in a fight in front of TOTS in Blacksburg and has been indefinitely suspended from the team. Edmunds broke off a 41-yard run that was called back because of holding, and found ways to get the tough yards inside.

It still might be a good bet that J.C. Coleman will be the starter in the season-opener because of his experience and breakaway abilities. But Edmunds will be sure to contribute heavily in the start. He could very well work his way into the workhorse role midway through the year while inserting Coleman in for outside runs.

We leave Spring practice with many of the questions surrounding this team unanswered. In the end, it's going to be up to the players and coaches whether they can return to an ACC Championship-caliber team. The waiting begins.



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