Spring practice has come and gone for Virginia Tech football and though it was relatively quiet for the Hokies, there were some questions that were answered this spring. With that said, here's a look at a few questions the Virginia Tech football program did show resolutions to whether they were acknowledged or not.
1. Virginia Tech's QB Competition is in Name Only
Justin Fuente may not agree with this, but the fact of the matter is this year's QB competition is a repeat of last year's with Ryan Willis being the clear leader as the incumbent. Even Fuente's comments suggest that he is holding Willis to a higher standard of improvement and recognizes that Willis is the Hokies' best QB even if he isn't ready to name him the starter.
"I think those two young guys need to take another step forward in understanding, reliability and consistency. Along the same lines for Ryan [Willis], he needs to take another step forward. This is his last opportunity. He is approaching graduation. His class load should be a little bit easier and he should really be able to dive in and see how much progress he can make," Fuente said at his final spring press conference.
Now while Fuente also mentioned that he wanted to see what Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister, pending his waiver pursuit, could do at QB, it appears clear that Fuente sees Willis as the most likely guy and is rightfully holding an incumbent to a higher standard of development given his experience. While many coaches wouldn't necessarily have a QB competition in a situation like this, this is simply Fuente's style showing with open competition being a way he likes to push players in their development.
If anything, the interesting QB battle that may start this summer is the battle to,be the starter in 2020 between Quincy Patterson, Braxton Burmeister, and Hendon Hooker. While Patterson may be the slight favorite for now, that battle has the potential to be one of America's most interesting QB competitions next spring.
2. Lecitus Smith Will Start at Left Guard.
Entering the spring, there was plenty of speculation about every spot on the interior of the offensive line. While center and right guard still remain up in the air, the Hokies clearly have their answer at left guard in redshirt sophomore Lecitus Smith.
Smith, the former tight end, started as the backup at left guard this past season, but saw his playing time increase throughout the season with Kyle Chung shifting inside to center at times to give Smith some of his opportunities. Over time, it became clearer that Smith was more than worthy of the opportunity and appeared to be the future there.
Of course, it wasn't a guarantee that the job would be his entering the spring given how Vance Vice isn't afraid to start the best 5 regardless of what those on the outside think. However, Smith proved this spring that he is ready to be the full-time starter with Justin Fuente noticing his steady improvement and great approach to learning the position beyond the basics.
“He continues to get better. He has talent, is a good athlete and is a big, strong young man that is still learning the nuances of the position and trusting it so that he can really cut loose. He cares, he wants to be right and that sometimes slows him down because he wants to be perfect and do things the right way. Through repetition and time, I’m optimistic that his natural ability, explosiveness and athleticism combined with confidence in knowing exactly what to do," Fuente said.
While competitions remain at center and right guard, Lecitus Smith is the one safe bet to write into your 2019 lineup at left guard.
3. Dax Hollifield is Committed to Playing Backer
Some wondered if Dax Hollifield might move inside the mike linebacker, the spot that seemed more natural for him but after slimming down to become more athletic, it's clear that Hollifield is staying at backer, giving the Hokies' their top 2 linebackers starting alongside each other with Hollifield and Rayshard Ashby.
Throughout the spring, Hollifield has spoken about how he has focused on slimming down and improving his speed knowing the athletic demands are much greater at backer than they are at mike.
With Hollifield staying at backer, and putting in the work to prepare himself as well as he can for the job, the Hokies have their starting linebacker duo for the next two years with Dax and Ashby. That time together should only help their chemistry and give the VT defense steady leadership in the heart of their defense, something that should benefit the Hokies as a whole as it did in 2017 with the pairing of Tremaine Edmunds and Andrew Motuapuaka being in their 2nd year together.
Of course, the bigger question may be whether Hollifield can ever reach the 4.6 40 speed that he previously promised Justin Fuente he could have.
That may be the hottest question regarding the Hokies' linebackers entering the summer, something that is great news for the Hokies after some turbulence and questions at linebacker last offseason.
Extra Point: Brian Johnson Appears to be the Guy at Kicker
With Jordan Stout transferring away, everything has lined up for Brian Johnson to have the job locked down for the next couple of years. While Stout looked better in the Spring Game, it appears that Johnson was the more consistent kicker throughout the spring. Combine that with his past experience, good and bad, and Justin Fuente clearly appears to have more confidence in Johnson than Stout, leading to Stout's decision to transfer.
Johnson was inconsistent with a significant midseason struggle that raised many questions about whether Johnson was right for the job. However, he finished the season on a much better note making 5 of his final 6 field goal attempts including a 42-yard field goal in overtime against Virginia that ended up being the game winner, extending the streak to 15 years.
Now there is always potential for that to change and the competition to be re-ignited in the fall especially after the Hokies hosted Daniel Justino, a transfer out of Florida, on a visit recently. Additionally, kicker is definitely a spot where a walk-on or even a last minute scholarship addition can change the competition. For now though, Brian Johnson has a clear grip on the starting kicker job for the Hokies.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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