HokieHaven.com will be catching up with the beat writers from each of Virginia Tech's opposing teams' Rivals.com network sites. For teams without a Rivals site, we'll be speaking with the team's daily newspaper. First up, we look at the Hokies' season-opener, Georgia Tech, with JacketsOnline.com publisher Kelly Quinlan.
1. Which loss, player or coach, from last season will be the toughest for Georgia Tech to replace?
Quinlan: It's probably Stephen Hill at wide receiver. Right now, they don't have a wide receiver on the roster who's caught a ball in a game. The three guys who have caught balls before, two of them graduated and Stephen went to the NFL. That's probably the area with the biggest drop-off in terms of experience.
They had a guy who was a three or four-year starter in Tyler Melton and then Hill had played two years and played a lot as a true freshman. The only guys who has played any meaningful snaps is Jeff Greene. He's only had one pass thrown at him and it was horribly overthrown. That's a position most people are anxious to see what's going on.
Greene and Darren Waller both played last year as true freshmen, but Waller was more of a special teams guy. He's a bigger, almost tight end-sized guy and then Greene is more of a speedy, Stephen Hill-type.
They signed three freshman receivers, two of which will play this fall. They'll have to figure that out on the field in camp. Then, they have Chris Jackson and Jeremy Moore, who are veteran guys who both missed a lot of the last two years with injuries. Guys have been around the program a while, just not a lot of game experience.
2. Which newcomers should make the biggest impact?
Quinlan: They signed a punter, so obviously that was an area that killed them last year, particularly in the Virginia Tech game last year. They had some horrible punts. It killed them in a couple of games where they had a 20-yard punt. He and the special teams will be way different because they actually have a special teams coach now. Ryan Rodwell, the punter they signed, should be able to help them in that aspect.
There's not a lot of guys who jump out as coming in and playing immediately, but I'd say they're expecting either Pat Gamble or Francis Kallon to come in and be a pass rusher on third downs and stuff. They were both very highly recruited and Francis was a four-star guy. One of those two guys will come in and give them pass-rushing help, which they had trouble with last year as well.
3. What, if anything, will change in playcalling, schemes, etc. this season?
Offensively, they've put in some new stuff. They have some shotgun packages. They're going to spread the field out a little more. They'll also use multiple quarterbacks on the field at times at multiple positions, which could give you some interesting offensive options.
They also have a bigger offensive line than they've had in the past. This is the most talented offensive line that coach Paul Johnson has had at Tech and the most experienced. That'll be a pretty significant change from the past. They have an all-ACC guard who might not even start this year because he might get beaten out in fall camp, Omoregie Uzzi.
On defense, they changed the way they're running their defense a bit. They're still running a 3-4, went from zero-gap to one and two-gap techniques. Because Georgia Tech is undersized at the nose tackle position. They don't have the 350-pound monsters like Alabama has. They really don't have those monster inside linebackers either. They needed to change things up because their inside linebackers were getting killed and their defensive line wasn't making much of a push up front. They changed the gaps around and it was very effective in the spring and I think it will be very effective.
This is also the most experienced defensive line they've had in a while and their secondary is probably the best in the ACC in terms of pure talent. They might be able to gamble a little more on defense with odd blitzes.
4. Were there any surprises this spring and do you anticipate any more?
Quinlan: The breakout player this spring was a guy who redshirted last year, Jabari Hunt-Days. He's a brother of Synjyn Days, the backup quarterback. He was a freak in high school and has really come on and was dominant in the spring. He has a chance to do something special if he plays well this year.
The other guy that might be a breakout player is T.J. Barnes, the nosetackle. He's always had trouble with conditioning and weight issues. He's in great shape finally and he was able to go and play 60-plus snaps int he spring in simulated scrimmages. He's never been able to play more than 20 plays a game. He's really gigantic, about 6'7" and 335 pounds. He's poised for a big year.
5. What are realistic expectations for Georgia Tech this season?
Quinlan: I think most people expect something similar to last season. Somewhere between 8-10 wins, in the mix for the division and a decent bowl game. The quarterback competition is still very much open. If one of those guys emerges into a big-time playmaker, that could change things.
Also, the defense in the 30 under Al Groh, how much will it improve? Will it be a significant difference over the first two years?
The schedule is very front-loaded. Really, by the end of September, they'll know if they're gonna be playing for the ACC Championship or just positioning for a bowl game.
They have at Virginia Tech, Virginia, Miami, at Clemson. By the first week of October, they'll have played all them. The back end of the schedule is kind of a joke except for the Georgia game. It should be pretty clear where they stand. The non-conference schedule is a little harder, because BYU isn't a joke and playing in Athens is always tough. That might be a little tougher than last year.
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