Before Beamer and Co. get to that point, there’s a lot to see, a ton of installation to do and plenty of spoon-feeding young players to see how much they can handle and regurgitate. It all started Tuesday with Tech’s first practice of the preseason.
As expected, much of Beamer’s attention was on the punting situation – one of the areas he said after practice he’s most concerned with, along with figuring out how reps are going to shake out at running back and wide receiver.
Beamer got his first glimpse of walk-on freshmen punters Hunter Windmuller from Flint Hill School in Oakton, Brooks Abbott from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla. and A.J. Hughes from Terre Haute North Vigo High in Terre Haute, Ind. They’re going to compete with sophomore Ethan Keyserling.
“I was impressed,” said Beamer of the freshmen punters. “Windmuller popped it up in the air there very well. I thought both of them showed some good stuff here on the first day. They’re going to get a lot of kicks in, I can tell you that.”
Abbott and Keyserling are also going to factor into the place-kicker picture as backups to Cody Journell.
Speaking of Journell, he was back at practice for the first time since he was suspended from the team in December after being charged with felony breaking and entering, which was ultimately reduced to misdemeanor trespassing. He didn’t speak to media, but he did issue a statement regarding his situation.
“I want to apologize to my family, the university, the athletic department and my teammates,” Journell said in the statement. “I am ready to move forward with this season and want to thank Mr. (Jim) Weaver [athletic director] and coach Beamer for the opportunity to rejoin the program. This will be my only comment with regards to this situation.”
As much as Journell may want the situation to vanish, it remains to be seen if he’ll actually get to avoid it altogether once he starts talking to media again. It’s bound to come up, and it’ll be interesting to see how he responds.
While the kicking game held Beamer’s attention in the helmets, jerseys, shorts and cleats-only practice, he also couldn’t help but notice how a few players he’d like to rely on this coming season were still slowly getting back into shape after dealing with injuries.
Most troubling had to be the status of starting linebacker Tariq Edwards, who is still recovering from March surgery to have a rod placed in his left shin to relieve pain from a stress fracture. In addition to Edwards, wide receiver D.J. Coles is still slow to recover from January knee surgery.
“I’m concerned,” Beamer said.
“We’ve got three weeks here, and we’ll see where we are as we go through that. I know (trainer) Mike Goforth has got a plan for how much work they should do and so forth. It’s two really quality players that can’t do things full-tilt right now.”
Though it's way too early to assume Coles' injury will linger for weeks or months, it's worth noting he's a senior with a redshirt year still available. Dyrell Roberts, a Smithfield High graduate whom Coles hopes to compete with this preseason for a starting receiver job, redshirted last fall in what would've been his senior year. Roberts broke his arm three games into the season and applied for a medical hardship waiver.
Coles and Edwards were on the practice field Tuesday, but linebacker Devin Vandyke and defensive linemen Nigel Williams – both freshmen – weren’t out there and won’t join the team until at least Aug. 27. Vandyke had minor knee surgery in the offseason, and Williams had shoulder surgery.
Cornerback Davion Tookes, running back Trey Edmunds and defensive end Jarontay Jones – all freshmen – were in practice after dealing with varying degrees of recent hamstring injuries.
Edmunds figures to have a shot at working his way into the rotation at tailback, along with Michael Holmes, Martin Scales, J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and Daniel Dyer. Beamer has talked in the past about wanting to find three guys to get most of the reps.
“From what I saw (Tuesday), I think we’ve got some really talented kids at tailback,” Beamer said. “I think we’re trying to figure out who we’re going to work with. You just can’t work with so many. There’s only so many reps here in preseason practice.”
Getting those reps in the hands of the right players is an essential factor when practice time is limited. Beamer said he and the staff will have a handle on which freshmen will redshirt after Sunday’s scrimmage.
“I think the big issue, particularly for the young kids, is can they absorb it and keep up with the learning,” Beamer said. “The terminology is what gets them a little bit. It’s different from what they had in high school and so forth. I think the next few days here is where we’ll see the real difference in the guys that can hang in there and learn and stay up with it and function out here, and the guys that get all caught up and are not quite as good at that.”
Ken Ekanem, a 6-foot-3, 249-pound defensive end from Centreville High in Centreville, figures to be one of the freshmen that will be redshirted. He’s a promising young player who was considered one of the nation’s top 25 defensive end prospects by many recruiting analysts, and one of the top 40 linebackers by other analysts.
He’ll play defensive end at Tech, but some schools looked at him as a possible outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive alignment. Though he may look the part of an ultra-prepared first year player, he’s still recovering from a huge knee injury sustained in December in the Group AAA Division 6 state championship game.
In the first quarter of the game, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and partially torn meniscus in his right knee when he planted his foot. Ekanem said he heard “like five cracks and a pop at the end” when he hurt his knee.
He’s moving around well for a guy that suffered the injury just eight months ago, but he’s still getting back in shape. He said he gained about 15 pounds after he hurt his knee, ballooning up to 260 pounds. He wants to eventually get down to 240.
“I look at redshirting as not a bad thing because of my knee,” Ekanem said. “I’d like to play, but it wouldn’t hurt to redshirt.”
I’ll be back in Blacksburg on Thursday for Tech’s next practice, plus I’ll be in town Saturday for football media day. I'll be relocating in a couple weeks for my 12th fall season in Blacksburg (13th season overall covering the team).
Here’s a look at the complete initial preseason depth chart:
Dyrell Roberts/D.J. Coles
Eric Martin/Randall Dunn
Ryan Malleck/George George
Duan Perez-Means/Darius Redman
Martin Scales/J.C. Coleman
Tony Gregory/Daniel Dyer
Corey Marshall/Zack McCray
Zack McCray/Corey Marshall
Antoine Hopkins/Luther Maddy
Josh Trimble/Derek Dinardo
Ethan Keyserling/Cody Journell
Joe St. Germain
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