Unproven backfields to play in Blacksburg

When talking about Georgia Tech’s B-backs recently, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster needed to pull out his glasses and look over the Jackets’ depth chart to remember who’s who.

For the second straight season, Georgia Tech is missing a headliner.

Strange thing is, so is Virginia Tech this year.

As the Hokies and Jackets prepare to face each other tonight in Blacksburg in a nationally televised game (8 ET, ESPN) that will give the winner the edge in the Coastal Division standings, both have unproven players in their backfield who will be thrust into starting roles. It’s an unusual position for both programs, considering how successful their running games have been in recent years. Both teams will start the season with a committee approach, as last year was the first in coach Paul Johnson’s offense that a B-back didn’t rush for 1,000 yards and earn all-conference honors. At Virginia Tech, the Hokies have to replace four offensive linemen and first-round draft pick David Wilson. Fans of both teams could see as many as four running backs tonight for each team -- and they've all got something to prove.

“Every once in a while I’ll read them an article or a quote from someone in the media about the question marks surrounding the running back position, and they’re playing with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” Virginia Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer said. “They can’t wait to get out there Monday night and show what they can do.”

Hokies fans are just as eager to find out.

Three of Virginia Tech’s top running backs – redshirt freshman Michael Holmes, true freshman J.C. Coleman and redshirt senior Martin Scales -- have never had a collegiate carry. Tony Gregory, who was third on the depth chart last year behind Wilson and Josh Oglesby, is the most experienced of the group with 39 career carries. Beamer said Holmes is likely to be the starter against Georgia Tech, but all four will probably play.

Holmes is a fast, strong, well-rounded player who catches the ball well. Coleman is a smaller player who worked hard this summer to gain weight and get stronger. He’s good in space and tough to bring down. Scales is a former fullback whose biggest contributions have been on special teams, but his heart is at tailback, where he can be a 225-pound bruiser with deceptive speed and strong pass protection skills. Gregory is a combination of all of them, and is also good in the open field and in pass protection.

At Georgia Tech, the Jackets are going to get their yards regardless of who’s running the ball. Johnson’s spread option offense was No. 2 in the country last year in rushing. Foster said the key defensively will be to limit the explosive plays, but he’s not quite sure what he’s going to get from some of the younger players.

“The Sims kid is a dynamic player,” Foster said of David Sims, who had 698 yards and seven touchdowns last year. “I don’t know much about their backup kids. They’ve got No. 21, and No. 37, I don’t know much about them, we’ll find out. I don’t know if those guys are home run hitters or not. I know with [Jonathan] Dwyer, he was a home run hitter. You miss a tackle up front, he can take it to the house.”

Can anyone else?

No. 21 for Georgia Tech is Charles Perkins, an athletic sophomore who had 28 carries last year as a backup. No. 37 is Zach Laskey, a true sophomore who moved from defensive back to his natural position of running back this past spring and has been pushing Sims for the starting job. Redshirt freshman Broderick Snoddy might be the fastest player on the team, but Laskey said he’s ready to be “the guy.”

“I’ve always known that I could do it, I just knew I needed opportunities to show myself,” Laskey said. “I wasn’t highly recruited, so I knew I had to play with a chip on my shoulder.”

That seems to be the theme tonight for both teams.

It was only a few years ago that the Hokies were loaded with Wilson, Oglesby, Darren Evans and Ryan Williams.

“It was a stacked backfield,” Scales said. “Going from that backfield in ’10, honestly I don’t see it as being that much different. Both backfields are talented. The biggest difference is those guys, their names were known more.”

That will change tonight -- for both teams.