Following a mock game weekend, coach Justin Fuente and the Hokies are now in game week for their season-opener Saturday against Liberty. With game week came the release of Virginia Tech’s initial depth chart Monday.
“We are happy to get through mock game week,” Fuente said. “Sometimes it is logistically draining. Our kids did a good job handling that since it is a lot more mental focus.”
In addition, Fuente announced that he’s installed a new tradition this year that will begin with the first game of the season. Each week, one selected special-teams player will represent former long-time coach Frank Beamer by wearing jersey No. 25.
We take a look at five key points from Monday’s press conference.
Depth Chart Revealed
There aren’t many surprises on defense. It appears that defensive coordinator Bud Foster is keeping a consistent unit similar to last year, with the exception of sophomore Mook Reynolds, who will play in both a nickel and WHIP linebacker role.
However, on offense, there have been some rearrangements. One of the biggest differences is that sophomore Colt Petit will start at left guard. Junior Wyatt Teller will play backup at that position – a reversed scenario from last year.
“Colt has played better but does not mean things won’t change,” Fuente said.
Senior running back Sam Rogers will start at running back over sophomore Travon McMillian. Last season, McMillian rushed for 1,043 yards on over 200 carries, the majority of which came in the second half of the season. Rogers rushed for 260 over 61 yards.
“They are in the same place but also reversible,” Fuente said. “It is all personnel group oriented. When we release the depth chart you have to take it with a grain of salt. I wouldn’t read too much into it with them.”
Freshman Chris Cunningham is listed as the Hokies’ number one tight end or in this offense, more of an H-back. According to Fuente, he had a productive summer and was able to adjust his body to the position. Fuente explained how there are not many “true tight ends” on the team, which is why Cunningham’s versatility is appreciated.
Junior defensive back Greg Stroman will start as right cornerback and at punt and kick returner. Last season, he had 24 total tackles and went for 241 yards on 31 returns. Fuente said he believes Stroman is a solid, dependable player. Stroman exhibited an outstanding spring season and camp.
“Greg has been very much workman-like in his approach to everything,” Foster said. “He is going against outstanding players and doing a great job competing. He has improved leaps and bounds as a corner. He is dynamic and shows a lot of potential.”
Fuente explained how impressive he has performed, especially when up against talented players such as junior wide receivers Bucky Hodges, Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford.
“Off the field, Stroman is one of my closest friends on the team,” Ford said with a smile. “On the field though, we hate each other.”
Ford explained how he was ready to move on from competing against a talented Stroman. After being very accustomed to his playing style, they are all ready for game day, according to Ford.
Freshman Talent To Factor In
Linebackers Tavante Beckett and Emmanuel Belmar, in addition to defensive backs Jovonn Quillen, Reggie Floyd and Tyree Rogers were all mentioned by defensive coordinator Bud Foster as likely recipients of playing time as true freshmen. Wide receiver Divine Deablo was also recognized for working towards the opportunity as backup. Foster said he was impressed with the great group of true freshman that will potentially play this season.
“I am not sure if Tyree is ready to play on a consistent basis but can be,” Foster said. “Emmanual Belmar and Quillen will play on some kicking games. We need guys to step up in some spots on specials teams and bring some depth to defense.”
Ford said the coaches emphasized the necessity of depth behind the wide receiver position in fall camp. He also said that Deablo took that personally and stepped up to the plate by improving his game tremendously. Deablo will play in a backup role to Hodges.
“I like the way he has gone about his work,” Fuente said. “He has embraced the fact that there is an opportunity behind those top-tier guys because there is no depth behind them.”
Saturday will mark the first game with a new coach in 29 years. According to Fuente, preparing for a first game can already be challenging, so to add a new coach in the mix adds pressure.
Liberty also had new additions to their staff and team – a new coordinator and new quarterback. Senior safety Chuck Clark said that can alter the Hokies’ approach in preparing for the game because of potential surprises.
According to Foster, the Flames’ new quarterback, junior Stephon Masha, exhibits a different style than previous years. Foster said he will be interested to see how Liberty sets up their offense for a more running-oriented quarterback.
“I will be curious to see if they change their scheme,” Foster said. “There will be a different style quarter back though. He is more of an athletic one. He can run the ball well whereas last year throwing the ball was the other quarterback’s strength.”
Beamer’s Number To Be Worn
Fuente said he went through several meetings with Whit Babcock, director of athletics, in figuring out ways to honor the legendary Frank Beamer.
Fuente wants to honor Beamer by selecting one special team’s player each week to wear no. 25. A different player every week will have the honor of wearing the jersey. The decision has not been made yet for which player will wear the jersey for the first game.
“It was pretty neat to honor Coach Beamer,” an emotional Foster said. “Beamer will be thrilled by the recognition. It makes a big statement by tying in the old with the new. Coach Fuente wants to build on what we have done in the past with his twist on some traditions.”
Players said were in awe when they found out. Rogers said the news brought a smile to his face. He said he was very excited to carry on the legacy. Ford had similar comments stating how great of an impact Beamer had not only on his football career, but also his life, which makes the jersey that much more special.