The Virginia Tech football team geared up for the start of spring practice Thursday and is searching for answers as the 2014 season approaches.
There is one big question on everybody's mind: who will the starting quarterback be?
The departure of former Tech quarterback and total offense record holder Logan Thomas leaves big shoes for the Hokies to fill.
As of now, fifth-year senior Mark Leal is listed as the number one quarterback on the depth chart for spring. Behind Leal sits redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley and true freshman Andrew Ford, who enrolled early.
But the quarterback competition will heat up even more in the fall when Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and true freshman Chris Durkin arrive. All eyes will be under center, as all five candidates will try to impress the coach staff and win the starting job.
Head coach Frank Beamer has repeatedly said that Leal’s performance in the Hyundai Sun Bowl versus UCLA doesn’t reflect how good of a quarterback he is, and that he is still the number one guy for the job.
Another position to watch is running back.
Redshirt sophomore Trey Edmunds will miss spring practice as he recovers from a broken right tibia, which means that J.C. Coleman is number one on the depth chart and will receive the bulk of the carries.
If Edmunds comes back strong, he should be back at the number one spot when fall practice rolls around.
But, in turn, this gives true freshman running back Marshawn Williams his chance to shine after he enrolled in school early.
Standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing 224 pounds, Williams is a bruiser and rushed for 2,192 yards and 30 touchdowns during his senior season at Phoebus High School in Hampton, Va.
Williams sits at third on the depth chart behind sophomore running back Jerome Wright. Wright played in 12 games last season, mostly on special teams, only seeing seven carries for 27 yards on offense.
Look for Edmunds and Coleman to lead the rushing attack. But the Hokies gained a lot of talent with the addition of Williams and Shai McKenzie, who will see limited action this spring as he recovers from a torn ACL.
The top of the depth chart seems to be set for the running backs, but the second and third spots should shake up a bit and be clearer as spring continues on.
Defensively, the Hokies lost a lot of talent and experience and are looking to reload at almost every position.
James Gayle, Derrick Hopkins, J.R. Collins, Tyrel Wilson, Jack Tyler, Tariq Edwards, Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller were all lost to graduation and most are hoping to be selected in the NFL Draft come May.
Starting up front, Tech’s centerpiece remains the big-bodied senior defensive tackle Luther Maddy, but he’s the only starting defensive lineman remaining from last season. There will be a big gap to fill with the loss of Hopkins, but redshirt sophomore Nigel Williams and Corey Marshall will fight for the other defensive tackle spot beside Maddy.
Marshall returns after leaving the team for personal reasons last season, while Williams recorded 14 tackles and two sacks in 13 games in 2013.
Dadi Nicolas will try to fill the large shoes of James Gayle at the defensive end spot, along with Dewayne Alford, Ken Ekanem and Seth Dooley.
The defensive line looks to be a great position battle with true freshman and early enrollee Vinny Mihota getting a lot of buzz. Mihota was recruited at defensive end, but the coaches will also try him out at defensive tackle this spring.
The linebacker position remains wide open with the loss of senior leaders Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards. Tech will turn to redshirt senior Chase Williams at the inside linebacker spot, who will be backed up by redshirt freshman Andrew Motuapuaka, a player that recently received high praise from defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
The other inside linebacker spot will pit Deon Clarke and Dahman McKinnon against each other, a pair of players that have seen plenty of special teams action, but little time with the starting defense.
The uncertainty at the outside linebacker position will give Josh Trimble and Derek DiNardo more time to get first team reps, as 2012 starter Ronny Vandyke continues to rehab the shoulder injury that ended his season in 2013.
The secondary returns talented sophomores Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller, but bad news struck as Facyson went down with a left tibia stress reaction on Friday. Facyson will miss the remainder of the spring and return when practice starts back up in the fall.
Finally, the drama of finding a place kicker continues for the Hokies.
This position battle always proves to be dramatic and is often literally the difference between wins and losses. Senior Michael Branthover and sophomore Eric Kristensen are listed one and two on the depth chart and will battle it out for the position that carries a lot of weight and pressure.
Ultimately, Tech’s spring practice will see a lot of movement on the depth chart as young players improve, incoming freshmen find their roles and leaders emerge.