Now, we'll get a pretty good idea of exactly what Ryan Williams can offer No. 16 Tech's offense and special teams this season. His role just got a whole lot bigger.
Running back/kick returner David Wilson will miss Saturday's game at North Carolina due to virus-like symptoms caused by mononucleosis. In addition, defensive end Chris Drager will miss the game due to what was termed on a release from Tech as "lingering effects from a hit he took late in (last Thursday's) Georgia Tech game."
Tech coach Frank Beamer said today Williams will likely take over Wilson's spot on kickoff returns, which would mean the Hokies (7-2 overall, 5-0 ACC) would have two guys that have never returned kicks in college playing as return men against the Tar Heels. Tony Gregory is taking over for Smithfield High graduate Dyrell Roberts, who will miss the rest of the regular season after developing compartment syndrome in his left thigh after the 28-21 win against Georgia Tech.
"I actually saw (Wilson) yesterday and he looked great, but that's a tough loss for us right there," Beamer said. "Tough loss with Drager (too). Both of these guys mean a lot to our football team."
Beamer said he was encouraged by how Williams ran against Georgia Tech. He played sparingly, but finished with seven carries for 30 yards and a touchdown to go along with two catches for four yards. Williams missed 4 1/2 games this season with a slightly torn right hamstring. He's still working to regain confidence in the hamstring.
"I thought (against Georgia Tech) that he's closer than ever," Beamer said. "Ryan will probably replace David on the kickoff return team. Tony Gregory, I think, will be the other guy back there. You have to replace both those guys - Dyrell and David. We've been staying away from injuries here for a while, but we got hit with a couple here in the Georgia Tech game."
If he's healthy, Williams, who has 59 carries for 179 yards and five touchdowns this season, will almost certainly get more carries against UNC (6-3, 3-2) than he has seen all season now that Wilson is out. Wilson has 74 carries for 462 yards and four touchdowns.
If Williams is indeed one of Tech's return men against UNC, it'll be the first time he has returned any kick or punt since last year's season-opening 34-24 loss to No. 5 Alabama in Atlanta. In his first college game, Williams muffed a punt return, which Alabama recovered at Tech's 16-yard line and converted into a first quarter field goal. He basically took himself out of the role after the miscue, opening the door for Jayron Hosley to step in and become one of the ACC's best punt returners.
Though quarterback Tyrod Taylor leads Tech with 94 carries for 584 yards and three touchdowns, Darren Evans is pacing all Tech running backs with 92 carries for 515 yards and nine touchdowns. Considering Evans is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and has shown no ill-effects from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that kept him out for the 2009 season, it'd be difficult to imagine him not being Tech's feature back against UNC.
As for Drager, Beamer wouldn't go into specifics about what the injury entailed. With Drager out, Beamer said J.R. Collins and Bethel High product James Gayle will man the vacated defensive spot. Drager has played in and started eight of Tech's nine games this season, compiling 18 tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. He also missed Tech's 21-16 loss to James Madison with a knee injury.
Collins also has 18 tackles, including 3 1/2 sacks. Gayle has eight tackles, including two sacks.
"They've been coming along," said Beamer regarding Collins and Gayle. "They're just going to have to play a little bit more than they've been playing...but Drager is a guy that for a lot of reasons - I think his being steady in there, tough. I thought he'd become a really good pass-rusher, which you need in this ball game. Not only his play, but I think you lose some other things when you lose Drager."