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February 8, 2014

Grading The Class: Offense

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The 2014 class could go down as one of the best overall Virginia Tech has had in the Rivals area (since 2002). The Hokies missed out on a few big targets in-state, but addressed a number of needs and also made a lot of progress out of state.

We break down both sides of the ball, beginning with the offense and grade each position based on need, how the Hokies filled it and hits and misses in the 2014 class.

QUARTERBACK
After three seasons with Logan Thomas at the helm, Virginia Tech is starting over with a wide open competition beginning this spring. The Hokies return Mark Leal and Brenden Motley, but had an obvious need for more help.

Enter a trio of quarterbacks who have an excellent shot to take the reins this fall. The most likely at this point might be Cedar Cliff (Pa.) three-star Andrew Ford, in large part to his early enrollment at Virginia Tech. A left-handed pocket passer, Ford committed after the Hokies' June camp, after showing good ability to roll out and good arm strength.

But Virginia Tech took on another quarterback in December, when Ursuline (OH) three-star Chris Durkin switched commitments from Michigan State. And while he won't enroll until this summer, he's still busy, playing with the USA U-19 team this weekend in Texas. He's built in the mold of Thomas, with similar size, arm strength and ability to lower their shoulder and run up the middle.

And don't forget three-star Travon McMillian, who committed before both Ford and Durkin. He's a mobile quarterback who's drawn a few comparisons to former Hokie Tyrod Taylor for his ability to throw and make a play happen with his legs. McMillian will get a shot at quarterback, though he could make his way back to receiver.

Overall, Virginia Tech addressed its needs at the position, getting depth and long-term answers and stability. Still, the overall grade here is down, as the Hokies didn't get their first few choices. In a frenzy of commitments leading to Ford's decision, they missed on four-stars David Cornwell, Jacob Park and Mason Rudolph, before getting Ford. Getting Durkin to switch from the Rose Bowl and Big Ten champs though, is impressive.

Overall Grade: A-

RUNNING BACK

This was yet another area with uncertainty, where the Hokies needed to make a splash. Trey Edmunds is still sidelined for now with a broken leg and the running backs behind him did nothing all season to cement a spot for this fall.

But even before Edmunds' unfortunate injury, Virginia Tech got the commitment it needed, when four-star Marshawn Williams pledged in June of 2012. He wavered a bit with the departure of Curt Newsome, but stuck with the Hokies. Williams is a punishing runner who ran for 2,192 yards and 30 touchdowns this past fall, becoming the seventh Peninsula District running back to reach the 2,000-yard mark. He's the north-south runner that Virginia Tech hasn't had in a number of years.

It could be a one-two punch with four-star Shai McKenzie, who went with Virginia tech in December, over finalists Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech. Before his senior season, McKenzie was on pace to break the Pennsylvania state rushing record. But just a few games in, he tore his ACL, ending his season. He's enrolled easy in Blacksburg, more so to get extra treatment than anything and it's anyone's guess how he'll play when he returns, which could be 2015.

But the Hokies did a great job getting depth at the position, with D.J. Reid, who prepped at Fork Union (Va.) after committing to Virginia Tech in 2013. He's a runner who can line up at receiver, return kicks and come out of the backfield, on runs or screens. Two-star Tabyus Taylor might have to spend a fall himself at FUMA, but is a solid runner with good instincts.

Overall Grade: A

WIDE RECEIVER
Yet another position on offense that needed help. When assistant coach Aaron Moorehead arrived as the receivers coach last year, he set his sights on three receivers especially, in four-stars Cameron Phillips and Chris Godwin, as well as three-star Isaiah Ford. Moorehead snagged two of the three, which is quite impressive.

Godwin chose Penn State, but Phillips gave Moorehead his first commitment with the Hokies, in late July. Phillips is a big, physical receiver, the type that Virginia Tech hasn't had in a while. Former Hokie Jarrett Boykin is a good comparison, though Phillips will still need to bulk up a bit and add more weight. He played some top competition and few defensive backs slowed him down.

Ford might be a bit slim, but he's a true 'athlete,' who also will attempt to walk-on to the basketball team. Ford scored in about every way he could this past fall, running, throwing, catching, intercepting and returning. He has great hands and is as dependable as any receiver in the country.

Oscar Smith Jaylen Bradshaw is one to watch as well, as far as who could make an early impact. Steady as well, Bradshaw is speedy, knows when to cut and knows how to make defenders miss. He excelled against some of the best competition in Virginia this fall, but came up short in the state championship game.

Three-star Kendrick Holland is a true, jump-ball receiver. At 6'4" and 193 pounds, he towers over defenders and more times than now, comes down with the ball, another new facet for Virginia Tech. He's also returned kicks and knows how to find the open lanes. Still a question of whether he has to prep as well.

And don't forget Greg Stroman, arguably one of the most overlooked in the state, if not the country. A quarterback at Stonewall Jackson (Va.), Stroman has excellent hands and could play a multitude of positions, from slot, to returner, to split out wide and could be the one on some trick plays like screens in which he would pass the ball. McMillian also could be moved to this position if things don't work out at quarterback.

Overall Grade: A

TIGHT END
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said over and over that the player who might have had the greatest impact on the Virginia Tech offense last fall was Ryan Malleck. And that was because he got hurt before the season and missed it entirely. So much revolves around a tight end in Loeffler's playbook and much of that was gone with Malleck's absence.

True freshman Kalvin Cline played admirably and very well at times, but he's still raw and developing. Cline could have a big breakout this fall, though.

But the Hokies had their tight end of the future even before Loeffler arrived. Three-star Xavier Burke committed in July of 2012, after getting his first and lone offer, from Virginia Tech. He turned heads at the Rivals Camp Series stop in Richmond last year, catching everything thrown his way. He received an invite to the Semper Fidelis All-American Game as a result of that camp and though he played little tight end for his high school team as a senior, excelled in that all-star game, cementing his status as a bona fide, top tight end.

It looked as if the Hokies would take multiple tight ends, but missed out on targets like Ryan Izzo and Nic Weishar. Cline's emergence lessened the need to take on more and the honus will fall to Burke to be the tight end Loeffler desperately needs.

Overall Grade: B+

OFFENSIVE LINE
Arguably the weakest area of the Virginia Tech offense last season, Thomas took a few beatings due to a lack or protection. The running game also sputtered and had just a few bright moments overall.

That said, from the moment he got to Blacksburg, Jeff Grimes looked to hand-pick a group of five linemen to resuscitate the position. He missed on all the big names, but got five of the guys he wanted in Brady Taylor, Colt Pettit, Billy Ray Mitchell, Tyrell Smith and Eric Gallo. And all five of them fit the same criteria: tall, raw linemen who were largely overlooked but had plenty of potential and could be molded how Grimes wanted. They grew close together and called themselves the 'fab five.'

Taylor got an offer from his hometown Ohio State and bolted last month and Grimes left for LSU. But new offensive line coach Stacy Searels, from Texas, has bonded with and kept the other four intact.

The now 'fab four' has tons of potential, but right now, they still need work. This could be a position that two-three years from now, could be an A or A+ class, but right now, they're all under-valued guys who haven't nearly reached their potential yet.

Overall Grade: C+



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