April 1, 2009

Solid nucleus back at Virginia Tech

It wasn't always pretty for Virginia Tech last season, but the Hokies won the ACC title for the second consecutive season thanks to a stout defense.

Virginia Tech was sitting at 6-4 in early November, but the Hokies ended the season on a four-game winning streak - including a victory in the Orange Bowl.

The Hokies return the bulk of their starters and look to be the team to beat in the ACC. But that doesn't mean there isn't work to do this spring. Coaches must find a way to get more production from the offense, specifically in the passing game.

Here's a look at the Hokies as they begin spring practice.

virginia tech AT-A-GLANCE
Tyrod Taylor and the Hokies are the team to beat in the ACC as spring drills begin.
THE BASICS
Coach: Frank Beamer
Last season: 10-4, 5-3 ACC. Beat Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl.
Spring dates: April 1-25
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (8): TE Greg Boone, WR Jarrett Boykin, WR Danny Coale, T Blake DeChristopher, TB Darren Evans, G Sergio Render, QB Tyrod Taylor, T Ed Wang.
Defense (7): FS Kam Chancellor, T John Graves, LB Cam Martin, SS Dorian Porch, T Cordarrow Thompson, CB Stephan Virgil, E Jason Worilds.
Special teams (1): P Brent Bowden.
Positions of strength

With the Hokies, it always starts with defense. With seven starters back, the defense as a whole should be strong again. Injuries to Cam Martin and Jason Worilds will keep them out of spring ball, but that actually may work in the Hokies' favor because backups will see more time this spring. The safety combination of Kam Chancellor and Dorian Porch has the potential to be one of the best in the nation. With four starters back, the offensive line should be better than it was last season. Sergio Render should be one of the best in the ACC, though he will miss spring practice after shoulder surgery. There is some talent at wide receiver but will those players get the ball enough? Darren Evans heads a strong group of tailbacks.

Help is needed

The offense needs more explosiveness, especially in the passing game. Sean Glennon's graduation means Tyrod Taylor is the man at quarterback. This is an important spring for Taylor as the coaches attempt to revitalize the passing offense. Only one starter is missing from the secondary, but it's All-America cornerback Victor "Macho" Harris. The Hokies also need two new starting linebackers, though the talent appears to be on hand.

Keep an eye on

CB Rashad Carmichael: Harris' departure opens up a starting spot, and Carmichael - a junior who reportedly has the fastest 40-yard dash time on the team - gets first dibs. Stephan Virgil, who started last season at what the Hokies call the "field corner," is expected to take Harris' spot as the "boundary corner" and Carmichael is set to replace Virgil. Carmichael had 14 tackles and two pass breakups as a reserve last season.

LB Barquell Rivers: Rivers, a sophomore, got the first start of his career in the Orange Bowl and played well. He's on the short side (5 feet 11), but he weighs 232 pounds and is a physical presence in the middle. With a good spring, Rivers likely locks up a starting job.

TB Ryan Williams: The highly touted Williams redshirted as a true freshman last season, but he showed off his speed on the scout team. Coaches wanted him to work on his blocking, and if he shows the expected improvement, he likely will head into the season as the top backup to Evans. Williams' home-run ability will get him playing time in the fall assuming he shows the coaches what they need to see this spring.

His time is now

The starting job unquestionably is Taylor's, but it's vital he become a better passer if the Hokies want their offense to improve. Taylor is a good athlete and can make plays with his running ability, but his passing has lagged way behind. He threw for 1,036 yards, two touchdowns and seven interceptions last season. The Hokies' offense has struggled the past three seasons, and unless or until Taylor becomes a better passer, those struggles are going to continue.

The buzz

The Hokies look to have all the pieces in place to repeat as ACC champs, even if the offense needs improvement. The defense is a constant, and some injuries are giving the Hokies an opportunity to develop depth at key positions on that side of the ball this spring. The focus will be on getting the offense in gear. Given the offensive struggles last season, it's amazing the Hokies won the ACC. It's vital that Taylor become a better passer this spring. If he doesn't, there will be a ton of pressure on the defense again this fall.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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