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2008 Virginia Tech Preview - Offense
Virginia Tech TE Sam Wheeler
Virginia Tech TE Sam Wheeler
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 20, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Virginia Tech Hokie Offense

Virginia Tech Hokies

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Virginia Tech Preview | 2008 Virginia Tech Offense
- 2008 Virginia Tech Defense | 2008 Virginia Tech Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Virginia Tech Preview | 2006 CFN Virginia Tech Preview

What you need to know: The biggest of many decisions the staff will make is whether or not both quarterbacks will be featured prominently again this season. In 2007, Frank Beamer used Tyrod Taylor and Sean Glennon extensively, often maximizing their complementary set of skills.  However, even with 11 games of experience now in the vault, the dynamic Taylor is having a difficult time surpassing the more experienced Glennon. The Hokies favor the running game, but they haven’t been able to come up with the replacement for Branden Ore. While Kenny Lewis has seniority, he’s recovering from shoulder surgery, pushing Jahre Cheeseman and Darren Evans into more prominent roles. The attack will revolve around four experienced linemen headed by all-league candidates Sergio Render and Ed Wang.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Sean Glennon
143-245, 1,796 yds, 12 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Tyrod Taylor
102 carries, 429 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Sam Wheeler
15 catches, 211 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Sean Glennon
Player who has to step up and become a star: Redshirt freshman RT Blake DeChristopher
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman RB Darren Evans
Best pro prospect: Junior RG Sergio Render
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Render, 2) Junior LT Ed Wang, 3) Glennon
Strength of the offense: Quarterback depth
Weakness of the offense: Lack of proven skill position players, pass protection

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: Last season, the Hokies found that two quarterbacks can sometimes be better than one, but will they use senior Sean Glennon and sophomore Tyrod Taylor as freely this fall?  While no official starter has been announced, it was clear Glennon had the edge coming out of spring. He has continued to mature since having a rocky sophomore season, displaying veteran leadership and a total grasp of the offense. One of the catalysts for last year’s run to the Orange Bowl, he shook off a slow start to finish 143-of-235 for 1,796 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, including a stretch of two months without a pick. At 6-4 and 223 pounds, he has good zip on his passes and a possible future in the NFL if he keeps working on his decision-making.      

Projected Top Reserves
: The Hokies knew Taylor was good when they signed him, but he exceeded everyone’s expectations as a rookie. Providing a new and exciting dimension to the offense, he was second the team with 429 yards rushing and six touchdowns, while completing 72-of-134 passes for 927 yards with five touchdowns and three picks. A terrific all-around athlete, he bulked up to 6-1 and 213 pounds, which will be a handful for opposing linebackers and defensive backs. Obviously, he lacks Glennon’s experience and polish as a passer, but his ability to make plays is a must with the offense lacking for big-play capability.        

Watch Out For ...
the staff to consider slapping a redshirt on Taylor if he can’t beat out Glennon.  Although it worked well last year, the staff doesn’t appear to be completely sold on again using a two-quarterback system. Of course, if Glennon gets hurt or regresses, Taylor could be easily be summoned from the sidelines.
Strength: Two proven quarterbacks. With Glennon’s improving passing skills and Taylor’s multi-dimensional talents, the Hokies boast the ACC’s best one-two punch under center this side of Clemson’s Cullen Harper and Willy Korn.
Weakness: Consistency through the air. While progress is being made, both quarterbacks are still prone to making poor reads and putting too much air under their passes. Tech was ninth in the ACC in passing offense, and things are about to get a lot tougher because of the shortage of experienced receivers.
Outlook: In an ideal world, Glennon leads the offense for an entire year allowing Taylor to save a season and get a better grasp of the system. Of course, Tech could also find it hard resisting the temptation to harness the unique abilities of both players. Whatever the outcome, the Hokies will be in good shape behind center blending a veteran thrower with a young dual-threat. 
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starters: First, leading rusher Branden Ore was kicked off the team. Then, his replacements, juniors Kenny Lewis and Jahre Cheeseman, suffered spring injuries that required surgery. Yup, the race to replace Ore will be tight and probably won’t be decided until late in the summer. The 5-9, 199-pound Lewis is far less likely to be ready for the opener, rehabbing a shoulder injury that could linger into September. He rushed for 205 yards and four touchdowns a year ago and began spring as the favorite to start.

