BLACKSBURG — There’s not much mystery left to Virginia Tech’s first-team offense coming out of spring camp.
That’s not the official line from Tech coaches — a depth chart reveal will probably have to wait until the week of the season opener against Old Dominion — and there’s always a chance the Hokies could shake things up with an additional transfer or two, but as of now here’s where we think things stand…
- Grant Wells
- Jason Brown
Virginia Tech’s coaches want to continue the quarterback competition into the spring, but that doesn’t mean we can’t declare a winner.
Former Marshall quarterback Grant Wells showed he had the best arm in Tech’s quarterback room with his standout spring game performance that included some impressive deep throws to Kaleb Smith.
That wasn’t an anomaly though since that was the case throughout camp during weekly periods of practice open to the media.
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The focus for Wells in the coming months will be improving on his accuracy and decision-making. Wells’ completion percentage was 10 points lower in losses (57.6%) as a starter, and Marshall was 2-5 in games where he completed less than 60% of his passes.
Wells also needs to cut down on the turnovers.
He almost threw two interceptions in the spring game while trying to force the ball into tight windows. Only two FBS quarterbacks threw more interceptions than Wells last year (13), and Wells has 22 interceptions in his career.
The other advantage in giving Wells the starting nod is that he is someone Tech’s staff can build around for more than just one season. The Hokies haven’t had a quarterback start back-to-back openers since Josh Jackson in 2017 and 2018.
Brown does give something Tech was lacking last season — an experienced backup. The previous staff ended up regretting their decision to not pursue a more seasoned transfer last year amid Braxton Burmeister’s struggles and injuries.
The South Carolina transfer should be a stabilizing presence in the locker room if Wells doesn’t meet expectations this fall or is knocked out of the game.
Brown talked about that very scenario after the spring game.
“You’re probably going to need both of us at some point in the year,” Brown said. “You look at my situation last year at South Carolina, I was the third-team quarterback. Luke [Doty] got hurt with a foot injury, went out for the rest of the season. Our [graduate assistant], Zeb [Noland], came in, played and he ended up getting hurt. It’s a position where you might need both guys and you probably will, most teams do. We’re just going to push each other each day, that way when the opportunity comes, both of us are ready.”
This is one of the few positions on the offense that’s better off than it was last year.
- Malachi Thomas
- Jalen Holston
- Keshawn King or Chance Black
Virginia Tech running back Malachi Thomas missed the spring game thanks to an ankle injury he suffered late in camp.
He was dressed out for the game, but didn’t get a carry. The cautious approach made sense considering head coach Brent Pry referred to him as the team’s “most consistent back” just days before he was scratched from the lineup.
The second-year back’s strong camp combined with what he put on film last year — the three-game stretch at midseason where he put up 324 yards and three touchdowns — helped him solidify a spot at the top of the depth chart.
It was hard to get a feeling for the rest of the running back room based on Tech’s spring game alone. The Hokies ran the ball 39 times, but the quarterbacks accounted for 20 of those carries. King led all running backs with five carries for 27 yards.
Holston probably isn’t that far behind on the two-deep.
He received the same kind of praise throughout camp from the new staff as he did the previous one for his positive presence in the locker room and work ethic. He’s hopeful that wherever he lands on the depth chart it will at least result in a consistent role from week to week.
Holston could get plenty of work depending on how the coaches plan on splitting up carries, especially if they want to limit the wear and tear on Thomas.
King and Black could be vying for the same set of touches this fall as a change of pace type back. They have similar skill sets with the kind of explosiveness Tech’s new staff is looking to take advantage of.
That athleticism combined with strong pass catching skills had the coaches tossing the idea around of auditioning them at wide receiver.
The focus instead will be finding ways to be creative with them as the previous staff tried to do with Raheem Blackshear, most notably in the win over North Carolina in last fall’s season-opener.
King, who has missed 13 games over three seasons, will have to stay healthy to keep a leg up over Black.
- Kaleb Smith, Da’Wain Lofton, Jadan Blue
- Jaylen Jones, Stephen Gosnell, Dallan Wright
Smith has carried a chip on his shoulder since arriving in Blacksburg as a preferred walk-on in 2018. He was put on scholarship a year later and it wasn’t too long after that he made it into the starting lineup.
