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March 30, 2011

Virginia Tech is a team in transition

Virginia Tech apparently isn't satisfied with contending for ACC titles every season.

That much became apparent when Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer overhauled his coaching staff after the Hokies won their third ACC championship in the past four seasons.

Bryan Stinespring remains the offensive coordinator, but he won't be the chief play-caller anymore. That responsibility now belongs to quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain.

Beamer's son, Shane Beamer, returned to Virginia Tech's staff as running backs coach after spending the past four seasons as a defensive assistant at South Carolina. Beamer takes the place of longtime running backs coach Billy Hite, now an assistant to the head coach and a senior adviser.

Cornell Brown, a former consensus All-America defensive end at Virginia Tech, has joined the staff to work with the Hokies' outside linebackers and defensive linemen.

The Hokies are hoping the shakeup will help them contend for national titles. Although Virginia Tech has emerged as the ACC's dominant program since conference expansion, the Hokies have struggled in high-profile, non-conference games.

VIRGINIA TECH AT-A-GLANCE
Jarrett Boykin leads a strong group of returning receivers for Virginia Tech.
THE BASICS
Coach: Frank Beamer
Last season: 11-3 overall, 8-0 in the ACC Coastal. Beat Florida State 44-33 in ACC championship game. Lost 40-12 to Stanford in the Orange Bowl.
Spring dates: March 30-April 23.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum seven starts last season)
Offense (6): WR Jarrett Boykin, WR Danny Coale, T Blake DeChristopher, T Andrew Lanier, G Jaymes Brooks, G Greg Nosal.
Defense (6): E Chris Drager (moving to tight end), T Antoine Hopkins, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, CB Jayron Hosley, FS Eddie Whitley.
Special teams: None.
Virginia Tech lost highly anticipated early season games to Boise State in 2010, Alabama in 2009 and LSU in 2007. The Hokies capped the 2010 season with a 40-12 Orange Bowl loss to Stanford and have an all-time record of 1-27 against teams ranked in the top five.

Here's a look at where Virginia Tech stands heading into spring practice.

Positions of strength

Virginia Tech is loaded at wide receiver with the return of Jarrett Boykin (53 catches, 847 yards, six TDs), Danny Coale (39-732-3), Dyrell Roberts (21-3-3-2) and Marcus Davis (19-239-2). The Hokies have four returning starters on the offensive line, though that group must improve its pass protection after allowing 2.43 sacks per game last season. Virginia Tech ranked 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense last season and should be good in the secondary again. CB Jayron Hosley led the nation with nine interceptions last season.

Help is needed

The offensive backfield bears watching. QB Tyrod Taylor, the 2010 ACC player of the year, is gone, as are the top two running backs; Ryan Williams and Darren Evans both turned pro. The new quarterback seems likely to be Logan Thomas, a converted tight end. The Hokies don't have any proven tight ends and are gambling that converted DE Chris Drager can handle that assignment. Drager's position switch figures to hurt Virginia Tech on the defensive line, where the Hokies already must replace the departed John Graves at tackle and Steven Friday at end. The end spot, particularly, bears watching in spring practice; do the Hokies have a pass rusher on the roster? Virginia Tech also must break in a new kicker and a new punter.

3 guys to watch

CB Kyle Fuller: After recording 32 tackles and breaking up six passes as a part-time starter as a true freshman last season, Fuller should become a full-time starter this season. He should get plenty of passes thrown to his side of the field as opposing quarterbacks attempt to keep the ball far away from Hosley, a likely All-America candidate.

QB Logan Thomas: Rated as the No. 1 tight end prospect in the 2009 recruiting class, the versatile Thomas became a full-time quarterback last season and went 12-of-26 for 107 yards as Tyrod Taylor's backup. Thomas takes over as the starter this year now that Taylor has completed his senior season. Thomas has worlds of potential, but he remains a work in progress and could need time to adapt as he responds to the pressure of stepping in for Taylor.

RB David Wilson: When Williams and Evans decided to enter the NFL draft, Wilson became the Hokies' likely No. 1 running back for the 2011 season. Wilson rushed for 619 yards and five touchdowns on 113 carries while sharing the load with Evans and Williams last season. He also showed his electrifying speed on special teams, as he scored on two kickoff returns. But he hasn't had more than 16 carries in a game.

The pressure is on

RB Josh Oglesby: Oglesby, a fifth-year senior, has struggled to carve out a niche in Virginia Tech's backfield while shifting between fullback and tailback. This marks his final season to make an impact, and the early exits of Williams and Evans have given him an opportunity. While Wilson probably will enter the season as the Hokies' main back, Tech's coaching staff would love to have a couple of players sharing carries. A productive spring could allow Oglesby to take the lead in the competition for that complementary role in the backfield.

The buzz

For a program known for its stability, Virginia Tech has plenty of new faces this spring. The Hokies have a new No. 1 running back, a new quarterback and plenty of newcomers on the coaching staff. But even in transition, Virginia Tech likely will enter the season as a favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division, though the Hokies likely will be below Atlantic Division member Florida State in the preseason rankings. Much of the attention surrounding Virginia Tech this spring will focus on the staff changes and the development of Thomas and Wilson in the backfield, but the defensive end situation also bears watching. The greatest Virginia Tech teams typically have featured at least one dominant pass rusher. Who can emerge as that guy this season? Virginia Tech is relying on James Gayle, Zack McCray and perhaps J.R. Collins to fill that role, though Collins also could end up playing tackle.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.


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