Although Cheeseman broke his fibula in April, he’s expected back in time for summer camp. A physical north-south runner at 5-10 and 205 pounds, he was turning heads in the spring before suffering the injury. If he can get into peak shape, which got tougher when he broke his leg, he’ll be in the rotation in the fall.

The front-runner to replace Carlton Weatherford at fullback is 5-9, 216-pound junior Kenny Jefferson, a typical Hokie lead blocker who won’t get many chances to touch the ball, but will be used as an occasional pass-catcher.        

Projected Top Reserves
: The star of the future might be poised to become the star of the present.  Redshirt freshman Darren Evans has as much talent as any back in Blacksburg, and now he has the opportunity to put it on display. At 6-0 and 215 pounds, he has the size and the leg strength to break tackles and the soft hands to be a factor in the passing game.  

Josh Oglesby is another redshirt freshman who could factor prominently into the running game this season. For a 5-11, 211-pound back, he hits the hole in a hurry and has the speed to make plays around tackle. Although he’s a rung below Evans in the pecking order, it’s not so pronounced that the gap can’t be closed in August.

Watch Out For ...
true freshman Ryan Williams. In any other year, Williams would be fitted for a redshirt. This season, however, the 5-10, 205-pound high school All-American will get a chance for immediate playing time in a jumbled backfield.
Strength: Inside runners. From Cheeseman to Oglesby, none of the backs will be accused of dancing in the hole or avoiding the area between the tackles. The Hokies are a collection of physical downhill runners with the leg drive to be effective, especially in short yardage.
Weakness: A proven feature back. If Lewis is slow to get back in the fold, Cheeseman, a former cornerback with 21 career carries, becomes the veteran of the unit. Evans, Oglesby, and Williams have bright futures, but with freshmen, there are no guarantees how they’ll perform when the lights go on.
Outlook: Ore’s off-field adventures have forced Virginia Tech to find his successor a year earlier than anticipated. Solid recruiting ensures there’s enough talent in the backfield, but a committee might be needed in the early stages of the season. If someone ascends to forefront, it’s likely to be Evans, a gifted runner who’s ready to bust out.
Rating: 7

Receivers

Projected Starters: Now that last season’s top five pass-catchers are no longer with the program, reliable receivers who can help move the chains are desperately needed. The tight ends will be fine, but the wide receivers have a long, long way to go. Coming out of spring, junior Brandon Dillard and sophomore Zack Luckett had nudged ahead in the race for the starting jobs. A walk-on trying to earn a scholarship, the 5-11, 180-pound Dillard has the blazing speed to be the group’s long-ball threat in the passing. One of the stars of spring the last two years, he’s determined to carry that momentum into the start of the season.

In contrast, Luckett is a much bigger, more physical receiver than Dillard. At a solid 6-3 and 212 pounds, he uses his body well when the ball is in the air and is an underrated downfield blocker. Physically, he has the tools to become a force, but now he needs to work on the finer details of the position and eliminate all of the dropped passes.

Junior TE Sam Wheeler was in the midst of a breakout season when he tore ligaments in his knee and was lost for the year. After catching 15 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown, the 6-3, 269-pounder is making a gradual recovery, expecting to be back on the field in time for the opener. Prior to the injury, he was the team’s best receiving tight end and a threat to turn a short hitch into a long gainer.               

Projected Top Reserves
: Junior Ike Whitaker, a converted quarterback, will be taking another stab at getting playing time at wide receiver. An impressive all-around athlete at 6-4 and 220 pounds, he has the hands and size to earn an increased role, provided he stays in shape and continues to work on his route running.

Redshirt freshman Danny Coale won’t blow by many defensive backs, but at 6-0 and 203 pounds, he’s a physical pass-catcher who’ll do whatever it takes to spring a ballcarrier or find the soft spot in a defense. In time, he’ll develop into a reliable target who’ll do most of his work on the short and intermediate routes.

Whether or not Wheeler gets back to 100%, junior Greg Boone will have an important role in the passing game. At 6-3 and 290 pounds, he’s like having a sixth offensive lineman on the field, yet still caught 11 passes for 167 yards a year ago. One of the standouts of spring, he’s getting better at catching with his hands and could be used more liberally this fall.     

