March 6, 2012

Spring Preview: Running Backs

None of the top three tailbacks from last year's depth chart will participate this spring as David Wilson left early for the NFL, Josh Oglesby graduated, and Tony Gregory tore his ACL late in the year and is rehabbing. So who will step up? Shane Beamer was handed David Wilson last year, but he will have his work cut out for him this spring.

Participants

Michael Holmes - Freshman (RS)
Daniel Dyer - Sophomore (RS)
Maurice Taylor - Freshman (RS)
Martin Scales - Senior (RS)
J.C. Coleman - Freshman

Synopsis: All positions on the depth chart are wide open this spring and what will happen is expected to be one of the biggest position battles of the spring. Michael Holmes enters as the favorite after an impressive fall on the scout team, while true freshman J.C. Coleman enrolled early to try and break into the rotation early. Martin Scales is currently a fullback, but given his experience, running style, and the fact that Beamer cannot afford to leave a stone unturned, I believe he will get a look as well.

Player-By-Player

Michael Holmes - Holmes wasn't highly recruited out of high school at all, as most attributed his success to light competition and playing behind a massive offensive line led by former Virginia Tech target Landon Turner. However, Holmes turned heads with his natural running style during the fall, becoming one of the stars of the scout team. He is a between-the-tackles runner with good instincts for where and when the hole is opening. Even based on the little I've seen of him, I think he looks a lot like former Auburn running back Michael Dyer in that he has a strong lower body and can find the hole between the tackles and then bounce to the outside once he's in the second level. Holmes is definitely the favorite heading into the spring and will likely open up the session as the number one tailback.

Daniel Dyer - Dyer will draw comparison after comparison this spring to former Virginia Tech walk-on Dustin Pickle, who was of similar stature and situation with Dyer also being a hard working walk-on. Dyer played a few plays against Appalachian State last season and ran noticeably hard on each of them, but other than that he was just a special teams player. No one is going to compete harder or give more effort than Dyer, so he has that working for him. A starting position is likely out of the question for him, but Dyer is certainly a threat to gain the third, or maybe even second, spot on the depth chart.

Maurice Taylor - Maurice Taylor is a little known walk-on who redshirted this past season and will look to impress the coaches in his first spring. Don't expect much noise on him with regards to the depth chart though.

Martin Scales - Scales has been a fullback for his entire career at Tech and may very well continue at that position, but he has enough running ability, athleticism, and experience that he deserves a look with Tech's non-existent depth returning. Scales isn't a fullback in the mold of Riley Beiro, Joey Phillips, or even former Virginia Tech player Kenny Younger. Those guys are classic fullbacks that run like bulls and try to open up holes for the tailbacks. Scales is a little quicker and shiftier than those and could be a nice power running option for the Hokies. Most expect Holmes and Coleman to claim the top two spots, meaning a redshirt freshman and true freshman will be handling the ball all year for the Hokies. That would be a little discomforting for Shane Beamer, which is why I expect him to give Scales, a senior who has worked extremely hard and given so much to the program, an opportunity to not only play tailback, but also potentially carve out a role for himself this fall.

J.C. Coleman - Coleman is arguably the most highly touted freshman out of any of the recent signees after carrying Oscar Smith to the state championship this past fall. At 5-foot-7, he is of the scat back variety, but he has terrific vision and uses his blockers well, not only to open holes at the line of scrimmage but also to hide behind them and pick his hole very late in the process. Coleman will not only need to prove himself running the ball this spring, but also blocking and learning the playbook. He enrolled in January to get a head start on that, but there undoubtedly will be a learning curve this spring. With that in mind, look for Coleman to make a big surge during the second half of spring practice once he gets his feet underneath of him.

Three Big Questions

1) Is Michael Holmes ready to handle the load?

Starting tailbacks for Virginia Tech usually get around 20 carries per game. If Holmes claims the starting spot this spring, it will mean Shane Beamer, Bryan Stinespring, Mike O'Cain, and Frank Beamer are completely comfortable with giving Holmes a major role in the offense this fall.

2) How far away is J.C. Coleman from being "ready to play?"

Look for the phrase "ready to play" to be uttered a lot this spring by Shane Beamer. Coleman will impress with his vision and quickness from the beginning, but whether he can do all the other things such as blitz pickup, catching the ball out of the backfield, picking the right hole, and being on the same page as Logan Thomas will determine whether he is truly "ready to play." You might hear Beamer talk about "athletically, he's there. But he needs to develop a bit more mentally." I expect the Hokies to name a starter this spring, but I don't think a backup will be decided until August as the Hokies will want to give Coleman as many reps as possible before making a decision and would also like to give a look at Gregory, Chris Mangus, Drew Harris, and Trey Edmunds.

3) Can Daniel Dyer or Martin Scales gain a spot on the depth chart?

Dyer's probably fighting for the third spot, while Scales might have an outside shot at getting all the way up to number two. Both have worked extremely hard during their time at Tech, Scales obviously a bit longer, and both certainly deserve a fair shot. If J.C. Coleman isn't ready to play this fall, Dyer could definitely be Tech's two-minute tailback just like Dustin Pickle was, as he could be a real threat slipping out of the backfield.


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