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June 20, 2012

Breakdown: VT Coach Responsibilities Part III

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After looking over Virginia Tech's defense last week, we turn our attention to the offensive side of the ball and see what the coaches will be looking for once practice begins.

While the defense is returning nine starters, the offense is the complete opposite with only three returners in Logan Thomas, Andrew Miller, and Joey Phillips. Expect some growing pains on the offensive side of the ball this year but these coaches are the best at developing talent and will have things turned around coming down the home stretch of the season.


Mike O'Cain - Quarterbacks Coach

While Thomas is a projected top five pick by some draft experts, O'Cain still has a lot of coaching left to do.

Thomas only completed 59.8% of his passes last year, good enough for 66th in the country, all while throwing behind a solid offensive line and two of the best receivers ever to play in Lane Stadium.

Thomas knows he still has work to put in and that is evident by the fact that he spent his spring break in California working with quarterback guru George Whitfield, who has trained Andrew Luck and Cam Newton in the past. The junior is hungry for success and this preseason will be all about Thomas getting comfortable with his new wide receiving corps and working on his accuracy.

Look for O'Cain to continue giving Thomas more responsibility at the line of scrimmage as well, which was a theme as the season progressed last year. In the first few games of the season Thomas had the ability to change the play call at the line of scrimmage only a few times a game if he did not like what he saw, but by the end of the year he was doing this 5-10 times a game and you could tell he was slowly mastering the offense.

O'Cain will surely be expanding Thomas' responsibility this year and implementing new checks for the quarterback to change to at the line of scrimmage. If last season was any indication then Thomas should pick things up quickly and continue to progress as one of the best quarterback prospects in the nation.

Behind Thomas is Mark Leal who is firmly entrenched as the backup. After that O'Cain will have his eye on Trey Gresh, Brian Rody, and incoming freshman Brenden Motley who will all be competing for the third spot on the depth chart.

Prediction: Look for Thomas to start off slow this year as his offensive line gets used to playing together but watch for him to come on strong at the end of the year similar to 2011.

Once Thomas gets comfortable with his wide receivers and if the offensive line can give him enough time to throw (a big if) look for O'Cain to open up the playbook and put a lot more responsibility in Thomas' hands. Also expect Thomas' accuracy to improve this year after putting in all the extra time in the offseason and having an extra year to learn the system.

Expect Gresh to win the third quarterback spot and be the holder on field goals while Motley will redshirt.


Kevin Sherman - Wide Receivers Coach

This summer and fall will be about two main things for Sherman: trying to replace the top two wide receivers statistically in Virginia Tech history and trying to comb through the rest of the roster and identify a fourth option on the depth chart.

The top three wide receivers on the depth chart are set with Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, and Dyrell Roberts but that fourth spot will be up for grab all preseason. Davis will be the number one option this year and is a 6'4" 228-pound freak athlete who started eight games for the Hokies last year and was third on the team in receiving yards with 510 while also reeling in five touchdowns.

The only thing holding Davis back is his hands. He has had too many drops throughout his career at Virginia Tech and that is the main thing Sherman will be working on with him this offseason along with getting his timing down with Thomas.

If Davis can improve his hands there is no one in the country who can cover him one-on-one and NFL teams will be drooling over his potential. Coles is another big wide receiver at 6'3" 216 pounds and had a coming out party last year with 36 grabs for 480 yards and 3 touchdowns while also being an extremely good blocker on the outside. If Coles can stay healthy he has the talent to have a huge year and will create a dangerous 1-2 punch with Davis for the Hokies.

Roberts will work from the slot this year as well as the outside and has shown glimpses in the past of being a reliable wide receiver who also has big play ability. He has been plagued by injuries throughout his career at Tech but if healthy will add an explosive element in the slot.

Sherman will also be spending as much time watching the backup wide receivers as he will the starters because no one has stepped p and claimed that fourth receiver spot. The battle will come down to Demitri Knowles, Corey Fuller, and Kevin Asante unless an incoming freshman can prove himself. Sherman will look to see if any of these players can separate themselves from the field while also keeping a close eye on highly touted wide receiver recruit Joel Caleb.

Caleb is the highest-ranked recruit arriving in Blacksburg this summer and if he was not recovering from an injury would be a shoe-in to get on the field early. Sherman will have his hands full in practice but this is a talented and experienced group who could put up some huge numbers this fall.

Prediction: The top three sports are set in stone so look for Corey Fuller to win the fourth spot on the depth chart with Knowles winning the fifth spot. Caleb, if fully healthy will compete for playing time right away because he is a dynamic playmaker but it looks as though he will be a little rusty coming off of an injury.

Caleb most likely will redshirt and spend the year fully learning the wide receiver position since he played quarterback in high school. Keep an eye on incoming freshman Joshua Stanford who was a late blooming prospect out of Georgia with exceptional speed and ball skills. Do not be surprised to see him come into camp and push Fuller and Knowles for playing immediate playing time.


Curt Newsome - Offensive Guards and Center Coach

The offensive line has been a highly criticized part of Virginia Tech's teams for as far back as anyone can remember and a lot of that blame has been directed, justifiably, towards Newsome. He coached the entire offensive line for the previous five seasons until last year when he started coaching just the interior linemen.

The offensive line finally had a good year last year allowing only 17 sacks, which was tied for best in the ACC as opposed to 2010 when the Hokies allowed a whopping 34 sacks. The bad news is that this line loses four starters and Newsome will have the job of replacing both starting guards.

The good news for Newsome is that he knows who will be starting at guard and center heading into the season.

Andrew Miller returns as the starting center after a solid first year last year and will be in charge of leading this offensive line during this transition. Newsome knows what he has in Miller, which is a solid ACC starter who has the ability to turn into an All-ACC type player by the end of the season.

The new starting left guard will be David Wang, brother of former Tech great Ed Wang, who is an undersized guard at only 6'1" and 286 pounds but Wang has all the skills needed to succeed. Wang has some of the best feet of any offensive lineman on the team and will excel at the pull blocking that Tech likes to utilize in the run game.

The new starting right guard will be Brent Benedict, a transfer from the University of Georgia who sat out last year due to NCAA rules and is recovering from a severe knee injury he suffered during his senior year of high school.

Benedict is a big physical offensive lineman who was ranked the 76th best player in the country coming out of high school in 2009 and comes into this year with a lot of expectations.

If Benedict can knock off the rust and get back to full health he would be the most talented and powerful blocker on this team but there are concerns he will never be the player he used to be.

Benedict should be ready to go and compete at a high level this season. If for any reason he cannot then look for Michael Via to step in and take over his role at offensive guard.

Via is a jack of all trades for the offensive line who is the primary backup for every position except center and may start at right tackle.

Newsome knows Wang is ready to step in and play at a high level immediately so he will spend most of his time evaluating Benedict to make sure he is ready to go. Newsome will also be trying to coach up the rest of the interior lineman, none of which (except maybe Caleb Farris) are anywhere close to being ready to play meaningful snaps.

Prediction: Miller and Wang will have an excellent year at center and left guard while giving Logan Thomas some solid inside protection and helping the running game get off the ground.

Benedict should be pretty rusty during the first half of the season until he gets back to full speed and in football shape again but he is a talented player who can help solidify this line when healthy. If any of the backup interior linemen get on the field this year that will spell trouble and could lead to some hard moments to watch.

Expect every incoming freshman lineman to redshirt and if Newsome can somehow find a way for this offensive line to match some of the success from last year's unit that will be a success.

Check back tomorrow for part four of the series as we conclude the offense.

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