Virginia Tech's opener at Boston College is less than 10 weeks away with fall camp being closer. After a 6-7 season, there's lot of excitement that the Hokies could be in for a major turnaround with a very favorable schedule outside of their 3 toughest games all being on the road, and a roster that is mostly returning from last season.
Looking ahead, there are a few older Hokies who are entering make-or-break seasons in terms of their ability to earn large or starting roles at Virginia Tech with younger players pushing for playing time. Some of these players will still be able to find roles regardless but may not have as large of ones while others may not get their shot at their current position if things don't change. With that said, here's a look at five Hokies entering make-or-break seasons.
QB Hendon Hooker
While Justin Fuente hasn't named a starting QB for the 2019 season yet, it's almost certain that Ryan Willis will comfortably retain his starting job. Despite their publicly being a battle for the 2019 QB job, the real battle surrounds the proxy 2020 QB competition with Hendon Hooker having lots of work to do against Quincy Patterson and Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister.
After starting last season as the backup, Hooker appeared to lose that job towards the end of the season with Quincy Patterson taking advantage of the first year of the new redshirt rule to make a few appearances. Even before the addition of Burmeister, Hooker appeared to be the underdog in this proxy 2020 QB battle with Hooker entering the transfer portal
in late January and exiting in late February, just before Burmeister's decision to transfer to VT.
Athletically, Hooker has the speed and arm strength to be a dual-threat playmaker and continues to have a high ceiling. All of that has allowed Hooker to show flashes of his potential, but the lights simply haven't come on yet for the intriguing redshirt sophomore QB from North Carolina. If the lights do come on though, the conversation about Hooker will be radically different at the end of 2019 than it it less than two months away from the CFB season.
However, if Hooker continues on his current development path and is unable to beat out Patterson and Braxton Burmeister, Hooker may be faced with a transfer consideration if he wants to be a starting QB at a high level or a position change, given his great speed and size that could make him a fit at WR, if he wants to find another way to playing time at VT.
For Hendon Hooker, this season will be decisive in his future at VT whether he'll be able to earn the starting job or if his starting future may be as a QB elsewhere or at a different position.
WR Phil Patterson
From being a priority to retain in Justin Fuente's transition recruiting class upon Fuente's arrival to spectacular Spring Game catches, Phil Patterson has provided plenty of reasons for excitement about his potential. However, Patterson hasn't unleashed the potential that is clearly evident outside of the occasional big play like his spectacular touchdown catch against Duke last season.
Unlike the offensive players on this list, Patterson has been productive in a rotational role with 12 catches for 109 yards and a 1 touchdown including three multi-reception games. However, given what the expectations were surrounding Patterson, those numbers are lackluster compared to the original hype. Combine that with having a trio of receivers either the same age or younger ahead of him as the Hokies' starters and Patterson has no clear path to a starting job currently.
The big thing for Patterson is the fact that though he currently projects as the top backup receiver, the Hokies have plenty of young talent poised to push Patterson for time farther down the depth chart including redshirt freshmen DeJuan Ellis and Darryle Simmons, and early enrollee Elijah Bowick.
Of course, Patterson could still have a large role as the fourth receiver given Justin Fuente's desire to have a deep receiving corps, but the pressure will be on not only for him to maintain his spot as the top backup, but also not allow the gap to be closed. Fall down the depth chart during fall camp and Patterson could end up buried with no way to significant offensive playing time in 2020.
TE Drake DeIuliis
While Dalton Keene rightfully received the most attention among the freshman tight ends during the 2017 season, there was a time that Drake DeIuliis was an intriguing player to watch with the Hokies hinting at DeIuliis taking on a significant role. All that changed when DeIuliis suffered an injury against Boston College that led him to eventually taking a medical redshirt.
Now entering his third season in Blacksburg, DeIuliis is stuck behind not only Keene but also sophomore James Mitchell with the redshirt sophomore currently having an unclear path to playing time especially given the impressive talent and potential Mitchell has shown over the past several months.
DeIuliis profiled as a receiving tight end when he signed with the Hokies yet he has failed to record a catch to date in his career having only played in 4 games last season after only making one fateful appearance against Boston College in 2017. What's clear is at least publicly, DeIuliis hasn't taken the developmental steps as a well-rounded tight end to earn playing time there while his receiving ability hasn't been enough to force himself into the lineup.
Entering year 3, this should be the time for him to make a move and earn playing time even as the third guy at TE currently. If he doesn't, you have to start wondering if the best move for DeIuliis may be a transfer to find an opportunity where he won't be buried behind a tight end with the same number of years of on-field eligibility left.
DB Tyree Rodgers
Tyree Rodgers rose up the depth chart at safety last season and earned some playing time at free safety after injuries to Divine Deablo and a half-game suspension for Khalil Ladler forced some adjustments. However, Rodgers is in a precarious position this season with Deablo set to start likely at free safety and Chamarri Conner emerging as a major threat to start at whip along with Ladler's return.
Rodgers was solid last season in his fourth safety/whip linebacker role with 18 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 forced fumble. While Rodgers did have some rough moments, he showed some improvement throughout the season and the promise to be a quality player at the deepest spot on the Hokies' roster.
Now Rodgers does bring the versatility to be more of a coverage nickelwhip similar to Ladler. Like Ladler, Rodgers also started at cornerback for the Hokies but was eventually moved into a different DB role whether at free safety or cornerback. The question for Rodgers is can he shown that the best package for the Hokies is to have him at free safety with Deablo at whip over keeping at Deablo at free, where he's best, and having Ladler, Conner, or even Nasir Peoples at whip.
There's no doubt that Rodgers will have a role given his versatility and effectiveness in coverage that can give Bud Foster some schematic options when he wants to go with six defensive backs or rotate some players out. However, the big question is can Rodgers break through to become a starter and not just a rotational DB.
CB Jeremy Webb
If not for dealing with a pair of torn Achilles, Jeremy Webb is not on this list but because of that combined with the mass of younger cornerbacks, Webb is entering a make or break season of sorts for earning a starting job at Virginia Tech.
With Bryce Watts transferring, there is at least one cornerback spot open while it's hard to believe that Caleb Farley has any sort of safe grasp on the other starting cornerback spot after last season's struggles post-Florida State opener. Those struggles and roster changes have opened the door for Webb to finally have a chance to earn a starting job with the former four-star JUCO cornerback expecting to be 100% at the start of fall camp.
On-paper, a healthy Jeremy Webb projects as a frontrunner to not only be a starting cornerback but also to be the Hokies' #1 cornerback as VT would have expected in 2019 when he originally signed with the Hokies. However, the thing that makes Webb arguably the most intriguing non-quarterback is the injury question and whether Webb can return to what 100% was for him before or if he can, if he'll be able to do that this fall?
Jeremy Webb has the talent to be the Hokies' #1 cornerback but the question of his health combined with plenty of younger cornerbacks who see a big opportunity make Webb the highest profile name on this list.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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