Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hokies start fresh at offense

Virginia Tech's three new offensive coaches look to fix the team's lagging offense as spring practice begins today.

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BLACKSBURG - In the two months since being introduced as Virginia Tech's new offensive coordinator, Scot Loeffler has kept busy.

He's hit the road recruiting, watched hours of game film from last year, had his appendix removed and grown a goatee. An intimidation tactic as he enters his first spring with the Hokies, perhaps?

"No," he said. "My wife's not up here yet."

It's a reminder how much of a transitional offseason this has been for both the new offensive coaches and Virginia Tech, which begins 31/2 weeks of spring practices (in name only, considering the recent snowy weather) tonight.

Loeffler, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and receivers coach Aaron Moorehead were brought in to fix the Hokies' lagging offense, the meat of which they truly only get to start doing once spring practice begins.

"I think just based on the fact that they feel like last year they didn't play their best football, especially on the offensive side of the ball, that there's a certain recognition that things needs to change," Grimes said. "And I think they are beginning to embrace the newness of what we're bringing."

Contact with players is extremely limited in the offseason, down to only a few hours a week of meetings while the real work is being done by the strength and conditioning staff.

Only at last week's slate of 6 a.m. workouts did the new staff members get any sense of what they'll be dealing with on the field.

"You get to see them fight through some stuff," said Grimes, who has made toughness a priority for his group. "And you get to see who really will compete when they're tired and who's just trying to survive and who gives in when it hurts. â? "And you have an opportunity to see if anyone will step up and be a leader and who's willing to challenge the other guys around them, versus kind of working within that halo around their existence."

With enough healthy bodies on his line, Grimes plans to be physical with his group this spring, playing musical chairs to find the right positions for everybody. Although the interior line has more experience, he has no preconceived notions about playing time.

"I've told them repeatedly that nobody is assured a position and everybody has got to earn it from me, from the guy who has earned it the most to the guy who just got here," he said.

For Loeffler, whose interactions with quarterback Logan Thomas have similarly been limited, building trust is essential.

"When I've been around a guy - a real guy, a great player - I can generally sit up in the press box, call the play and tell you exactly what he's going to do before it ever occurs," Loeffler said. "And then right when the ball hits him in the hands and things change, I can tell you exactly what he's going to do. â? So that's the challenge that we have."

Although Loeffler says his system will put a lot on the quarterback - I mean, a lot," he emphasized - things will be extremely basic this spring, starting with the fundamentals.

Virginia Tech will put in the base of its scheme, which can best be described as a pro-style, then move on to more complex things closer to the season, an important approach for a team that had to scale back the scope of what it was trying to do offensively as last season progressed and struggles mounted.

"Without great fundamentals, without a mentality as a unit, all that great scheme you can throw right out the window," Loeffler said. "That has no value. It's going to be the bare bones of it. If you throw the whole kit and caboodle at them, they're going to play slow. And we don't want to play slow.

"We want to find out who our play-makers are and build the entire package around [them] - who we can count on, who's reliable - and worry about the true scheme whenever the fall comes around."

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