After a spring in which Virginia Tech displayed some new wrinkles on offense that gave fans and media some interesting possibilities to ponder, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring is at least talking about the chance that a very different attack could become a reality in Blacksburg.
Of course, it remains to be seen if the pieces that were put in place in the spring translate to a facelift of the offense in the fall, but Stinespring is mentioning two words that will surely have Hokie faithful intrigued – spread offense.
"We've been able to spread the field," said Stinespring on Saturday during Tech's football media day in Blacksburg. "Now, we want to be more multiple with the spread offense. We're going to try to play the whole field, whether it's in the running game or the passing game."
With Tech coming off its best three-year stretch during Stinespring's first 10 years as the offensive coordinator, the timing surrounding a profound move from Tech's traditional pro style offense to the spread might seem odd.
Tech was 35th in the nation in total offense (413 yards per game – most under Stinespring) last season – with quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain calling plays – after coming off a 2010 season in which it was 41st in total offense (402.3 yards per game) and an '09 campaign in which it was 50th in total offense (392 yards per game). In only one other season under Stinespring's leadership had Tech's offense finished better than 57th in total offense (38th in 2003; 401.8 yards per game).
So, why now?
Well, for one, there's obviously quite a bit of personnel change taking place in Tech's offense outside of the quarterback spot. I discussed some of the new names and relevance of young players at Tech's skill positions in a story for Sunday's print edition of the Daily Press.
"One part we talked about with the receivers is the more you spread, that's more receivers you're going to get on the field probably," Stinespring said. "The more we're spread right now, there's a chance we get a little more inexperience out there. There's some guys that are getting a lot of reps because we need them to. They need to learn this process."
In keeping with that process, Stinespring said Tech's offense underwent a serious installation phase over a three-day period this week. He accepts there are likely some sore brains among his offensive players right now.
"There's some heads swimming, but we've had to install it now," Stinespring said. "Now, we'll go back and back off a little of this installation. Now, we've got the building blocks and a lot of foundation in terms of what we're doing. We've got to go back and clean it up a little bit before we move further."
Speaking of Thomas, he demonstrated last season he possesses elements of his game that could help him in a spread look – strong arm, good vision with his height, ability to make appropriate checks at the line of scrimmage (as O'Cain confirmed late last season) and that take-no-prisoners approach to running with the football.
Thomas indicated he's become more vocal this offseason. He specifically mentioned having conversations with receivers to get on the same page if he throws a ball to a certain spot and the receiver runs a route that doesn't jive with the pass.
If Tech does make a move to a more spread-oriented attack, 6-foot-4 senior receiver Marcus Davis could benefit.
He's finally going to get the chance to become the primary target this season, which could mean big things for a guy that came out of Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach in 2008 looked upon by many recruiting analysts as one of the nation's top 70 athlete prospects, but who hasn't quite lived up to his potential.
"The big thing I've been working on all summer is my consistency," said Davis, who had a career-high 30 catches for 510 yards and five touchdowns last season in his first season as a starter (started eight games). "It's something everybody wants to see – and to play a complete season. Playing behind Danny (Coale), I've learned that my chances that I had a chance to do something I had to make the most of it.
"Now, I guess I'm the front-runner, so I just have to make those chances and plays every single time. I can't take any plays off. I can't be lazy. I have to go out there and play my game."
While Davis looks to become an every-down threat, Smithfield High graduate
Though he's Tech's career leader in kickoff return yardage (1,577 yards), Roberts said this past spring he wasn't sure he wanted to return kickoffs anymore. He said he'd do it if the team needed him back there, but he'd prefer not to do it.
He's atop the depth chart for the time being at kickoff returner, along with redshirt freshman Demitri Knowles. Tech has yet to install its kickoff and punt return packages, so a lot could change.
Roberts, who was fourth in the nation in 2009 in average yards per kickoff return (average of 31.9 yards per return on 18 returns) said he continues to have conversations with coach
"They've moved the ball up some, so I may not get many opportunities (to return the ball), but there's nothing set in stone," Roberts said. "We'll see when we have to put it in."
Coles is in a rough spot. He's trying to increase his work load in practice – doing more individual route-running and a little one-on-one work in Friday's practice – but he's still hobbling around. I asked him Saturday about the possibility of taking a redshirt year. He's a senior, but he still has a redshirt to burn.
"It's floating around," Coles said. "When that time comes, I'll sit down and discuss it with my family and my coaches and everything and we'll go from there. Right now, it's full-speed ahead trying to prepare for the season.
"I can't rush anything. I'm just going out there and doing what I can, and each day I'll push it a little more."
Roberts said since Coles hasn't been able to practice full-speed he's taken on more of a hands-on teaching role with many of the young receivers.
"I'm just trying to help them with their technique…just trying to help them adjust to the game speed with little pointers I've learned over the years from other guys," Coles said.
I spent some time today talking with Stinespring about his tight end situation, where Eric Martin, Randall Dunn and Ryan Malleck have all shown the ability to do specific parts of the job at tight end, but none of them has put the entire package together.
It dawns on me now that a move to a more spread-based offense would likely de-emphasize the tight end. In any case, Stinespring said he was more satisfied with his tight end options than he was at the start of the spring.
"I'm more comfortable," Stinespring said. "In the spring, we had a lot of things we wanted to get accomplished. Sometimes we fell a little short of it, but I think this offseason they understood. There wasn't any miscommunication post-spring about how much further we needed to go. We've come out here and played pretty well thus far.
"We've got to accentuate our strengths and build on some of the things we're not doing well. I don't think you can get into a game-type scenario and all of a sudden this guy is in the game and there's more of a possibility of this occurring. You've got to go back and scout yourself."
Though Tech will be breaking in four new starters on its offensive line, Beamer is encouraged by what he perceives to be a nimble group.
Right tackle Vinston Painter hasn't come anywhere near living up to the expectations of his lofty recruitment (considered one of the nation's top 25 offensive tackles coming out of Maury High in Norfolk in 2008), but he's one of the strongest players on the team.
Right guard Brent Benedict has lost 30 pounds – down to a svelte 304.
Left guard David Wang has the best footwork of any of Tech's linemen.
Left tackle Nick Becton has been clocked at 4.96 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which is hauling it for a 317-pound dude.
The problem is obviously lack of experience. Only center Andrew Miller, who started all 14 games last season, has ever started a college game.
"We're probably as athletic as we've ever been," Beamer said. "I mean, if you take our two tackles Becton and Painter, we've probably never been that big and that talented with two tackles…neither one of them have been starting the whole time either.
"It's kind of like the whole football team. We've got work to do. We're not a good, good football team right now, but we've got the possibility of being a good, good football team."
A little more about Wang…he's an interesting cat with a big personality. He may also have a future in Major League Gaming, which is a professional video game organization (yes, such a thing does exist).
Last fall, when he was laid up with a broken foot for the last 12 games of the season, he dedicated himself to his schoolwork (he's a management major) and playing Call of Duty. He contends he made it into the top 35 in Call of Duty's "team death match" mode. That's pretty impressive considering there are multiple millions of Call of Duty online players throughout the world.
Wang, who plays the
"I brag about it all the time," said Wang, who sprained his left ankle in Saturday's practice and was replaced for the time being on the first team by Matt Arkema (no word yet on the full extent of Wang's injury). "I welcome any challengers on the team, and most of them know I'm pure domination on the controls."