Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Covert work begins for Hokies

This is a critical week for the Virginia Tech football team -- one that could go a long way in determining its performance in the season opener against Boise State on Labor Day.

After spring practice ended with Saturday's Maroon-White scrimmage, the media packed up their cameras and notebooks and moved on to other sports. If things go well, coverage of the Hokies will be sparse until August, when practice resumes and many of the storylines we've followed the past month will reach their denouement.

In the meantime, though, the team will continue to work. Nearly all of the players will take classes this summer so they can participate in the strength and conditioning program.

That phase of preparation starts this week, as the coaches sit down individually with each of the players to devise an improvement plan.

"That's one area that you can outwork your opponent, is what you do in the summer," Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. "And that's where we need to make big strides."

Strength coach Mike Gentry is among the best in the country at making players bigger, stronger and faster, which is always the main summer goal.

However, "it's not just lifting and running," Foster said. "It's getting out there and doing your position work so you can carry that stuff from the weight room onto the playing field and carry what we've been taught already into next fall."

Foster identified his probable starting lineup this spring but still has major concerns about depth, particularly along the defensive front. He'll address those in the individual meetings, which can last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the player's experience level and liabilities.

Then, the players are on their own. Self-motivation is critical, but so is receiving the proper instructions this week.

"We can't be there," Foster said of the position-specific individual sessions. "That's the only drawback. So you hope these kids have enough foundation and understanding of their position expectations that they can do that work on their own."

Breakfast with Stiney

When asked after the spring game if he had identified a No. 2 tight end, Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring didn't hesitate.

"No," he said.

Redshirt freshman Eric Martin and third-year sophomore Randall Dunn lead a group of five hopefuls for the backup role to Andre Smith. None has seized the job yet.

While noting that he's pleased with all of their efforts to improve, Stinespring compared the candidates to fluffy, buttery breakfast treats.

"I told them we have one bacon, egg and cheese biscuit in the bag and we have just some plain biscuits," he said. "That's kind of where we are right now. ...If we need another one, we just kind of reach into the bag and pull one out."

Finally, a metaphor I can relate to.

Nice change of pace

Stiney was on quite a roll Saturday. Take this exchange between him and a reporter:

Reporter: "For the first time in years here at Tech, it seems over the offseason we've spent more time talking about the offense than the defense."

Stiney [smiling]: "There's a lot of times it seems like we're talking about the offense."

Reporter: "Umm..."

Stiney: "Oh, you're talking about in good terms? Is that what you're saying?"

Yep. And deservedly so.

"This is probably as far along in the spring as we've been in quite some time," Stinespring said of his unit.

"We've gone into some falls just trying to figure out who our starting offensive line is. We've gone into some falls wondering who are receivers are going to be, or even who our tailback was going to be, even the starting quarterback. So I think we're a little more established."

And ready to get back to work -- even if we're no longer watching it happen.

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