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March 27, 2012

Five Fresh Faces

Virginia Tech starts spring practice tomorrow and Hokiehaven.com looks ahead to the next month of practice. Today, we continue our spring previews with a look at five players who should see an expanded role next season and could be poised for big things over the course of spring camp.

J.C. Coleman, RB: David Wilson is gone and the running back position is relatively bare heading into spring ball. It is perfect timing for J.C. Coleman to enroll early for spring practice in order to get himself right in the mix for potential playing time. The Rivals250 prospect isn't expected to be the favorite to take the lead tailback job with Michael Holmes locked in at the moment. However, limited depth beyond him with predominately walk-ons allows Coleman a huge chance to see the field in some capacity upon his arrival. That's especially the case since Coleman is a full semester ahead of the competition, which will enroll in the fall, including Chris Mangus, Jerome Wright, Drew Harris and possibly Trey Edmunds. In terms of this spring, it doesn't hurt that Coleman brings something completely different to the table from Holmes, a very versatile, running and receiving threat that could be used in any number of ways compared to Holmes more straight forward running style. With a strong spring, Coleman doesn't have the chance to just earn significant playing time, but perhaps even share the starting duties with Holmes.

Kris Harley, DT: Antoine Hopkins returns for his senior season and Derrick Hopkins remains firmly entrenched as the starter. Luther Maddy is the other defensive tackle expected to take a step forward. However, Tech goes four deep and all accounts push Corey Marshall back outside. It's the perfect opportunity for Harley, who redshirted his freshman year to earn significant playing time. After bulking up a bit more, Harley finds himself as the lone true defensive tackle compared to the likes of Corey Marshall, Zack McCray and Justin Taylor. A significant playing opportunity is his for the taking especially with Antoine Hopkins potentially still slowed by an ACL from the fall. Highly acclaimed out of high school, a huge spring should solidify Harley's ability to be in line for significant playing time come fall practice.

Demetri Knowles, WR: The wide receiver position sees Marcus Davis and D.J. Coles as the top returning targets. Dyrell Roberts hasn't played a lot of football in 18 months or he would likely be a third option. That leaves Demetri Knowles amongst a slew of inexperienced players competing for the No. 3 and No. 4 wide receiver spots. The No. 3 position is the clear ideal pick and Knowles has as good of a shot as anyone with his completely different style of play, stretching the field with his blazing speed. Knowles was on the verge of seeing time last year as a true freshman, before the redshirt remained. Considering he only has played football for a few years, a year under his belt should make him an even more dangerous threat now since he will have a much better understanding of the offense and running routes, not to mention blocking. If Knowles can lock up a spot early, it's unlikely barring injury he'll give up the position anytime soon.

Ryan Malleck, TE: The tight end position is for the taking with Chris Drager graduating. Eric Martin is the most experienced of the group, but outside of that is a contingent of prospects that are largely inexperienced or those who haven't made a significant impact to date. The group includes George George, Randall Dunn, Duan Perez-Means, Darius Redman and Fuller Hoepner. Malleck has the benefit of playing as a true freshman, even if it was in limited duty. It's clear that Malleck won the coaches over with that decision as they think he's next in line to take on a significant role with the offense. Even still, it's a major jump to take the job away from more experienced players, but Malleck has everything they are looking for, size, athleticism, speed and good hands. He's a player that can do everything, block and catch. Eric Martin is almost assured a role this year as he's been a consistent blocker, but the chances are there for Malleck to take the role with his most difficult challenge likely coming from Duan Perez-Means who will be making an adjustment from his former defensive end spot. There isn't another significant challenge outside of that and if Malleck solidifies the job now, it's entirely possible he'll be a starter for the remainder of his career with the Hokies.

Dadi Nicholas, DE: In contrast to many of the other position battles, defensive end isn't wide open with rising juniors James Gayle and J.R. Collins firmly entrenched in the lineup along with backups Tyrel Wilson, Zack McCray and likely Corey Marshall, a starter in his own right in the mix. But, Nicholas has ridiculous natural ability and considering he really needed to bulk up before he saw the field, he used his redshirt effectively, growing to around 240-pounds. It's unlikely he'll supplant one of the starters, but a backup role is certainly available for the taking with his uncanny physical abilities and natural speed. He wowed in fall camp even while being undersized, so now with time to grow and actually understand the game, he's got a legitimate shot to see playing time. The real question is whether he has a full grasp of the defense, but conceivably at the very least the idea of the New York Giants third down defense had a major part to do with getting Nicholas on the field since he undoubtedly can bring the heat with his raw abilities.

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