The loss of four senior starters makes rebuilding the offensive line Virginia Tech's top spring priority, coach Frank Beamer said Monday.
The Hokies open spring practice Wednesday, less than three months after a disheartening Sugar Bowl defeat to Michigan closed an 11-3 season.
On a teleconference with reporters, Beamer also discussed Tech's open tailback competition and the many position experiments inherent with spring drills.
"We've got a lot of work to do and a lot of things to check," said Beamer, entering his 26th season. "Probably the biggest thing is our overall offensive line — quite a few new guys in there — and trying to get that to come together as a unit."
The Hokies started the same five linemen for all 14 games last season, and the lone returnee from that group is center Andrew Miller. Among those Beamer views as potential replacements is fifth-year senior tackle Vinston Painter, an All-American at Norfolk's Maury High who has yet to develop.
"A guy that's really been impressive in the offseason and I think has a great attitude is … Painter," Beamer said. "I think between he and (David) Wang and (Nick) Becton, we can really add some athletic ability … on the offensive line. Mark Shuman is a big guy. I think it's time for him to get his playing time."
Who will run behind that line is unknown. Junior David Wilson, the 2011 ACC Player of the Year, exited early for the NFL draft, leaving a depleted depth chart that includes redshirt freshman Michael Holmes and incoming freshman J.C. Coleman, an early enrollee who will compete this spring.
The Hokies' starting tailback has rushed for at least 1,265 yards three times in the last four years, and the position is vital if Tech is to challenge for a fifth ACC championship in nine years.
"I think Michael Holmes is a very talented guy, very productive in high school," Beamer said. "When you're that productive (2.877 yards as a senior), that says something. … And I think J.C. Coleman brings, next to (former receiver) Eddie Royal, he had more long plays on that highlight reel than anyone I've ever seen.
"And we're going to take Martin Scales and work him some at tailback, too. He brings a lot of toughness to the position."
Moving Scales from fullback to tailback, if only temporarily, is among many position changes the staff is employing. Others include rover (strong safety) Antone Exum to field cornerback, cornerback Detrick Bonner to rover and cornerback Kyshoen Jarrett to free safety.
"He's got the toughness," Beamer said of Exum. "He's got athletic ability to kind of hold down that side of it. We'll see."
Also, with Tariq Edwards recovering from leg surgery and Telvion Clark dismissed from the program, the Hokies are thin at linebacker. So for at least the spring, Derek DiNardo, Josh Trimble and D.J. Ward join returning letterman Chase Williams at linebacker.
Receiver Dyrell Roberts of Smithfield, who missed most of last season with a broken arm, could reclaim kickoff return duties. Beamer said other candidates include Jarrett, Bonner, Kyle Fuller, David Mellstrom and Willie Byrn.
Moreover, on the opening day of spring, Beamer invites anyone interested to audition as a returner.
"We may find someone weren't not even thinking about right now," Beamer said.
The same does not apply at quarterback, where incumbent Logan Thomas was second-team All-ACC last season as a sophomore and first-year starter.
"I thought he got more and more accurate all the time," Beamer said. "I think that will continue. I think he's a guy that just makes everyone around him better."
Tech will conduct open scrimmages April 7 and 14, with the spring game April 21 to be broadcast online by ESPN3. Beamer's lone concern is the coverage encouraging fans to watch at home instead of in-person — recent spring games have attracted approximately 40,000 spectators.
"I think those recruits take notice of how many you have for your spring game," Beamer said. "I think that's an indication of where you are a little bit."
Hokies' spring game
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday, April 21.