After the stable and successful careers of Ryan Williams and David Wilson, it’s a real change for the Hokies to be unsettled at running back.
Yet, that’s exactly where the football team finds themselves, as coaches continue to struggle to determine which of the team’s four potential runners should carry the load.
“I think we’ve got to keep working,” said head coach Frank Beamer. “We had a few runs there that looked good, but I think we’ve got to continue to work to be a good running football team and I wouldn’t say that we’re to that point yet, but I think we’re headed in that direction.”
Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes was expected to seamlessly step in for Wilson as the team’s lead back, yet he has yet to put together a truly impressive performance.
He led the team in rushing against Georgia Tech with 13 carries for 60 yards, and although he was able to get into the end zone twice against Austin Peay, he only totaled 40 yards for the game.
“I don’t know why we started slow, but it takes us a while to get going, and once we got going, we put points on the board,” Holmes said.
Holmes’ early struggles could undoubtedly be tied to the offensive line’s growing pains, but the fact that he hasn’t been able to flash the same kind of big play ability Wilson had has surely been disappointing to coaches.
“I feel pretty good, I’m just trying to make good reads, make cuts, and get up the field,” Holmes said.
Fellow freshman J.C. Coleman was also expected to be a big contributor to the offense early on, but he’s only totaled 55 yards in the team’s two games. The one thing separating him from Holmes is the fact he’s averaged 6.3 yards per run, showing he’s got the potential to be a large part of the offense.
“I’m just going to go out there and take advantage of all my opportunities, whether it’s catching balls out of the backfield or running the ball or blocking — anything Coach Beamer asks me to do,” Coleman said. “I’m just willing to do my job and make sure we come back with the win.”
By contrast, Coleman has shown Wilson’s speed and explosiveness, so coaches are serious about trying to get him more involved in the offense.
“There’s two people after the first game that we’ve said we want to get more involved, and that’s Demetri Knowles and J.C.,” Beamer said. “Both of them are explosive and have the ability to make big plays, so we’re trying to get those guys more involved and part of the plan.”
Part of the team’s strategy has been to move Coleman around in the offense. He’s only recorded one catch so far, but he’s been used a wide receiver in the team’s new spread formation several times as offensive play caller Mike O’Cain attempts to get the running game humming.
“They’ve got me moving around in different parts of the offense, from slot receiver or out wide, various motions and everything else,” Coleman said. “So I’m just trying to learn my role and flourish in whatever role they give me.”
While Holmes and Coleman are the most prominent parts of the running back rotation, seniors Tony Gregory and Martin Scales are angling for carries as well. Gregory got the most work this past week, as he scored his first collegiate touchdown and earned praise for his recovery from last season’s knee injury.
“I think he’s come back from that knee surgery really well,” Beamer said. “He’s as strong as they come and fast and quick and I definitely think in a lot of ways he could help this football team.”