Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Wilson a nice problem to have

BLACKSBURG -- He impressed his head coach and his position coach. That much was obvious.

But to understand the kind of performance David Wilson had in Virginia Tech's second scrimmage Saturday -- and the reason he has no business redshirting this year -- you needed to look at a third coach, a coach who has little invested in running backs.

As Wilson sped around the left end, hit another gear and raced 12 yards to the end zone, Torrian Gray stewed. The Tech defensive backs coach fired his clipboard into the Lane Stadium turf. A few seconds later, Gray threw his hat, too.

"I was mad at all of 'em," Gray said.

And that's the thing -- Wilson has the kind of talent that can make nice men go nuts. Because if he had been a lesser back, none of this would have happened. It wouldn't have mattered who was supposed to have contain, or who didn't get off his block in time to close off the edge.

The play was supposed to be a simple up-the-gut run. Based on how it was defended, it should have lost a couple of yards. But when he discovered his predicament, Tech's No. 3 tailback improvised and left Tech's first-team defense humbled.

"I have a hell of a problem," running backs coach Billy Hite said with a smile. "No question about it."

The problem is Wilson is on stage belting out a masterpiece, but he's trying to win a karaoke contest against Usher and Chris Brown. How can Hite possibly tell any of them they're not good enough?

"He's making it difficult. He really is," Hite said. "I'm happy for him, too. I told him at the beginning, when we talked after spring practice, that we're not going to make that decision [on whether to redshirt him] until we get to game week. And if you're the best one out there, you're going to play."

He's not going to beat out Ryan Williams. But on Saturday, Wilson looked every bit as good as Darren Evans, who had perhaps his most disappointing day of fall camp.

And that's why Wilson needs to play. Despite their immense talents, Williams or Evans could have off days any given week. One could get nicked up and have to leave the game. In a season of such high expectations, the Hokies cannot afford a drop-off at a position that projects as their greatest strength; the offense is built around its potency. Even the slightest downgrade could be the difference between a win and a loss.

Wilson is showing them all that he's capable of contributing in a variety of ways. He ran back the scrimmage's opening kickoff 40 yards. Late in the day, he burst up the middle, absorbed his first hit about seven yards downfield, then dragged four tacklers an extra five yards.

"The more I get comfortable, the more I turn into my own player." said Wilson, who played sparingly as a true freshman. "One thing I feel like I'd never done since I'd been here was, I never ran full speed in a Virginia Tech uniform. Most of the time when I get the ball I'm in traffic, and I never got to the point where I could turn on my speed and show them my full speed.

"If I can show them more speed on the game field, then I'll feel like I've done everything I could have done."

Wilson told the coaches at the end of last season that he was open to redshirting this year if it didn't look like he'd be a significant part of the tailback mix. The coaches told him just to practice hard, compete, and they'd worry about that when the time came.

So Wilson did. And the time is coming.

While both Hite and Beamer said they'd prefer to decide before the opener in two weeks, it's not a hard deadline. They could let him dress and travel for the first few weeks and use him if they felt they needed him, like they've done with other tailbacks in the past.

Neither side wants to waste a year of Wilson's eligibility if he'll be a minor factor.

"But I know one year we redshirted Michael Vick, too, and he was out of here after three years," Hite said. "So we kind of wasted a year. It's something that we'll sit down as a staff and talk about. What's best for our football team, number 1, and what's best for him individually."

The prediction here is that they will need him -- and use him. The Hokies experimented with some formations Saturday designed to get more tailbacks on the field at the same time. Even if they don't employ those, Wilson would look very good out of street clothes and in a Tech uniform this year.

Except, maybe, to those defensive coaches on the other sideline.

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