For football coaches, managing a large running back rotation is like feeding a family; if there are too many mouths to feed, everyone goes a little hungry.
Accordingly, one of the biggest issues Virginia Tech’s coaching staff has faced this season has been the distribution of carries among Michael Holmes, J.C. Coleman, Martin Scales and Tony Gregory. But the team is finally poised to get some clarity on the issue.
Head coach Frank Beamer recently announced the team is going to try to pare down the rotation in coming games to help the running game become more efficient.
“I think we’ve got to narrow it down,” Beamer said. “I think they all bring something. They’re all great kids, but I do think we need more consistency.”
The team started this transition in the Clemson game, giving Coleman and Gregory the majority of the snaps with Holmes and Scales used in limited situations; the coaches plan to continue the trend against Miami this week.
“I think four backs is too many,” Beamer said. “We’re talking about it and looking at it.”
While every running back will still get work, coaches emphasized the team will use the runners more according to the play that’s called than their performance.
This is aimed at making practice more manageable and maximizing the snaps each player gets in the appropriate situations.
“I think what (Frank) was alluding to and what we want to do is be specific about who’s in there with what personnel grouping,” running backs coach Shane Beamer said.
This means the physical Scales will no longer be on the field in obvious passing situations, while both he and Holmes will largely be used on short-yardage plays.
Despite these situational changes, however, the change shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given the way each back has performed this season.
Holmes, the presumptive starter for the team coming into the year, is averaging just 4.2 yards per carry, compared to Coleman’s 6 yards per carry or Gregory’s 5.4 yards. Coleman’s 12 catches in the passing game are also surely a major factor in his growing role on the offense, and coaches hope his inclusion can help the team overcome their early missteps.
“Sometimes you look at it and they could run better,” Frank Beamer said. “Sometimes you look at it and we could block better. Sometimes you look at it and we get a block downfield by a receiver that could make the play better. It’s not just one thing and I don’t want to make it sound that way. It’s a little of this, little of that. The bottom line is, we need to be more consistent as a group.”
While the coaches insist this move is largely tailored to affect practice, it’s clear the growing criticism of the team’s offensive philosophy shaped these moves as well.
“We haven’t been consistent with what we’ve done,” said Bryan Stinespring, offensive coordinator. “That sounds like a broken record, but I think these guys would concur. When we’re on point and we’re doing the things that we’re capable of doing, then I think we’re capable of success.”
Given the importance of the upcoming Thursday night game against the Hurricanes, it’s crucial these changes make an immediate positive impact on an offense currently ranked a dismal 71st in the country in rushing yards.
“I still think consistency in running the football, I think that’s our number one priority right now,” Frank Beamer said. “If we could get that squared away, I think that would affect other things. We have our moments at times, but I think to consistently be able to do that is a key objective for us.”
Part of that means that even though Coleman and Gregory will be fed the majority of the carries, coaches won’t abandon the rest of the runners.
“Do we want to narrow it down? Yes,” Shane Beamer said. “Do I anticipate Michael, Martin, J.C. and Tony being all in the game at some point Thursday night? I still do. We’re not shelving those guys.”