Virginia Tech began spring practices on Wednesday, and one of the team’s biggest priorities will be improving the run game. Virginia Tech, usually one of the most consistent rushing teams in the ACC, ranked No. 79 in the country in rushing offense at 145.85 yards per game. That’s the worst finish in their ground game since the Hokies ranked No. 82 in the country in 2007.
I spoke with running backs coach Shane Beamer recently to get his take on the group heading into spring ball, and the changes that were made this offseason. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
How much better do you think you guys can be offensively, specifically in the running game?
Shane Beamer: I hope we can be a lot better. We invested a lot of time in it. With three new coaches coming in, there’s new ways of doing things, and new ideas, and it’s been good. It’s been good for my dad as well, not so much offensive ideas, but philosophical ideas -- things that Stanford did that Aaron has been able to talk to us about. Things that Auburn and Florida and all of the different places Scot and Jeff have been, so that part has been really good. We always invest a lot of time in the run game, and we certainly will this spring. We’ll be a year older on our offensive line. We had a lot of new parts in there last year and couldn’t stay healthy. It’s a group that’s got some experience coming back, and all of those running backs are a year older, and we’re adding some new guys to the mix as well. It’s certainly a point of emphasis for us and something we take pride in.
I don’t feel like I did a good job of coaching the running backs last year. I take that personally, the way we performed. I know the tradition of running back play here at Virginia Tech. To not be able to run the ball as well as we wanted to last year was extremely disappointing. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
How hard was it last year as a staff? You guys are so used to 10-win seasons.
SB: It was hard. I think it was a good wake-up call for a lot of people that, No. 1, to win 10 games or more eight years in a row is just insane. You see how hard it is to win A game, period, but to be consistent and do it eight years in a row, 10 or more is just amazing. It puts that in perspective. I know it does for me, because you find out last year how hard winning is with the parity there is in college football now. We as coaches, our players -- some programs you go there to compete for bowl games and things like that. When you come to Virginia Tech, you come to compete for championships, period. To not be in that mix last year was really disappointing and hard for all of us, but at the same time, to be sitting there at 4-6 and losing at halftime up at Boston College, to come back and win that game and beat your rival for the ninth year in a row and win your bowl game, we took a lot of pride in that, and the kids we have in our program and the way we finished.
Tell me more about the running back position. What are you looking at going into spring?
SB: No. 1, we never could settle on one last year, and I blame myself for not saying these are our guys and going for it. It’s hard. I knew during the season and going into the season it’s hard to play four. I’m realizing more now, but we really never felt like anyone separated themselves, and really did feel like different guys could bring something different to the table with different packages. A lot of the stuff we did last year was good, getting guys on the field at different times or at the same time, but in football you’ve got to be able to get your two main guys and have some packages for a couple other guys. That’s what I hope we’re able to do going forward. I’m hopeful two or three guys will separate themselves and it will be obvious that these are the guys. We need to stay healthy. We were banged up a bit last year. Tony Gregory was a guy I thought was getting ready to turn the corner and maybe be that guy, and then he got hurt going into the Cincinnati game and missed a few weeks. Just to be more consistent, be able to stay healthy, and get back to running the football and being what Virginia Tech’s about. The thing I like is we have great competition. Last year I felt like we had four guys we could win football games with. I think we have even more than that this year, I really do. Just watching the way they’ve worked in the offseason and their attitudes right now. They’re motivated, they’re hungry. It’s a group of four or five guys this year when you add Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus to the mix, you’re going to have great competition.
What’s your depth chart look like heading into spring ball?
SB: Good question. Right now we kind of based it on the way the season finished last year, so J.C. Coleman is listed as the starter right now, and he’s up there with Michael Holmes and Tony Gregory just because they’re the ones who finished the season last year. And then Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus are after them because they redshirted last year and haven’t played, but we’re going to compete every day and the depth chart at this point is certainly just for organizational purposes, and who’s out there with which group, but all of those guys are going to get opportunities to show what they can do. The thing we’ve stressed to them is it’s not going to be a lot of opportunities because we’ve got quite a few guys we’re repping during spring practices. You’ve got 15 practices to really show what you can do, show what you’re about, and we’re going to really nail this thing down after spring practice. But based on the way they’ve worked in the weight room with coach Gentry the last couple of months, and watching them the last couple of mornings in our 6 a.m. workouts, they’re motivated. There’s going to be great competition.
What specifically do they need to get better at?
SB: To be honest, they all have ability. They just need experience. I know it sounds simple, but that’s really the case. Tony hasn’t played a lot because he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Michael, last year was his first year of playing. J.C. was a true freshman last year. At the running back position, I don’t think I was fair to Michael Holmes. Last year the most he carried the ball in one game was 12 times or something like that. Michael needs to carry the ball 15 or 25 times to really get into the flow. I didn’t [give] Michael and all those guys a great opportunity to do that last year because of the way we rotated them. I think if they get more reps and have more carries, the game will slow down for them and they’ll be better. I saw that a little bit with J.C. as the year went on. That’s what I want to see, just be more consistent and have an attitude.