With three new offensive coaches and having to replace five graduated starters, the Virginia Tech Hokies offense will have a completely different look than 2012. But the rebuilding process of the 71st ranked offense in terms of scoring can't take long.
With a senior signal-caller that can do just about anything (and has been forced to), the Hokies must find a way to transform into a dangerous, complete unit- and fast. If they don't, the August 31 battle with Alabama won't be much of a battle at all.
Let's take a look at the breakdown of each position heading into the fall.
Quarterback: Make no mistake, Logan Thomas is one of the few players locked into his starting spot for 2013. However, there's still plenty of questions surrounding the senior signal-caller that elected to stay for his final season in maroon and orange. (see 5 Unanswered Questions) The interesting development of Thomas by Scot Loeffler remains the wildcard. If Loeffler has the same type of success with Thomas as he's accomplished with previous NFL-quarterbacks- Thomas will be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, simple as that.
Mark Leal offers some much-needed stability at the position if Thomas succumbs to injury, which makes the quarterback position probably the best in terms of depth. Leal certainly has the ability to lead this team in an efficient manner. Brian Rody and Connor Jessop will likely continue to fight for third-string in fall camp.
Running back: The 2012 carousel that featured four starting running backs at one point or another can't be in the 2013 show. It's been one of the most-debated topics within this team- who will step up and be the next star back for the Hokies? While most (including this writer) believe Trey Edmunds is most suited for that role, J.C. Coleman very well may be the starter to begin the season. Coleman's combination of experience and blazing speed is enticing, especially if the offensive line can return to a dominant force. With off-the-field issues for Michael Holmes, it would appear this will be a two-man race early on. Edmunds has all the physical skills needed to become a household name, but there are still many improvements to be made in August.
Tony Gregory adds valuable depth experience and can step into the role if necessary- but most Hokie fans hope he won't have to if one becomes the go-to guy. The battle at running back in August camp will likely be the most-watched.
Fullback: While Greg Gadell is currently listed as the starter, this job will fall squarely on Riley Beiro's shoulders. The 5'9", 229-pound junior is ready to take on Joey Phillips' role of opening up holes for the running backs. Beiro could be a dominating force considering his incredible strength and low center of gravity.
Left tackle: Another battle that will be closely watched is at left tackle- and the only one that involves a true freshman. Junior Mark Shuman is listed as the starter, but freshman Jonathan McLauglin was right on his heels leaving spring practice. Player sources have said they were very impressed at the quick improvements that were made by McLaughlin in practice, and it will be interesting to see if that continues in August. McLaughlin has impeccable strength and can also move well for a 306-pounder.
Left guard: With Nick Acree unfortunately done with football because of injury reasons, junior David Wang appears to be the guy. Wang has battled injuries since he took over the spot last season, including one in spring practice. The younger brother of former Hokie Ed Wang doesn't have much size, but has tremendous strength. If he can stay healthy and limit mental mistakes, Wang could be a very solid lineman. The job appears to be his to lose, unless Matt Arkema moves from right guard.
Center: The most stable position amongst the offensive line. Senior Andrew Miller will return and has been lauded by the coaching staff for his work in the spring. Miller's third year as a starter should be his best, and he probably has the best chance to make it to the next level amongst the bulldozers up front.
Caleb Farris will provide the depth behind Miller.
Right guard: Brent Benedict is currently listed as the starter, but this will be another position battle to watch in August. Matt Arkema had two starts in 2012 and will definitely be in the running for one of the starting guard spots. Sometimes its better to have even competition in camp- hopefully it will push somebody to contribute at a high level.
Right tackle: Along with Miller, junior Laurence Gibson has his position on lock heading into August camp. He was named as the most improved offensive player of spring practice, and his 6'6", 303-pound frame is a prototypical body for the tackle position. Gibson has a chance to be dominant if he puts it all together.
Jake Owens provides some depth behind Gibson.
Tight end: The tight end struggles have been well-documented, but mark 2013 down as a possible breakout year for this group. Ryan Malleck is primed for a big season with a new focus set on tight end production- and Malleck's sticky hands are perfect for passes down the middle. Malleck's success may also contribute to opening up the running game- so this position is vital to Virginia Tech's success.
Thomas' cousin, Zack McCray, also brings a big body to the table as the second tight end. (expect both in the game in certain situations) If he improves his pass-catching ability this summer, it could open up a whole new facet to Loeffler's offense. Duan Perez-Means could also be valuable if either of the aforementioned players suffers an injury, and may end up finding the field nonetheless because of his size.
Split End: For a team that has to replace its top-three receivers, senior D.J. Coles will likely be the number one target for Thomas. Coles had 36 catches for 480 yards and 3 TD two years ago, and Hokie fans are hoping he can burst into the spotlight. The "h-back" will be receiving passes in a variety of ways, and will likely be the receiver that motions the most in the backfield to create mismatches.
Although unproven, Joshua Stanford will be seeing the field a lot when the Hokies choose to use more than two receivers. He has impressive speed, sure hands, and is just an all-around good football player. While he's the backup, expect Stanford to have a productive year. E.L. Smiling is currently the third-string split end.
Flanker: Speedster sophomore Demetri Knowles will be the starter, and wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead believes he's developed a knack to make plays without having to get behind the defense. Of all the receivers, Knowles has the most upside because of his blinding speed and sophomore status. (four catches over 30 yards in 2012) If he can continue to improve on his route-running, Knowles will certainly be one to follow in 2013.
Sophomore Kevin Asante, the backup, will also be valuable in the Hokie offense when utilizing the spread formation. Asante showed nice hands in the spring and has the ability to create separation on his routes. While he's likely the fourth receiver in the pecking order, expect a few breakout games from Asante. Willie Byrn provides the depth behind those two.