By Josh Parcell|
Virginia's Tech Correspondent
Expectations for the 2010 football season are at an all-time high in Blacksburg. Hokie fans have gotten used to winning double-digit games each season and to contending for the ACC title.
Virginia Tech has won at least 10 games in six straight seasons, a feat only surpassed by Texas in the same time span, and has claimed three ACC titles in that time.
So having gotten used to meeting these standards on a regular basis, it is realistic to think that those same Hokie fans expect at least those accolades and are hoping to do even more.In order to reach those marks and more this year, Virginia Tech is going to rely heavily on the play of senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Highly praised when he committed to Tech out of Hampton High School, Taylor has developed before the very eyes of Hokie nation. From entering his first college game in a difficult loss at LSU to helping the Hokies capture the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl in convincing fashion over Tennessee, Taylor has improved tenfold.
In his final go-around, he will compete with a nation's best each week as he is one of five Davey O'Brien Award candidates from within the ACC.
The competition may be stiff, but Beamer is not afraid to vouch for his signal caller.
"I think we've got the best quarterback in the league," Beamer said.
Taylor's life will be much easier with two of the best running backs in school history behind him.
Ryan Williams broke every major school rushing record for a freshman in 2009. His 1,655 rushing yards were the fifth highest total in the country. The man whose record he broke in that category is Darren Evans, who just so happens to be his backfield mate in 2010.
Evans missed the entire 2009 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He carried the ball for 1,265 yards in 2008, including a 153-yard MVP performance in the 2009 Orange Bowl.
Evans is a hard-nosed runner who figures to be very productive, but it's hard to argue who the feature back will be.
"I think (Williams) can do it all; he's a complete tailback," Beamer said.
Williams' vision and ability to change direction at seemingly full speed make him one of the most dynamic offensive players at Tech.
If opponents crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the rushing attack, Taylor has a deep group of proven receivers to pass to. The top four receivers on the depth chart all enter their third seasons in those roles. As a bonus, those receivers have only known one starting quarterback in that time.
"We're just on a same page, it's crazy," Taylor said. "I'll go out there in 7-on-7 and watch those guys and they pretty much know what I'm thinking and I know what they are thinking. They anticipate my throwing the football where it should be. Our timing and our chemistry is real good right now. We're looking forward to seeing how it carries into the season."
Hokie fans may do a double-take when they realize that the Tech offense is more highly touted than the defense, at least initially. While defensive coordinator Bud Foster has built a reputation for producing the nation's best defenses, this season he must replace six starters, including three of four defensive linemen.
The lone returning starter on the line is senior tackle John Graves, who was limited to just eight starts last season with an ankle injury.
When healthy, Graves is an All-ACC caliber player. He must stay on the field this season.
In the second level of defense, Foster must somehow replace whip linebacker Cody Grimm, a former walk-on who was the heart of the Hokies' defense in 2009. The job will go to either Jeron Gouveia-Winslow or Alonzo Tweedy, both redshirt sophomores. Gouveia-Winslow has a better feel for the position, but Tweedy is the more athletic of the pair.
Foster calls upon that position to perform multiple duties, and finding Grimm's replacement will be one of the primary focuses during fall camp.
In the middle, Barquell Rivers is back at the "Mike" linebacker spot. Rivers was second on the team behind Grimm with 96 tackles in 2009. However, a ruptured quadriceps tendon suffered in the spring may not be fully healed in time for the season opener. He's currently listed as questionable.
"At the end of the year Rivers was playing really solid. He's worked hard, but he has not been cleared to play yet. We are hoping he's going to make it back," Beamer said.
The secondary's leader is senior Rashad "Roc" Carmichael, who burst onto the scene with six interceptions last year. He will occupy the boundary corner spot again this year, a position annually held by the Hokies's star defensive back. Former boundary corners at Tech include Jimmy Williams, Brandon Flowers, Victor "Macho" Harris, and Stephan Virgil.
Rashad "Roc" Carmichael
There are two new starters in the secondary, but both have very bright futures. Eddie Whitley steps in for Kam Chancellor, a fourth-round NFL Draf pick of the Seattle Seahawks. Whitley started at corner last season against Nebraska, and was a key player in dime coverage.
Whitley's versatility to play any position in the secondary will be vital for defensive backs coach Torrian Gray if the Hokies have any injury issues.
Starting opposite Carmichael is Jayron Hosley, who excited Hokie fans last year with his burst in the punt return game.
The word heard most when describing Hosley is "natural". Much of the game come easily to him, and Gray has spoke highly of the sophomore's high potential.
No Virginia Tech preview would be complete without addressing the kicking game.
Chris Hazley, a redshirt senior, will be the fifth different placekicker in as many years for Beamer, who famously coaches special teams himself.
Hazley emerged from a tight battle in the spring among a collection of hopeful starters.
The new punter will be Brian Saunders, another redshirt senior who bided his time behind two-time All-ACC punter Brent Bowden, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Dyrell Roberts will be the featured kick returner, after ranking third nationally last season in yards per return.
The punt returner will once again be Hosley, who wasted no time finding the end zone in his first game as the return man against Marshall. He became the first freshman to ever return a punt for a touchdown under Beamer.
As the Hokies prepare for the season with high hopes, they are looking no further than a huge Sept. 6 date with Boise State in Washington, D.C. The game will be nationally televised and should feature two teams ranked in the preseason top 10.
Graves, one of the key senior leaders, is doing his part to get the team focused on winning that game. "When I go to work out, I know in my head that Boise State is working extremely hard. My goal is to try to do my best and work as hard as they are."
After the Broncos, the schedule is moderately favorable until November, when the Hokies face Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami in consecutive weeks. They must play the Tar Heels and Hurricanes on the road.
But for now, it's all about the Broncos for Beamer and his crew. "I think Boise has earned their reputation," Beamer said.
And it's in the Hokies' own hands to boost their own.