Talented Hokies face early season challenge

Virginia Tech looks poised for another title run in the Atlantic

Coast Conference.

The Hokies defense has designs on being the school’s best ever.

The offense is led by 6-foot-6, 260-pound quarterback Logan Thomas,

who passed and ran his way in to Virginia Tech’s record books last


They won’t have to wait for their first test. The Hokies open

with a Monday night game followed by another contest five days

later. Two years ago that schedule left them 0-2 with losses to

Boise State and James Madison.

Virginia Tech plays Georgia Tech and its triple-option offense

on Sept. 3, followed by Austin Peay on Sept. 8.

Coach Frank Beamer said the big difference between 2010 and this

year is the Hokies play the Yellow Jackets in Blacksburg.

”When you’re playing at FedEx and you get back in here at 5

a.m. and you’ve got a short week, I don’t think you ever get caught

up,” Beamer said.

His team showed it in 2010, too, losing its second game to

FCS-level James Madison.

It’s the second time in three years the Hokies open with the

short week. Beamer said the national television exposure makes it

hard to ignore.

”I don’t particularly like it, but … if you play well, you

really help your program, I think. It’s a big boost. A lot of

recruits are watching that game,” the coach said.

After using the preseason to build depth in the secondary, the

Hokies are hoping to show the makings of a defense like the 2005

and 2006 version – both of which were No. 1 in the nation.

On the first night of camp, several defenders paged through the

record book, looking for standards. The 2005 team led the nation in

total defense, allowing 247.6 yards per game. The 2006 unit trimmed

nearly 30 yards off that average, leading the nation at 219.5 yards

per game.

The 2006 team also led the country by allowing just 11 points

per game.

”We feel like we have the talent on our side of the ball to be

the best defense that’s ever come through here,” said Antone Exum,

who moves from safety to cornerback this season.

Linebacker Bruce Taylor, who missed the last six games of 2011

and all of spring practice with a foot injury, was in on the

research session. He also thinks the unit can be No. 1.

”We know, and coach has reinforced it, that we have the talent

to do it,” he said.

While the defense has grabbed more than its share of the early

attention, the Hokies’ offense – led by the record-setting Thomas –

also will create matchup problems for opponents.

Thomas set a school record with 3,482 yards of total offense

last season, his first as a starter. He threw for 19 touchdowns,

ran for 11 more and is still learning the position.

Thomas, who came to Tech as a tight end, is as likely to run

over a defender as around him. His coaches said they want him to be

smart about taking hit, but not change his style.

The Hokies will also move more toward a spread offense this

season, expanding his options.

”We’ve talked to him about not taking unnecessary hits, being

smarter with the ball, but in the nature of the spread offense, he

becomes an additional ball carrier,” offensive coordinator Bryan

Stinespring said. Most quarterback injuries, he said, come from

hits in the pocket.

The pocket, though, is a concern too. Virginia Tech will have

four new starters on the offensive line, new starters at wide

receiver and inexperienced, young tailbacks.

The spread, Thomas said, will be a way to mitigate their


”I feel like teams are just going to try to pressure me more

than in the past, so that means I’m going to have to hang in the

pocket and make a quick throw to one of the receivers and let them

do the rest because they’re great athletes as well,” the redshirt

junior said.

The return of Dyrell Roberts from a broken arm and elevation of

Marcus Davis to first team gives the Hokies two experienced

receivers. D.J. Coles will be a third once he returns to form

following knee surgery.

In the backfield, Michael Holmes emerged from the spring as the

starter. Coach Shane Beamer said that while Holmes doesn’t appear

to have the breakaway speed the Hokies have become accustomed to at

the position, he surprised the coaches with several long runs in

the spring.

Freshmen J.C. Coleman and Trey Edmunds also will figure into the

tailback mix.

The Hokies’ special teams got a boost when placekicker Cody

Journell was reinstated. He missed the Orange Bowl while suspended

and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing.

In addition to the two games in five days start, the Hokies face

a tough three-game stretch later: They’re at Clemson on Oct. 20,

and then play back-to-back Thursday night games at Miami on Nov. 1

and at Lane Stadium against Florida State on Nov. 8.