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Every year, college football programs lose players to graduation, the NFL, or attrition. In 2014, Virginia Tech's coaches will be forced to replace quarterback Logan Thomas, who provided much of the offense for the last two seasons, as well as several key defensive starters. Today, we look at the departures on the offensive side of the ball, and who might replace them.
Leaving: Logan Thomas
In 2013, Thomas accounted for just over 70 percent of Virginia Tech's total offense. Of the 33 offensive touchdowns scored, Thomas scored 20 of them by either throwing or running. That's an incredible amount of production to replace heading into next season. Yes, Thomas struggled at times, but for better or for worse, Virginia Tech needed everything he gave them to get to eight wins in 2013.
Leal played the second half of the Sun Bowl against UCLA after Logan Thomas was knocked out of the game, but his performance didn't ease any concerns over whether he is definitely the guy next year. He has been the top backup in Blacksburg since beating out JuJu Clayton for the job in the spring of 2011. In three seasons, he has played in seven total games. Leal has the most experience out of the group that will compete for the job and is probably the de facto leader in the clubhouse right now, but in no way should he be considered a heavy favorite.
Motley is a dual-threat quarterback from Christiansburg, Va. who might be the dark horse of the group. He has never really been considered a long-term option at quarterback, but offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler must look at all his options. He has experience running the offense as the third string quarterback this season and could give the Hokies more of a running option than any of the other options.
True freshman Andrew Ford enrolled in January and has a chance to earn early playing time in orange and maroon. The southpaw from Pennsylvania is a balanced quarterback with a good amount of running ability. He excelled in a wide-open spread offense in high school and ha shown an ability to complete passes all over the field. His early enrollment will help his chances, as he will get a chance to compete in spring practice with the more experience returners.
Durkin is the latest name to be added to the competition because of his late commitment switch from Michigan State to Virginia Tech, but he will have to wait to join the fray until he enrolls over the summer and in August practice. Durkin is a bull of a quarterback at six feet four inches and over 230 pounds, but he has the ability to move around and make throws outside the pocket. In fact, much of his high school film features him rolling out to both sides to make throws. Durkin has a chance to be a really good quarterback and Loeffler is really excited to get his hands on him, but because he won't be able to start practicing until August, the chances for him to take over at quarterback remain slim.
Leaving: D.J. Coles
Coles' PCL injury he suffered in the spring of 2012 never fully recovered and really limited him late in his career. He missed all of the 2012 season except for 13 plays against Georgia Tech and then returned in 2013 in a limited role. He caught 25 receptions, six of which were for touchdowns. Because of the emergence of Joshua Stanford and Willie Byrn as the top wideouts on the roster, receivers coach Aaron Moorehead is looking for someone to step up and become his number three or four guy next year, or maybe even push Stanford and Byrn for one of the top spots.
Potential replacements: Carlis Parker, Charley Meyer, Cameron Phillips, Deon Newsome, Mark Irick, Jaylen Bradshaw, Kendrick Holland and Isaiah Ford
Demitri Knowles isn't on the list because he is likely to be the third or fourth option, depending on who emerges to replace Coles. He isn't a replacement because he already has a role on this team. Parker played the most he played all year in the Sun Bowl, although that was mostly on sweep plays out of the shotgun. For him to earn a bigger role next year, he needs to become a threat in the passing game.
Meyer was the talk of last off-season, but never really lived up to the expectations because of a nagging hamstring injury that didn't allow him to keep up with Stanford, Byrn and the others. Maybe he gets another opportunity this year.
After those two, it falls onto a host of talented redshirt freshmen and true freshmen Moorehead has brought in over the last two seasons to replenish the cupboard out wide. The true freshmen will be at a disadvantage because they won't start practice until August, but if they can catch the rock down the field I expect Moorehead to give them a chance. The top three true freshmen coming in are Ford and Phillips, but I wouldn't count out a guy like Holland, who could be a sleeper given his Florida background. Those Florida kids always seem to be better than expected once they step on campus.
Leaving: Zack McCray
McCray never panned out at defensive end, but made the switch to tight end in 2013 and played in all 13 games as primarily a blocker.
Potential replacements: Ryan Malleck
This is as easy as it gets for tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring. With Kalvin Cline likely returning from a knee injury at some point over the offseason, he simply needs to slide in the starter from 2012 - Malleck - and let the two battle it out for the top spot. Malleck, who missed all of 2013 with a shoulder injury, gives the Hokies a nice two-way option at tight end to go with Cline's receiving ability. Look for them to feature essentially as co-starters in 2014.
Leaving: Andrew Miller
Miller was Virginia Tech's top offensive lineman each of the past two seasons, although he missed most of 2012 with a broken ankle. He moved from center to guard under former offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and was named second team All-ACC by the coaches. His departure leaves a huge gap in the starting lineup to be determined by new offensive line coach Stacy Searels.
This position could really be filled by just about anyone. Expect Searels to do the exact same thing Grimes did when he arrived last year - tinker and shift linemen around until he feels comfortable he has the best five on the field. The players listed above haven't had a shot to prove themselves to this point except for Benedict, who likely is the "favorite" heading into spring practice. However, I don't expect Searels to settle on a starting five until August, so the right guard spot could just as easily be someone like Laurence Gibson as it could be Alston Smith if Searels feels one is the better option at the position.