Throughout his coaching tenure with the VT Football team, Frank Beamer’s offense has predicated by a tough, physical running game led by multiple running backs. Older fans will remember “the untouchables” duo of Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones or more recently the trio of David Wilson, Darren Evans, and Ryan Williams. Other than David Wilson, all of these runners shared a hard-nosed, between the tackles style of running that wore down defenses and opened up the passing game. In 2014, the Hokies will rely on a crowded but talented backfield to power the offense and help a first year starter at quarterback.
For the purposes of this article, Mark Leal will be considered the presumptive 2014 starter as talented Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer will not arrive until fall camp. In his career, Leal is 28-48 with two touchdowns and two interceptions in mostly mop-up duty. Last year’s Sun Bowl defeat was the most action Leal had seen, and he was mostly disappointing as he completed under 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions.
Hokie fans should not despair though, Leal is more talented than his Sun Bowl performance suggests, and his experience as a fifth year senior will help. However, Leal does not possess nearly the athletic talent or physical gifts of his predecessor, Logan Thomas. Leal is not a giant, does not have a rocket arm, and won’t outrun defenders. For Leal to be successful in the 2014 season, the Virginia Tech running backs will have to move the chains effectively and consistently.
Returning starter Trey Edmunds is missing the spring as he recovers from surgery on a broken leg he suffered against UVa in 2013. With Edmunds out, returning backs JC Coleman, Chris Mangus, and Jerome Wright will see more opportunities in practice. Also, early-enrollee Marshawn Williams will have a chance to make an impression on the coaches.
Williams and Wright are both listed at 224 pounds and are very physical runners. With Edmunds coming in at 217 and injured early-enrollee Shai McKenzie at 212, the Hokies have a stable of big, powerful backs. I expect second year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to use more pro-style formations with between the tackle runs to pound opposing defenses and open up the secondary for the play-action pass.
Hokie Nation has been missing a big, physical runner who works behind a blue-collar, nasty O-line. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, opposing defenses knew to expect a tough, nasty offense that would line up and smack them in the mouth play after play. In the past few years, this identity has been lost – in fact, the Tech offense hasn’t had much of an identity at all.
2014 is the year for Virginia Tech to reclaim this identity, to re-establish that blue-collar “lunchpail” mentality. For this offense to succeed, ball control is imperative. Big backs like Williams and Wright will be looked to to pound the ball inside and fall forward for tough yards. Hokie running backs will need at least 30 carries a game for the offense to be effective.
I do not believe that Mark Leal is the type of player that can shoulder a team, and will it to victory. The Hokies offense will need some explosive plays from the backs, and efficient passing by Leal and his receiving corps to win games.
Blacksburg is just begging for some physical play by the Hokies. The legions in maroon and orange are looking to hear pads popping, helmets cracking, and to see the O-line bulldozing foes into the Lane Stadium turf. With the powerful platoon of backs on the roster in 2014, Hokie fans should look for more hits like this one by Darren Evans in 2008.