By Norm Wood
6:03 PM PDT, September 11, 2012
When Dyrell Roberts heard the news today during Virginia Tech’s football game-week press conference he was no longer atop the depth chart at punt returner heading into Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh, his initial reaction was genuine surprise.
“For real?” Roberts said.
It turns out he was probably more shocked he heard the latest depth chart adjustment from reporters than he was about the move being made in the first place. Roberts, a Smithfield High graduate, is accepting of the fact No. 13 Tech’s return specialist roles aren’t written in stone.
“I don’t even really think about it,” said Roberts, who is still listed as a second team kickoff returner. “I don’t even ask the coaches anything about it anymore. I let them do the depth chart, do whatever and however they want to set it up. If it’s me back there, I try my best to do what I can do. If not, I just focus on offense.”
With so many candidates to man the kickoff return and punt return spots, it might be a while before Tech (2-0 overall, 1-0 ACC) settles on players for each role.
This weekend, starting running back Michael Holmes is also slated to be Tech’s primary punt returner. Kyshoen Jarrett, who had a 46-yard punt return last Saturday that set up Tech’s first touchdown in its 42-7 win against Austin Peay, is the second team punt returner.
Demitri Knowles and J.C. Coleman continue to be the first team kickoff returners. Of course, the kickoff and punt return spots are subject to change prior to this weekend’s game.
The whole punt return rotation thing between Holmes, Jarrett and Roberts is an interesting side note for Tech as it preps for Pittsburgh (0-2 overall, 0-1 Big East), but there are other intriguing storylines involved with this seemingly lopsided matchup (Tech is a 10-point road favorite) – not the least of which is Tech’s quest to continue its nation-leading 13-game winning streak in true road games.
Oregon, which has an 11-game winning streak in road games, is closest to Tech in the category. The last time Virginia Tech lost on the road was Oct. 17, 2009 – a 28-23 loss to Georgia Tech.
“We’re going to talk about it this week,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer about the keys to success on the road. “You’ve got to play the same way regardless of what day it is, what time it is, where you are – try to play with the same consistency.”
Pittsburgh won’t seem like much of a road game to Jarrett, who will be making his third start at strong safety for Tech. Growing up 4 1/2 hours east of Pittsburgh in the town of Tannersville, Pa., Jarrett got to know plenty about the Panthers’ football program. He was actually committed to Pittsburgh, which was the first program to offer him a scholarship, for a while before former coach Dave Wannstedt was fired.
Ed Christian, who was Jarrett’s coach at East Stroudsbourg South High, has visited Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster at least a dozen times during Tech’s spring practices to study film. Lines of communication with Tech coaches were already available before Jarrett reneged on his commitment to Pittsburgh.
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After Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray got involved with Jarrett’s recruitment, Jarrett became more interested in what his future might look like in Blacksburg. He soon committed to Tech.
Jarrett has friends on Pittsburgh’s roster – wide receiver Devin Street, quarterback Tino Sunseri, defensive back Lafayette Pitts and tight end Hubie Graham to name a few – but Jarrett isn’t spending much time catching up with them this week.
“I haven’t really talked to them lately,” Jarrett said. “I’ve just been focused on what we’re doing here. I really have no plans on really talking to them even throughout the week, because I want to be focused on what’s at hand.”
As for the whole punt return situation, Jarrett’s approach is similar to that of Roberts – just roll with it.
“Whatever the coaches want, I’ll do,” Jarrett said. “If one game I’m going to be doing punt returns, and another game I’m not and that best fits what the coaches plans are, I don’t mind doing that. Honestly, I’m just doing my job day in and day out.”
Jarrett, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound sophomore, has emerged this season as an adept tackler, which is somewhat surprising considering he just transitioned to full-time safety in the spring after playing cornerback. He’s fourth on the team in tackles with 15, but he leads the team in both solo tackles with 12 and tackles for loss with 2 1/2. He also has a forced fumble.
Getting up to speed with the physical side of the position wasn’t as big a deal for Jarrett as it was for him to find his voice at the safety position. For a naturally soft-spoken guy, getting loud was a challenge.
“The big thing was my communication,” Jarrett said. “I wasn’t really a very outspoken type of person when I first came (to Tech). Being a cornerback, of course you had to communicate, but not as much as the safeties did…That’s something I had to work on, but I’m confident in my ability to do that now, and it’s no longer an issue.”
For more on Jarrett, here’s a story I wrote on him in Feb. 2011, the day after he signed his letter of intent with Tech. It’s about a special relationship he has with his big brother, Daishawn, who has cerebal palsy and who is blind.
Jarrett will see plenty of familiar faces in Pittsburgh, but one Tech player that won’t be along for the first road trip of the season is true freshman running back Trey Edmunds. He’s destined for a redshirt year and probably won’t dress the rest of the season, according to Beamer.
“There’s no question about his ability to play, and what a terrific player he’s going to be,” Beamer said. “Right now, I think the four backs [Holmes, J.C. Coleman, Martin Scales and Tony Gregory] have worked out well, and hopefully we can stay healthy. (Edmunds will) be there if something should happen, then we can revisit that situation, but for right now I think redshirting is the best thing for him.”
Running backs coach Shane Beamer said one of the reasons for the decision to redshirt Edmunds, a 6-1, 212-pound native of Danville, had nothing to do with him being physically ready or not. It was more about finding enough time to get him carries in practice.
“Trey is going to be a big-time player,” Shane said. “It’s hard enough right now trying to get four guys reps with Tony, J.C., Martin and Mike, much less five. Trey can play for us this year from a physical standpoint. There’s no doubt about it. We want to be fair to him and not just play him to play him. We’ve got four guys that I feel good about and that can carry us. I look forward to continue working with Trey and him getting better throughout the fall, but get him ready to play next year.”
Prior to the preseason, some decision-making had to take place on whether to play Edmunds at running back or linebacker.
Now that he’s going to take the rest of the fall to practice and hit the weight room, what if he adds more weight and muscle to his frame? Does Shane wonder if he’ll have trouble keeping Edmunds at running back? It doesn’t sound like it.
“He’s a great athlete, so from a size standpoint even if he gets bigger, I don’t worry about him getting too big,” Shane said. “I think he’ll be fine no matter whatever size he winds up.”
On the injury side of things, center Andrew Miller practiced Tuesday after leaving the Austin Peay game with an ankle injury and not practicing Monday. Receiver D.J. Coles suffered a season-ending injury to his right knee against Georgia Tech, but he was in a blue, limited participation jersey in Monday’s practice.
It turns out there was nothing to the appearance at Monday’s practice. He’s still out for the season.
“We’re just keeping him with the football team, keeping him involved and getting him a little work out there,” Beamer said.
Tech’s sports information department hopes to provide more details Wednesday morning from an MRI that was taken to determine the full extent of Coles’ knee injury. He had surgery in January on his right knee to repair damage to his posterior collateral ligament, and he wasn’t completely cleared in preseason practice until Aug. 23. As for Monday’s practice, he said he was just doing what his body permitted.
“Right now, it’s just basically trying to get my leg stronger and go through the time here and get everything right so I can come back next year and be strong and better,” Coles said. “I don’t want to come back anything less than 100 percent and wind up hurting the team.”
Roberts has a good idea of what Coles is facing. After enduring season-ending injuries in 2010 (compartment syndrome in his thigh) and last season (broken arm), Roberts is an expert on the topic.
“It’s a tough road he’s had to go through, but I can relate to him because I’ve been there,” Roberts said. “I know what he’s going through. He’s staying strong, getting into his rehab and just looking forward to coming back and tearing it up next year.”
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