Watch Out For ...
there to be Macho sightings in the fall. All-ACC corner Victor Harris spent time at wide receiver in the spring, looking sharp enough to warrant reps when the season begins. The Hokies need his presence and athleticism on offense, even if it means just a few scripted plays a game.
Strength: The tight ends. Assuming Wheeler’s knee isn’t an issue, Tech is stocked at the position. While Wheeler and Boone have proven themselves as starters, 6-4, 260-pound sophomore Andre Smith could wind up being the best of the group.
Weakness: Wide receiver talent. It’s inevitable that the drop-off at this position from a year ago will be felt throughout the passing game. Dillard and Luckett have two career receptions between them, and neither looks ready to become a go-to guy.
Outlook: It’s a good thing Tech had the foresight to go heavy on receivers in February because blue-chippers Dyrell Roberts and D.J. Coles might be needed to contribute right away. In order to win, the Hokie blueprint never calls for the receivers to dominate, but they do need to be more consistent and make a play every now and then.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Even the return of four starters isn’t enough for Virginia Tech to feel secure about a line that grossly underachieved a year ago. Now that Duane Brown has graduated, the new anchor up front is likely to be junior RG Sergio Render, a two-year starter who’s on the lip of the All-ACC cup. At 6-4 and 324 pounds, he has the upper body strength to engulf defenders and open up running lanes for the backs. The time is now for him to put it all together and become one of the league’s best blockers.

Next to Render at right tackle will be the lone newcomer to the lineup, redshirt freshman Blake DeChristopher. While his inexperience is a natural concern, the staff loves his upside as a total blocker. While take some lumps in the early going, he shows tenacity and drive as a run blocker and the footwork to prevent pass rushers from getting into the backfield.

Back for his second season as the starting center is 6-3, 313-pound senior Ryan Shuman, the leader of the unit. A versatile blocker who has also logged time at guard, he’s had problems with his knees, a growing concern heading into the season. He’s a whistle-to-whistle warrior, but he becomes a pedestrian blocker if the knees aren’t 100%.

One-time tight end Ed Wang could wind up being the best of the offensive linemen once he gets more reps up front. The 6-5, 310-pound junior missed time with a broken bone in his leg, but played well in his return, helping solidify the Hokie pass defense. Light on his feet and strong at the point of attack, he’s moving from right to left tackle to fill the void left by Brown’s graduation.

It took a move from right tackle to left guard for senior Nick Marshman to start playing up to his potential a year ago. A lumbering liability as a pass protector, he’s far more effective when he has a teammate on each side. At 6-5 and 357 pounds, he’s a physical run blocker who’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t spend too much alone in space.

Projected Top Reserves: Providing competition for DeChristopher at right tackle will be 6-6, 288-pound junior Richard Graham. A versatile blocker who can also play guard, he started six games a year ago when Wang was on the shelf. His experience and ability to play multiple positions make him an ideal reserve.

Shuman’s injury woes have had a silver lining for sophomore Beau Warren, who logged valuable minutes as a freshman and ran with the first team in the spring. He’s only 6-3 and 276 pounds, but has a great work ethic and is ready to move into the lineup if his services are needed.

The best of a group of young guards is redshirt freshman Will Alvarez, who’ll back up Marshman before attempting to replace him a year from now. Massive and surprisingly agile at 6-5 and 327 pounds, the sky is the limit for one of the program’s signature recruits of 2007.   

Watch Out For ... this group make positive strides as long as everyone remains healthy. The line got better as the season progressed, and it should be better going into the year. Much of the improvement occurred after Wang returned to the lineup and Marshman shifted inside.
Strength: Physicality in the running game. In an old-fashioned game of smash-mouth football, this group will be hard to defeat. All of them are powerful drive blockers who’ll bury the opposing defender until the whistle blows.
Weakness: Pass protection. Yeah, things got better in October and November, but the Hokies still finished 115th nationally in sacks allowed. And that was when current Houston Texan Duane Brown was still in Blacksburg. At tackle, Wang needs to exceed his potential and DeChristopher must play like he’s been here before.
Outlook: Things can’t possibly get worse than last year, especially with Render and Wang about to come into their own as two of the ACC’s up-and-coming linemen. If the offensive line is going to do its part to help jump start a suspect offense, it needs to give the quarterbacks more time.
Rating: 8

  

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