His career numbers as a multi-year starter don’t jump off the page — he has 37 catches for 469 and four touchdowns — but his limited production during that stretch had a lot to do with the previous staff’s offensive play-calling.
They increasingly preferred 12 personnel (featuring two tight ends) over three receiver sets, leaving Smith the odd man out behind Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson. Tech was also at the bottom of the FBS in pass attempts each of the last three years.
Smith put an exclamation point on his strong camp with a pair of long touchdown catches in the spring game.
It’s important to avoid putting too much stock in one performance — Caleb Farley had a game-high 78 all-purpose yards at receiver in the 2017 spring game — but Smith isn’t shying away from expectations and said he’s taking “ownership” of the room this year.
Lofton and Blue round out the first team, which isn’t much of a surprise.
Pry said Lofton put his playmaking skills on display throughout camp and even had the defensive coaching staff mention him as one of the team’s standout players. Blue, who transferred from Temple, is the only other receiver on the roster with meaningful experience.
The second group is much harder to pin down.
Tech’s depth wasn’t great to begin with, and that was before Jaden Payoute opted to take a medical disqualification.
Jones is probably the next in line after getting some playing time late last year. Receivers coach Fontel Mines recruited Jones out of high school and described him as “strong, physical and confident.” He had a standout moment in the spring game with a stutter step that faked Chamarri Conner out of his cleats.
- LT Silas Dzansi, LG Jesse Hanson, C Johnny Jordan, RG Kaden Moore, RT Parker Clements
- LT Bob Schick, LG Danijel Miletic, C Nikolai Bujnowski, RG Jack Hollifield, RT William Jones
The competition on the offensive line was pretty straightforward this spring.
Tech had the four returning starters — Dzansi, Jordan, Moore and Clements — working with the first-team offense the entire spring. Dzansi, who has bounced around the line during his career, settled in at left tackle.
Fourth-year lineman Jesse Hanson filled the lone vacancy at left guard. He had a newfound confidence thanks to the arrival of offensive line coach Joe Rudolph — Hanson described Rudolph as a “genius” — and that helped him fend off any competitors.
The decision to lean on those veterans wasn’t much of a shock since the Hokies almost had no experience to speak of behind that group.
Walk-ons helped form the foundation of the second-team line.
Bujnowski is the only other true center on the roster behind Jordan. Hollifield continued to get some work in at the position this spring, but was mostly at guard during open practice periods.
Jones spent last year with the second-team offense, and was viewed by the previous staff as a scholarship level type talent.
Rudolph has a history of turning walk-ons into All-Americans, but the hope this year will be helping Bujnowski, Jones and even Chris Boyd (another walk-on tackle) be viable backups in case of injuries. Jones could be the first tackle off the bench if Dzansi or Clements get injured.
Tech has some added depth at guard in sheer numbers. One of the players to watch might be Miletic, who quietly put together a strong spring camp.
One of the storylines to follow for the fall will be if any of the incoming freshmen — Johnny Garrett, Johnny Dickson, Hunter Mclain and Xavier Chaplin — can crack the two-deep with only four weeks of practice. The coaching staff hasn’t spoken publicly yet about where each player will line up to start their careers.
- Nick Gallo
- Drake DeIuliis
The tight end room looks the same as it did for much of last season.
Tech got an early start to life without James Mitchell after he went down with a season-ending injury in Week 2. Gallo and DeIuliis handled an expanded role well, with Gallo getting most of the opportunities in the passing game that went to Mitchell.
This year will probably go the same way.
Tech’s new staff really likes what Gallo brings to the table and he took home the offense’s most improved player award for the spring. He had 14 catches for 130 yards last year — it was his second straight season with double-digit receptions — and fans should expect to see those numbers go up this fall.
DeIuliis coming back for a sixth season gives the Hokies time to develop a tight end room that now features three true freshmen.
The X-factor will be Connor Blumrick, who transitioned to tight end full time after spending the first two weeks of camp competing for the starting quarterback job. This is Blumrick’s second go-around at the position, but the Hokies seem more convinced about his potential at the spot than the Texas A&M staff did.
Blumrick could end up moving around the field and getting more snaps out of a wildcat type package than tight end, but the coaches are keeping whatever plans they have for him under wraps until the fall.
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