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May 26, 2014

Breaking Down 2014 VT Offense

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Let's not beat around the bush.

Ranking as the 99th-best scoring team in the country (22.5 points per game) and the 101st in total yards (353.3 per game) isn't going to help you win a championship.

It all starts with the running game, where the Hokies were 109th (of 123 teams) in the country with 119.8 rushing yards per game. If Virginia Tech is to get back into contention for the ACC title, they'll have to develop a flourishing running attack.

The pieces and experience are there now. In terms of holes, the Hokies have to replace only the quarterback, two offensive line spots, and possibly a tight end.

In the second year of offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler's offense, there should be a noticeable leap in the level of play by this unit. If they can return to a middle-of-the-pack offense, there's no question Virginia Tech will be in the running to play for the ACC championship as the season winds down.

Offensive line: The main weakness of the offense in the past couple seasons, this is the year in which things should turn around for the warriors in the trenches.

Two returning tackles in Jonathan McLaughlin and Laurence Gibson will surely help in protecting the new signal-caller from opposing defensive ends. With elite strength, they should also help to establish the line of scrimmage on outside running plays. This will be the strength of the group.

Newcomers Augie Conte and Wyatt Teller are currently locked into the starting guard spots, and both showed a lot of promise in Spring practice. However, expect true freshman Braxton Pfaff and Alston Smith to push hard to seize those starting spots in preseason camp. The crazy thing about these four guards is that all of them are sophomores or younger, so the future is bright in the interior. Perhaps one of them will prove worthy to move to tackle once Gibson graduates, and another will move to center.

At center, the competition is surely going to yield a battle-tested snapper. Returning starter David Wang would have liked to perform a little better in 2013, and Caleb Farris seized the job in the Spring. However, this position could be interchangeable until one of the players seriously sets himself apart from the other.

Good things are on the way for the Virginia Tech offensive line, and 2014 is likely the first year in which we'll get to see some progress.

Tight end: Spring injuries led to an opportunity for some young tight ends, and one of those players established himself as a future star in the making. Redshirt freshman Bucky Hodges received rave reviews from teammates and the coaching staff, and was visibly a dangerous target in the Spring game. He could be a huge factor in the success of the vertical passing game up the middle.

The current starter, Darius Redman, is a blocking specialist that will be vital to the running game in big package situations. He also has solid athleticism to add a threat to the passing game. The x-factors will be players that were injured in the Spring, Ryan Malleck and Kalvin Cline. Malleck was in line to be a serious contributor in 2013, but a preseason injury sidelined him for the year. If he returns to the form that saw him catch a touchdown in the 2013 Spring Game, he will be valuable.

Cline jumped on the scene as a true freshman, catching 26 passes for 321 yards and 2 touchdowns in his first collegiate campaign. Expect another jump from the sophomore, who will be more comfortable reading defenses and will only get better as a pass-catcher.

Fullback: Former walk-on Sam Rogers returns for his second go-around as the starting fullback, and Rogers should only improve on his impressive 2013 freshman campaign.

Not only is Rogers an advanced blocker, but he's capable of making plays as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught 12 passes for 78 yards in 2013, and he's another player that will keep improving with age.

Senior Greg Gadell, a very productive special teams player, will backup Rogers and take over should any injury occur.

Wide receiver: The only contributor the Hokies lost in this area is red-zone specialist D.J. Coles. He's moved on to the Raiders, but there's still plenty of playmakers that should take a step forward in 2014.

Demetri Knowles registered 641 yards on 45 catches (3 TD) in 2013, and will be the main deep threat for Virginia Tech. He really came along as a route-runner and pass-catcher last year, and it will be interesting to see how big of a jump he makes in 2014. Joshua Stanford accumulated 640 yards on 40 catches (1 TD) in his freshman season, and he's one that could become a star. His back-to-back 100-yard games in 2013 proved that.

Reliable slot receiver Willie Byrn aka Paper Boy recorded 660 yards on 51 catches (2 TD) in his first season as a consistent contributor, and should produce similar stats this time around. He was arguably the Hokies most consistent receiver in 2013, notching at least 4 catches in 9 games. Putting all three of the aforementioned receivers' stats together, Virginia Tech is returning 1,941 yards in receiving. That's never a bad thing.

Throw in possible breakout candidate Carlis Parker, and you're looking at an extremely talented receiving corps. It could be the best in terms of depth and experience that the Hokies have had in the last few years.

Charley Meyer and Deon Newsome will provide insurance should any of the starters go down.

Running back: Just like at wide receiver, there's no shortage of options to who can make plays. But unlike at wide receiver, there can only be one runner in the backfield. Finding a consistent rotation will be key to establishing a rhythm.

Trey Edmunds, in his first year at running back, recorded 675 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns. It's hard to think what numbers he would have produced had he been as comfortable as the end of the season. In his final four games, Edmunds produced seven touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards a carry and accumulated 343 total yards. If he returns healthy, Edmunds could become the next NFL running back in Blacksburg.

J.C. Coleman adds significant experience and dazzling speed, having accumulated 987 total yards from the line of scrimmage in the past two years. He'll get his opportunity to show that he's ready to carry the load and break some big runs. Joel Caleb had an impressive Spring, and could push for playing time given his Spring game performance. He owns superior speed and strength, he just needs to continue working on his footwork and blocking ability.

True freshman Marshawn Williams is likely to step into a role of the short-yardage back, showing exceptional strength and truck-stick ability in Spring practice. Once he is refined as a runner, the sky is really the limit for this Phoebus product. Chris Mangus adds a receiving threat in the backfield for second-and long and third down plays. Jerome Wright may push for playing time as well.

Quarterback: And so it comes to this.

If you look at every other category of the offense, there is a bevy of experience and much hope for improvement. But we won't be able to see the full potential of this unit unless it employs a productive and smart quarterback.

If the Hokies can establish a solid running attack coupled with their dominant defense, the signal-caller can concentrate on taking what defenses give, instead of trying to carry the team down the field. (See: last two seasons)

Brenden Motley seized the starting gig from veteran backup Mark Leal in the Spring, but there isn't much separation between the two. Motley has the speed advantage, and has the ability to use his wheels to beat the defense. Leal knows the reads of the offense like the back of his hand, and has all the experience needed to step into the starting role.

True freshman Andrew Ford isn't quite ready for this stage, and he'll likely be redshirted. Same goes for Chris Durkin, who would have to pull off quite the August performance to steal the job.

However, the x-factor in August camp will be Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer. He was productive in limited action for the Red Raiders, completing 41 of 58 passes (71%) and threw 5 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. If Brewer ends up turning into the player scouts envisioned, he could take Virginia Tech to the next level.

The performance of this position will ultimately decide the ceiling of this team.



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