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March 31, 2010

Hokies high on offense, but 'D' is a concern

The questions surrounding Virginia Tech's football team typically focus on whether it will have a decent offense to complement its championship-caliber defense.

Not this season.

Virginia Tech heads into spring practice with one of the nation's top backfields. Darren Evans' return from a knee injury should allow him to team with Ryan Williams to form a dynamic duo at running back. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor proved last season he can hurt defenses with his arm as well as his legs.

This season, the concerns in Blacksburg are about the defense, which lost most of its key performers from last season. Virginia Tech coaches also remain unsure whether a torn quadriceps tendon will prevent linebacker Barquell Rivers - the team's top returning tackler - from being ready for the Sept. 6 season opener with Boise State.

Here's a look at how Virginia Tech stacks up heading into spring practice.

VIRGINIA TECH AT-A-GLANCE
QB Tyrod Taylor returns to lead what should be an explosive offense for Virginia Tech.
THE BASICS
Coach: Frank Beamer
Last season: 10-3 overall, 6-2 in the ACC. Beat Tennessee 37-14 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Spring dates: March 31-April 24.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum of six starts)
Offense (7): Jarrett Boykin, G Jaymes Brooks, WR Danny Coale, T Blake DeChristopher, QB Tyrod Taylor, C Beau Warren, TB Ryan Williams.
Defense (4): CB Rashad Carmichael, T John Graves, LB Jake Johnson (moving to DE), LB Barquell Rivers.
Special teams: None.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Alabama fans might argue otherwise, but Virginia Tech owns perhaps the best collection of running backs in the nation. Williams burst onto the scene last season by rushing for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. He broke the ACC freshman rushing record set a year earlier by teammate Evans, who ran for 1,265 yards in 2008 before sitting out last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Virginia Tech also should feel comfortable with its quarterback situation. Taylor always has been a dangerous runner, but he showed remarkable improvement as a passer last season. He threw 13 touchdown passes with only five interceptions and ranked 13th nationally in passing efficiency. Taylor will be throwing to a talented and deep receiving corps. Boykin, Coale and Dyrell Roberts combined for 92 receptions for 1,839 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

HELP IS NEEDED

Virginia Tech's front seven on defense was a concern even before starting LB Rivers tore his left quadriceps tendon this month, leaving his status questionable for the start of the season. E Jason Worilds' decision to enter the NFL draft has left the Hokies without a proven pass rusher. Virginia Tech also must break in a new kicker and punter.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

CB Jayron Hosley: As a true freshman last season, Hosley made an instant impact on special teams. He averaged 11.2 yards per punt return to rank 23rd in the nation. He enters the spring as the favorite to win the Hokies' open starting cornerback spot.

LB Bruce Taylor: Rivers' injury leaves Taylor as the Hokies' likely starting middle linebacker, at least for the time being. Taylor, a sophomore, made six tackles in backup duty last season. Even if Rivers returns in time for the start of the season, Taylor has a chance this spring to prove he merits an expanded role in the fall.

QB/TE Logan Thomas: Coaches plan to capitalize on Thomas' versatility by using him at multiple positions. Thomas, a redshirt freshman, isn't going to beat out Taylor for the starting quarterback job, but the Hokies conceivably could utilize him as a backup quarterback, wide receiver or tight end. He might even make some special teams appearances. One way or another, Thomas is going to get on the field.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

FS Eddie Whitley: Although his versatility has allowed him to earn playing time at cornerback and free safety, Whitley - a junior - hasn't found a permanent home at either position. This spring marks Whitley's best chance to win a spot in the starting lineup at free safety, where the Hokies must replace the departed Kam Chancellor.

THE BUZZ

Virginia Tech must replace most of its key performers from last season's defense, but the Hokies avoided what would have been an even more crippling loss when defensive coordinator Bud Foster turned down an offer from Georgia. Foster, generally regarded as one of the nation's top assistants, has his work cut out for him as he attempts to build a defense that lost more than half its starters from 2009. Foster's track record suggests he will find a way to have Virginia Tech once again ranked in the top 30 in most defensive categories. The other big story this spring involves Evans' return from a knee injury. This spring could offer the first clues as to how Williams and Evans will split responsibilities in the backfield. Virginia Tech fans also will be eager to see how the Hokies utilize Thomas, an exceptional talent without a true position.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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