Open practice not up to par for Virginia Tech's defense

With the 2016 football season just around the corner, Virginia Tech's defense may have some work to do.

            It didn’t always look like the defense was ahead of the offense Tuesday in Virginia Tech’s partially opened practice. But the Hokies still showed glimpses of what could be a solid defense this fall. 

            Last season, Virginia Tech finished No. 44 in the country in total defense. Can the Hokies improve on that ranking? We go over some of the key points from Tuesday.

One-on-one contact, Ekanem off

            With about 15 snaps during one on one plays, it was noticeable that Virginia Tech’s defense struggled. Players like defensive backs Jovonn Quillen and Reggie Floyd both showed inconsistencies.

            It probably didn’t help that senior defensive end Ken Ekanem didn’t quite look like himself. While he still participated in a few drills, he was also held out of a few.

            In his post-practice press conference, Fuente didn’t seem too worried about Ekanem’s health. But at this point, Ekanem shouldn’t have to prove a lot by being in every drill, either.

            “Everybody’s got a little bit of something,” Fuente said. “We know what ken is. There’s push players and pull players and Ken’s a pull player, pulling back a little bit. We’re trying to make sure we manage those guys that have played a lot. We’ve gotta get those guys ready to play. That doesn’t mean they should stand on the side and drink water the whole time, but there’s also a whole other class of guys that need a tremendous amount of work and Ken’s certainly not one of them.”

Gaines stands out

            With many defensive players struggling to stay focused, defensive end Houshun Gaines delivered. On more than one occasion, Gaines got into the backfield. He had five tackles during the 45-minute long practice, and led with great strength and tenacity. 

            After being charged with possession of marijuana charge in April, Gaines is suspended for Virginia Tech’s season-opener against Liberty. However, his focus and strong effort in practice is a good indicator of how vital he is to the Hokies’ defensive line. It looks like he’s on track for playing time when he returns.

Defense ahead of offense?

            There were a number of instances in the open portion of practice Tuesday when the offense clearly looked ahead of the defense. Completions seemed to come easier and the defense struggled in getting to the ball.

            But Fuente said that perhaps overwhelmingly, the defense remains ahead of the offense. That’s typically the case in practice for most teams and Fuente said it’s to be expected with the Hokies as well.

            “I’ve never been anywhere where the offense is ahead of the defense,” Fuente said. “Ever. Even in the years when we’ve been in the top 10 for offense – the defense was still a familiarity. It doesn’t seem to me like this year is any different. If you go out there, and your offense runs up and down the field, you’re in deep deep trouble.”

Practice Not Up to Par

            There was a bit of disappointment for Fuente in terms of practice as a whole. While he didn’t go into specifics, Fuente told the media that he expected more than what Virginia Tech showed Tuesday.

            “There’s no excuses for that,” Fuente said. “Hopefully we’ll have a better day tomorrow. We’re working a little more, and prepping for game one.

            “There are certain challenges there to get back and get there tomorrow. I'll be the first one to admit that it is my fault and my responsibility. That’s what I told the kids. I didn’t do a good job. Not you. We have to be better tomorrow.”

Fuente Thanks Students

There were about 2,600 students in attendance Tuesday during the open portion of spring practice. Roughly 40 minutes was available to watch as only students with a valid ID were allowed into Lane Stadium

            “It’s so nice to work at a place and know what you’re doing is great for other people,” Fuente said. “It was fun to see the students come out and hang out for a little bit. They obviously play a huge role in making Lane Stadium what it is.”

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