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April 12, 2012

Spring Practice Report: Battles heat up

It's about midway through spring practice and Virginia Tech has had one open scrimmage to date. Position battles are starting to clarify on both sides of the ball. Hokiehaven.com looks at spring practice so far.

Quarterbacks:

The quarterback play was limited and the timing between the quarterbacks and receivers was off in both scrimmages this week. With a couple more scrimmages coming up, things should improve leading up to the spring game as Logan Thomas gets more comfortable with his receivers and tailbacks. Still, Logan Thomas impressed showing his running ability a bit and even displayed that he could be very effective with the no huddle offense and the new pistol offense that Tech is trying to install.

It was a difficult week for Mark Leal who was running for his life against the first team defense. He showed some patience to hang in and make the necessary throws. Trey Gresh and Brian Rody are working for the No. 3 job and both had their moments, but will need significant more work this week. Gresh had a 36-yard touchdown, but Rody went 3-of-4 on Wednesday.

Running Backs:

The open scrimmage didn't show a lot from the tailbacks with the exception of Martin Scales who clearly has put himself right in the mix for time. He is a tough, tough runner that can break tackles. J.C. Coleman got limited time, but proved he's got a burst and a nice change of pace to work with. Meanwhile, Michael Holmes has been reliable in his opportunities, even if there weren't many this week especially in the Saturday scrimmage, but he came back with 25-yards on five carries Wednesday night. The fullback position still has Joey Phillips in the lead, though Justus Hoffman and Riley Beiro got some looks.

Wide Receivers:

Despite the relative lack of a consistent air attack, Virginia Tech's receivers stepped up in a big way. Interestingly, many of the big plays came from new names, Demetri Knowles with a 24-yard reception, E.L. Smiling with a one-handed jump ball for 30-yards and Christian Reeves for 25-yards. Regarding Smiling, he really came to play and is starting to get more comfortable in the offense. As for Knowles, he came up with a 36-yarder and a 28-yarder in the Wednesday scrimmage. He even showed his ability on a run from 11-yards out for a score. Even though he's still improving and a bit raw, Knowles is coming up well. Corey Fuller was quiet on Saturday, but returned with a 25-yard score on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, big names came up with nice catches too, Marcus Davis with three and Dyrell Roberts with one. Davis injured his hamstring on Wednesday night and it is unclear how long he will be out. As for Roberts, he looks nearly back to full speed and should be a very reliable option come fall. The blocking was there too, but it continues to be a work in progress. In terms of further down the depth chart, David Mellstrom busted out with the lone touchdown in the scrimmage and he is making a push for time, but needs to keep it up.

Tight Ends:

Eric Martin and George George didn't get as many looks this week with the focus mostly on the depth chart. Both remain consistent especially as blockers, though Martin had a 25-yarder on Wednesday. The big riser in the week was the reliable play of Ryan Malleck who clearly is proving to be a very solid player all-around. Randall Dunn has proven that he has improved significantly and has a much better understanding of the offense and his role in it. His head isn't tying up his feet as much. One other riser is Duan Perez-Means who continues to play well. He's still picking up the offense with the move from defense, but he's improving and posted a 25-yard grab last night. Darius Redman is showing spurts, but is still a step behind.

Offensive Line:

Andrew Miller, the lone returning starter was very consistent in his performance this week. Joining him was Nick Becton who held his own for much of the day and is starting to become a major player as spring rolls on. David Wang really stepped up with a terrific showing this week. His fundamentals are there and he's proving to be very consistent. Rounding out the group is Vinston Painter and Brent Benedict. Painter continues to perform admirably and is proving that he can be a starter on offense. However, Benedict has struggled, especially in the scrimmage giving up the inside a couple times. It's a learning curve and should be interesting to see where he goes from here next week. Still, the offensive line as a whole gave up 12 sacks on Saturday and though they showed improvement at mid-week, they still gave up 10 on Wednesday evening.

In terms of backups, Caleb Farris continues to be slowed by injury, though he performed well with his opportunities. Matt Arkema is coming on. Much of the second team struggled though, Laurence Gibson and Mark Shuman are a work in progress.

Defensive Line:

The defensive line was ths story of the day on Saturday where they helped lead the way with 12 sacks. Luther Maddy absolutely dominated the middle with tough, physical play and proved he can be a terror up the gut, with four pressures on the quarterback. Derrick Hopkins was consistent again with two and a half sacks on Saturday followed by two on Wednesday. At end, J.R. Collins and James Gayle proved to be very effective, particularly on the rush. Just as they had on Saturday, the line continued to show their relative dominance on Wednesday evening.

Moving to the backups, Tyrel Wilson is battling a hamstring, while Kris Harley, Zack McCray and Corey Marshall are performing well. Dadi Nicholas continues to improve dramatically. Even though he's learning and making mistakes, Nicholas is able to get pressure. Justin Taylor and Matt Roth are getting better, but are further down the depth chart at this stage.

Linebackers:

Even with Bruce Taylor, Tariq Edwards and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow out, Tech's linebackers were adequate in the scrimmage. Jack Tyler continues to show his brand of strong, consistent play. Meanwhile, Chase Williams is improving. He's showing his smarts as he gets more experience and it's starting to show on the field as he is making plays around the ball. Brian Laiti is providing some depth getting better, while D.J. DiNardo and Josh Trimble continue to add something to the equation.

At whip, Alonzo Tweedy has been very productive. He's continuing to pick up where he left off last season. However, he is getting pushed hard by the impressive abilities of Ronny Vandyke who came up with an interception and has proven to be just a playmaker. He's a physical presence on the field. Nick Dew is making some plays, but continues to be down the depth chart a bit.

Secondary:

Antone Exum proved he is very capable at the cornerback position. He is improving day-by-day to adjusting to the corner spot and it's looking more and more doubtful he'll return to the safety spot. Kyle Fuller is playing very well and proved to be a leader of the defense with his interception for a touchdown. Donaldven Manning is adjusting quickly to the Hokies defense and proving he has the ability to be a factor this fall. He came up with a sack in the scrimmage and his reaction time is good. The safety position saw Detrick Bonner struggle a bit, while Kyshoen Jarrett was relatively quiet. Adeboye Aromire had some mistakes in coverage, but has shown an improvement, while Theron Norman is playing relatively well. Of note, Michael Cole remains out with a hamstring injury, but is working his way back.

Special Teams:

Conor Goulding looks to have the obvious edge at kicker since he got every opportunity in the first open practice. He was relatively consistent on the day from 40-yards and in and made a 39-yarder last night. Michael Branthover and Skyler Hutcheson are still battling him for the job with Branthover likely at No. 2, but he went 1-of-2 last night and missed one very wide on Saturday. However, Branthover is pushing for the starting punter job, though Ethan Keyserling is still a potential contender there. Branthover's booming punt certainly helped his chances though. On returns, Kyshoen Jarrett helped himself as a potential punt returner with a big touchdown return. Willie Byrn, Kyle Fuller, Demetri Knowles, Detrick Bonner and Michael Holmes also got looks there. J.C. Coleman and Antone Exum got looks on kick returns.


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