August is pretty much here — which means the college football season is all but here. In Blacksburg, Justin Fuente will attempt to stir a little magic while building on last year's success — an inaugural season that ended with an ACC Coastal Division crown for Virginia Tech football.
Any Hokies' fan will tell you they understand Fuente inherited a talent-laden roster last season and he will have his work cut out for him in his second year.
Here are 5 things to watch as Virginia Tech fall practice begins:
5. Elite secondary?
Since Bud Foster has been the defensive coordinator, Virginia Tech has been synonymous with a hard-hitting, physical defense capped off by a ball-hungry secondary. You've seen the names like DeAngelo Hall, Kam Chancellor, the Fuller brothers etc., who have emerged from Virginia Tech to have impressive NFL careers.
But how about right now?
No more Chuck Clark to anchor the unit — but beyond that, it's a group that remains largely in-tact with talent across the board. Brandon Facyson looked rejuvenated last year and should be primed for a big season, while Greg Stroman proved to be reliable when called upon (and he's put on some weight/looks terrifying). Adonis Alexander has the skill set to emerge as a first-round NFL corner and then there's Terrell Edmunds sliding over from linebacker to safety — filling the void left by Clark.
Just glancing at the talent, this looks like the best group of defensive backs to come through Blacksburg in a while, but I'll be looking to see how they mesh as a unit.
This is a strange — largely young group — but there are some core pieces that have considerable in-game experience and have produced when called upon. Everyone knows about Wyatt Teller by this point. He's the catalyst to lead blocking for most run plays and if he can keep the penalties to a minimum, will only get better. He's also really vocal and I expect Teller to emerge as a leader.
Center is one of the more underrated positions on the field, but luckily the Hokies have someone who has mastered it. Virginia Tech will inevitably have growing pains with whichever young QB ends up starting, but Eric Gallo will be there to help smoothen the transition. He has 25 starts and has played in 29 games since arriving at VT — and I'd be shocked if there was anyone other than Gallo at center when the season opener rolls around.
Both right and left tackle is a bit in flux — but Parker Osterloh has some playing experience and could find a spot on the right side, while Braxton Plaff will likely compete for a starting position as well.
There are some question marks on the offensive line for sure, but with Teller and Gallo anchoring the ship — it should be a decent unit.
3. BIG QUESTIONS IN THE BACKFIELD
I have several concerns about the Virginia Tech offense — and running back is a position where there should be some concern. I thought Marshawn Williams showed a ton of promise and could eventually scrap his way into the starting role, but he walked away from the team at the end of the season. Sam Rogers is obviously gone — taking away a versatile weapon who could thrive as both a runner and pass-catcher.
Let's talk about Travon McMillian. I feel for this kid. He put together a breakout outing in 2015, finishing the season with 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns. But then Frank Beamer hung it up and Fuente came in with a shiny new offensive scheme that doesn't rely heavily on running backs.
McMillian has been patient throughout it all — and I think we could see a resurgence in 2017-18. I still don't think Fuente's offense will use running backs anywhere close to the way Beamer did, but there will be plenty of opportunities for McMillian, who has very little competition in the backfield.
"The biggest thing for us is the supporting cast in terms of some more production out of our running back position as we move forward so that whoever does play quarterback has a chance to be productive," Fuente told HERO Sports at the ACC Media Kickoff earlier this month.
Cam Phillips was a stud in the latter half of the 2016 campaign — and yes, some of that was because Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges commanded so much attention. Phillips had at least five catches in every game but one from Oct. 20 to the end of the year. He also had a touchdown in each of the final three games of the regular season.
But how does Phillips adjust to becoming a reliable third WR to now becoming the guy? We just don't know.
Beyond Phillips, we are looking at one of the more young and unproven groups on the roster. Sure, Fuente's offensive system will help give them opportunities but do we absolutely know there is someone as reliable as Ford or who can create matchup nightmares like Hodges? Nope.
C.J. Carroll is the only other guy with any real playing experience and while he can be a nice slot threat, the redshirt junior won't ever take over a game.
Then there are the Eric Kumah's, Henri Murphy's and Sean Daniel's of the world. These dudes have obviously flashed in practice — but have never really played in a game. Someone will have to step up and emerge from the pack, but there will be plenty of bumps along the way.
1. Yes, we will talk about the Quarterback
Most of you probably assumed this would be the No. 1 question heading into fall practice — and you're right. Jerod Evans is long gone and trying to find a job somewhere in the professional ranks, and there are three young QBs vying for the starting role.
I genuinely don't think there is an edge right now when it comes to all three guys (Hendon Hooker, A.J. Bush and Josh Jackson). Most Hokies' followers might point to Jackson because he's familiar with the system and impressed the coaching staff last summer, but I wouldn't be shocked if Hooker or Bush got the nod. Shoot, maybe we see all three at various times?
"We've obviously got an open competition there at quarterback, three very capable candidates," Fuente said at the ACC media kickoff.
In my mind, this isn't coach speak. Fuente might have a slight idea of who he will start against West Virginia, but at any time over the next few weeks, that could change.
I love Hooker as a true freshman and believe he is the future. I don't know enough about Jackson but obviously he's been impressive at practice. Bush is the only guy with college experience — and that could serve him well.
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