Heading into 2014 Fall Training Camp, the Virginia Tech Hokies have several key positions that will be heavily contested all the way to the home opener against the Tribe of William and Mary. Much maligned three year starting Quarterback Logan Thomas leaves some big shoes to fill (size 18 to be exact) as the general of the offense, but he is not the only one that will need to be replaced.
On the offensive side of the ball, the position battles will be hard to predict due to second year Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler balancing players that he inherited with players that he brought in himself. Defensively, the Hokies should not have too much fluctuation with Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster heading into his nineteenth season. Foster has made a tradition of taking mid-level recruits, grooming them and preparing them to step into bigger roles once they are upperclassmen and this year will be no different.
Here is a look at the biggest battles heading into camp and who I think will come out on top at each position
The battle to be the starting Kicker will be one of the most highly contested and important battles in all of camp. Kicker Cody Journell was as consistent on the field as he was volatile off the field in his career at Virginia Tech. Now that he is finally gone from Blacksburg, the position is open to several options including former Punter Michael Branthover from Dematha High School. Branthover was 1-2 last year on FG and has been in Blacksburg the longest of any of the potential Kickers. Eric Kristensen came on strong in 2013 from relative obscurity to go 4-5 on FG attempts.
Prediction to win Battle: Eric Kristensen
Virginia Tech has struggled since the years of Andre Smith to find a Tight End that can contribute in their offense while also being a consistent blocker. In years past, the problem has been a complete lack of options. This year, the problem is the exact opposite as the cupboard is currently full of big athletes that can play in the slot and also put a hand in the dirt and get after a linebacker. SO Kalvin Cline 926 catches 321 yards 2 TD) was an immediate impact last year and is the closest thing to one of the new age wide receiver/tight ends that are taking over the NFL. RS JR Ryan Malleck missed all of last year with an injury, but should come back this year fully capable of being a large part of the Hokie offense. Malleck is a traditional TE with an enormous frame and a love for contact. I will expect the Hokies to use both of these Tight Ends all year and call for this group to be one of the best tight end corps in the country.
Prediction: Ryan Malleck
The Hokies offensive line has been a weak point for several years now since the departure of stalwarts Blake DeChristopher and Greg Nosal among others. True Sophomore LT Jonathan McLaughlin has shown himself to be a special talent and should be one of the best tackles in the country for the next two years, but the interior line is still a bit of a jumble. UGA transfer OG Brent Benedict has not yet lived up to his billing, but should be able to earn a spot this year with his second year under the new regime of Scot Loeffler. Seniors Caleb Farris and David Wang have been sharing time along the interior line for the last three years, the Hokies are just waiting for one of them to stay healthy for an entire season. Redshirt Freshmen Wyatt Teller and Austin Chung may push reps, but I don't think either will make a move to start.
Prediction: LG David Wang, RG Brent Benedict
Redshirt Senior ILB Chase Williams may finally be able to step into the role that he was destined for since stepping foot in Blacksburg as the captain of the Hokie defense. Williams has been on and off the injured list for his entire Hokie career, but if he can stay healthy the Hokies should have a signal caller that can make every tackle. The questions will come with who will be playing next to Williams. JR Josh Trimble has surprised many with his speed and athleticism, providing a big spark in special teams the last two years. RS SO Dahman McKinnon was a big time recruit and should force his way onto the field this year. The big question will be whether or not Ronny Van Dyke can finally step in and be the WHIP linebacker that Bud Foster and Cornell Brown say he can be. Van Dyke is a long, athletic edge rusher that could be the perfect fit in Foster's hybrid defense.
Prediction: Ronny Van Dyke
This is the position battle that will rage on throughout training camp that everyone will have an eye on, the signal caller. I eluded to it earlier, but much of the reason for these position battles is the new Offensive Coordinator Scot Loeffler. Loeffler has a very different style of offense than the previous coordinators Mike O'Cain and Bryan Stinespring. RS SR Mark Leal (career 28-48 334 yards 2 TD 2 INT) deserves every opportunity to earn the starting job having been around for five years, but his performance in the Sun Bowl left plenty to be desired. Loeffler has brought in two top recruits in true freshmen 6'4" Chris Durkin from Youngstown, OH and 6'3" Andrew Ford who will be dueling to be under center for the Hokies for the next four or five years. RS SO Brendan Motley was a highly touted recruit for the old staff that has been impressive for Loeffler. All those players have a chance to start week one, but I think the starter will be Texas Tech transfer JR Michael Brewer. In two years with the Red Raiders the 6'0" Quarterback from Texas went 41-58 for 440 yards and 5 TD with 0 INT. Brewer is true Texas gunslinger and should be a great fit for Loeffler's offense. The coaching staff has been raving about his professionalism and work ethic. The hope is that Brewer can play right away and set the stage for either Durkin or Ford to step in after he's gone.
Prediction: Michael Brewer