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August 5, 2012

Five Keys For VT This Season

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Virginia Tech kicks off the 2012 football season against Georgia Tech in less than a month. August camp starts Tuesday, which is essentially a three-week spring practice before the coaches narrow the roster and begin game preparation. Today, we identify five keys for success this year.

1. Keep The Offensive Line Healthy

Nothing shatters an offense, and any chance of meeting expectations, better than a weak offensive line and entering August, the Hokies look to be playing with fire in that department.

Tech has a solid starting five, a reliable backup returning from injury in Michael Via, and another youngster who is expected to emerge as a key backup in Caleb Farris. Other than that, Tech doesn't have much in terms of depth and one injury could throw the entire offense off track.

2. Logan Thomas At Least Repeats Last Season

Aside from replacing four starters on the offensive line, the Hokies also lost key playmakers such as Danny Coale, Jarrett Boykin, and David Wilson from skill positions on offense. That's a ton of production and offense to replace but at least the Hokies return the orchestrator of it all, Thomas.

However, with a bunch of relatively new starters at the skill positions, Thomas is going to have to at least be as good as he was last season. The chances of any combination of tailbacks replacing David Wilson's production or impact are slim.

Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, and Dyrell Roberts should be solid, but Coale and Boykin left as the top two statistical wideouts in school history. That is tough to replace. Simply put, any kind of step back from Thomas this year will 100% mean the end of Tech's 10-wins per season streak.

3. Secondary Changes Stick

Assistant coach Torrian Gray made a number of position changes in the spring in hopes of finding a dynamite back four to pair with the already strong front seven.

Kyle Fuller was always the stalwart in the plan, but Gray needs strong play out of Antone Exum at corner, Kyshoen Jarrett at free safety, and Detrick Bonner at rover to really allow this defense to flourish. If the Hokies are constantly tinkering in the defensive backfield, that could be just enough of a weakness for opposing offenses to exploit, particularly Tech's budding cross-division rival Clemson.

If the changes work and the players play as expected, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has a top 10 defensive unit to work with for the first time in years.

4. Fix the Special Teams

For the last several years, Virginia Tech's special teams unit has not lived up to its national reputation. Last season, the punting game was the main culprit.

The block unit meanwhile hasn't been effective in a number of years. Coach Frank Beamer personally handles the coaching of the unit and you can bet he has fixing it at the top of his list this season.

For one, the Hokies need to find a way to put pressure on the punter without consistently roughing the guy. Florida found a way to do it with Chris Rainey leading the way and a host of other athletes taking advantage of the advantage paid to him and Tech might be able to do something similar with a guy like Demetri Knowles.

Cody Journell's suspension has been lifted, so that solves the kicking game, but the punting game remains a question mark. Michael Branthover leads the way entering August, but winning the August competition doesn't guarantee a successful season as the Hokies found out last season. To take the next step as a program, yes Tech needs to win the big one at the end of the season, but returning to an elite level at special teams is just as important.

5. Find a Running Game

Whether it takes one, two, three, or even four tailbacks, assistant coach Shane Beamer has to find some sort of combination of players to give Tech a reliable running game. Part of the reason Thomas was so effective down the stretch last season was the ability to simply turn and hand the ball to David Wilson. If he doesn't have that this season, defenses will be able to key on #3 so much more this season.

Between Michael Holmes, J.C. Coleman, Chris Mangus, Martin Scales, and Trey Edmunds, Beamer should be able to find at least three, maybe even four guys who can make an impact in 2012.

If he has to find three guys to rush for 500 yards each this season, then so be it. If he can rely on Holmes to break the 1,000-yard mark then that's great too. Tech running backs have eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark as a group every year since 2008, a remarkable run they would like to keep going this season.

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