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Virginia Tech begins its annual spring practice session on Wednesday and to say there are a few things different this year is an understatement. A huge offseason coaching shakeup produced a new offensive coordinator, wide receivers coach, offensive line coach and an adjusted role of assistant Bryan Stinespring. What other big stories will we be watching this spring?
Primary storyline: The Logan Thomas Reclamation Process
One of the primary reasons coach Frank Beamer hired Scot Loeffler as offensive coordinator was for his reputation coaching quarterbacks. He's widely regarded around the country as a top-notch quarterbacks coach. His big project this spring will be to restore confidence to Thomas' game.
The drop-off in production and consistency was widely apparent last season as Thomas threw just about everywhere but on target for much of the year. The physical talents have not left him, though. He is still a massive 6'6" quarterback with a strong arm. Something was just off last year and it's up to Loeffler and Thomas to begin work this spring on recapturing that 2011 magic.
Secondary: Evaluate Leal and Parker
Junior Mark Leal will be the top backup in 2013 and the frontrunner to start in 2014. However, he hasn't received much playing time during the past two seasons and missed a large chunk of spring practice a year ago with a respiratory problem. Getting a look at Leal and where he is in his development will be important.
In addition, this spring will provide an opportunity to get an early read on early enrollee Carlis Parker. Parker is an athletic left-hander who will be competing with Leal and Bucky Hodges, who will enroll in the fall, in 2014. There is a chance Parker could dress as the third quarterback this fall, but more than likely he is heading for a redshirt with Hodges. However, it's always a good thing when you have some extra time to evaluate a quarterback and that is what this provides for Parker.
Primary storyline: Who is the Top Dog?
The primary mission this spring for assistant coach Shane Beamer will be to establish a true number one among Tony Gregory, J.C. Coleman, Chris Mangus, and Trey Edmunds. Gregory and Coleman played last year and each showed flashes, although not consistently enough to end this conversation before proving it in spring practice.
Mangus isn't talked about much, but could be a sleeper to make a big move. The name with the most buzz around him is Edmunds. He arrived in the fall under the plan to start at running back and maybe move to linebacker eventually. However, it's clear from his highlights and his play this fall that he has some serious talent at tailback. If there is one player who could breakout this spring and make a major move up the depth chart, it's probably Edmunds.
Secondary storyline: What kind of ground game is it?
Over the years Virginia Tech kind of split between a power-based between-the-tackles running game and a spread-based speed oriented attack. When you have running backs as talented as Darren Evans, Ryan Williams, and David Wilson, this is easy to do. One could argue VT has enough talent to do the same this year, but maybe it will be different with Loeffler at the helm.
Primary storyline: Who is the top two?
Virginia Tech lost the top two receivers in school history (statistically) after the 2011 season in Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin. The Hokies then lost their top three targets after the 2012 season (Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller, Dyrell Roberts). The result is a completely unproven depth chart of receivers who will all be striving to establish themselves this spring.
The one with the most experience is D.J. Coles, although he is coming off a pretty severe knee injury and who knows just what he will be able to do this spring. With Coles either limited or feeling his way back, the onus will fall on a host of youngsters looking to emerge. Leading the group is redshirt sophomore Demitri Knowles, a speedster who played sparingly last year. His touchdown catch in the season opener against GT proved he could be a legit deep threat.
The other big name to watch is redshirt freshman Joel Caleb. Caleb is the most physically gifted receiver the Hokies have and everything seems to be pointing to a significant role in 2013 for him. Others looking to make the leap to a significant contributor are Kevin Asante, E.L. Smiling, and Josh Stanford.
Secondary primary: Observing Aaron Moorehead
The former Indianapolis Colts wideout and Stanford assistant was lured over the season to coach the wideouts in Blacksburg. Aside from being a young and imposing figure, one of the key things to watch and listen for is how he coaches and how the players are receiving him.
Primary storyline: Who's after Malleck?
Junior Ryan Malleck is really the lone returner on a depth chart painfully thin on two things - a legit playmaker and any real experience. Malleck played sparingly last year, but isn't really a big-time threat down the field. The players with that kind of athleticism working at tight end right now are both former defensive ends, Duan Perez-Means and Zack McCray.
It will be intriguing to see how the time spent on the defensive line, particularly for McCray who played quite a bit defensive tackle, affected the athleticism that they showed at the position in high school.
Secondary storyline: What does Dakota Jackson bring to the table?
One of the biggest things about spring practice is that coaches are able to get a full three-week evaluation on the little known redshirt freshmen that are still pretty new to the program. Jackson certainly qualifies as one of those players. He was lightly recruited and to this day not much is known about his talents. We will find out in some capacity about that this spring.
Primary storyline: A New Era
Virginia Tech fans lamented about the offensive line for years under Curt Newsome and finally got their wish when Beamer replaced him with former Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. Grimes has had meetings with his offensive line where he has laid the foundation for the system he will implement.
The system he has been teaching is much more advanced than Newsome's ever was. This spring will be the first time he can get out and actually teach it and implement it on the field, so expect this to be one of the most focused on positions this spring.
Secondary storyline: Who Plays Tackle?
The Hokies return all of the primary interior offensive linemen so that isn't necessarily a big issue aside from them redefining their mentality. The big issue is figuring out who will play left tackle and right tackle when Virginia Tech takes the field in Atlanta in August. Mark Shuman is one of the favorites at left tackle, although Newsome didn't feel comfortable at all playing him as recently as last November. Other candidates to make a move include Laurence Gibson and redshirt freshmen Augie Conte and Adam Taraschke.