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For Hokies, this spring is all about experimentation
Written by Ryan Durham   

It started with a bolt of lightening, the media session that is.

A thunderstorm abruptly ended the final drills of Virginia Tech’s opening spring practice. After coaches called the players off the field, there was a frenzied sprint to the food table where fruit, bagels and other snacks awaited the team.

The chaos seemed appropriate since that term epitomizes what this spring practice will likely be about.

By now, most Hokie fans are aware that the linebacker corps looks quite different than expected. Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Bruce Taylor are limited in practice throughout the spring and Tariq Edwards and Telvion Clark are not participating for different reasons.

But defensive coordinator Bud Foster is confident with the players he has practicing at linebacker.

“Chase [Williams] needs to take the next step as a football player and he’ll get the majority of the work and that’s what he needs,” Foster said. “I feel good about Jack Tyler. Brian Laiti is a guy that needs to take the next step. I like D.J. Ward, he’s got a lot of promise as well.”

Foster also acknowledged that creating depth at the position during this spring is also important. He also said that he feels his players are fast, smart and conscientious and believes DiNardo and Josh Truman are potential scholarship players.

But though the linebackers have taken center stage, perhaps the more intriguing position groups this spring are the secondary and offensive line.

Not only does the group have to overcome the departures of Jayron Hosley and Eddie Whitley, but Kyle Fuller is the only starter in the secondary from last season that is drilling at the same position.

Antone Exum is switching positions from safety to starting cornerback opposite of Fuller. Starting in his and Whitley’s place is Kyshoen Jarrett at free safety and Detrick Bonner, who saw significant time at cornerback last season, at rover.

Secondary coach Torrian Gray acknowledged that this arrangement is a work in progress.

“I think as a coaching staff we are just going to see,” Gray said. “I think the players have bought into it. Right now we’re gonna be committed to working through this through the spring but we may look after the first scrimmage and have a discussion. But right now from the little information I’ve gotten today, it’s gonna be something we wanna go ahead and fixate in the spring.”

Gray also explained why he moved Exum, who was a dynamic playmaker last season as a safety, leading the team with 89 total tackles, to cornerback.

“Antone has great physical ability,” said Gray. “He kind of slowed down at times last year when things started moving and shifting. He’s a good enough athlete where if you just put him out on a number-1, whether it is man or zone, we just figure that would give him a chance to just go and play.”

If the move works out, the Hokies have a chance to possess one of the largest and most physical starting cornerbacks in all of college football. Exum stands at 6-0, 219 lbs. and Kyle Fuller has added significant volume to his 6-0 frame over the offseason. The Hokies could also do some different things with their cornerbacks, especially with a player like Exum.

As for the offensive line, the unit only returns center Andrew Miller from last season and has to replace four departed redshirt seniors. In addition, utility lineman Michael Via is out for the spring.

Nick Becton and David Wang are slotted as the starting left tackle and guard, but the right side will be important to focus on throughout the spring. Brent Benedict, a transfer from Georgia, will get the starting reps at right guard while redshirt senior Vinston Painter is starting at right tackle.

“I think this group will work hard,” said offensive line coach Curt Newsome. “I think this will be a great spring based off the little bit we saw. We gotta keep that intensity but I think they came out today with a good attitude. I think the group has a chance.”

Benedict has been especially exciting for Hokie fans since he transferred from a school in the Southeastern Conference. At 6-5, 311 lbs., Benedict has already made an impression on Newsome.

“I like his attitude right now,” Newsome said. “I like the way he is approaching the game. There’s some technical issues right now just in what we’ve see in the limited amount we’ve watched him. But as far as being a big, strong and tough guy I think that’s what he brings to the table.” 

While the new members of the offensive line are plenty capable physically, how they mesh and become a unit over the spring will determine how successful they are over the course of the 2012 season.

“That’s why the spring is so important,” said Newsome, “because these guys have not played on Saturdays. We’ve got to get them to that point in the spring and I think we will.”

Other tidbits:

Exum is completely on-board with the switch to corner and is excited about it.

The Hokies backfield is another important position group in transition. However, runningbacks coach Shane Beamer likes what he sees from freshmen Michael Holmes and J.C. Coleman. 

Logan Thomas is looking to fine-tune some mechanics during the spring.

Mike O’Cain also talked about Logan’s progression in the spring.

 
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