Yesterday, we took a look at Virginia Tech’s starting duo of cornerbacks. Today, we will look at the running back group as a whole and what they will each have to do in order for Virginia Tech to have success this year.
Michael Holmes – Starter
Redshirt-freshman Michael Holmes has big shoes to fill. Holmes will have to replace one of the best running backs to ever play at Virginia Tech, David Wilson. Holmes is neither as fast, nor as athletic as Wilson was, but he comes with his own particular set of skills that should make him effective against opposing defenses (feel free to re-read that last sentence in a Liam Neeson voice if you wish).
At 6’0, 208 pounds, Holmes isn’t the most physically dominating back that you’ll ever come across, but he’s certainly set to be an effective one. One of Holmes’ greatest traits is his tenacity and hard work. During the off-season, Holmes earned Iron Hokie honors during strength and conditioning training. We know that Holmes puts in the work off the field, but it’s making the transition onto the field that will be the question.
Like the other running backs in Virginia Tech’s backfield, we frankly don’t know much about Holmes as a runner. We have some spring practices and some scrimmages to go off of and that’s about it. Here’s what do know for now. Holmes might have better vision running in-between the tackles than David Wilson did at this time last season, which is certainly a plus. Holmes also might have the benefit of having a better offensive line from a run-blocking standpoint, which is also a plus. Because of this, Holmes should be able to run like he is accustomed to – that is – one cut, and get upfield in a hurry. Don’t expect to see backfield antics from Holmes like we saw last season from Wilson, because Holmes is more of a north-south runner.
That’s not to say that Holmes can’t make people miss. He’s more elusive than he probably gets credit for, but that’s easy to understand seeing as he has J.C. Coleman to compete with on that front. If Holmes wants to help the Hokies out this year he just needs to be consistent. Most importantly, he needs to hang onto the ball, something that Wilson struggled with at times last season. During the summer scrimmages, Holmes rarely busted off long runs, but consistently amassed 3-5 yards per carry. That might be all the Hokies need out of Holmes this season, to just help sustain drives. If he can do those things, as well as pass protect for quarterback Logan Thomas, Holmes should be just fine this season. He doesn’t have to replace Wilson completely (because really, who can?), he just has to be a solid starting running back.
J.C. Coleman – Second-String
For the record, we don’t officially know that J.C. Coleman is the second-string running back right now, but I’m speculating that this will end up being the case.
Coleman is a true freshman, and just like Holmes (sort of, minus the redshirt) we don’t really know what to expect once he steps foot onto the field against competition. I was fortunate enough to get to watch Coleman’s transformation from the spring practices to the summer, and all I can say is “wow!” Coleman entered Virginia Tech weighing around 175 or so pounds, but has gotten his weight up to around 192 pounds. That is a huge improvement, especially for a back his size (a mere 5’8).
During the spring, Coleman was having a tough go of it physically. He struggled handling contact against bigger defenders, and frankly struggled to keep up. As the spring progressed into summer, Coleman put on more weight thanks to Virginia Tech’s great strength and conditioning program.
Once the weight started getting added, it was obvious that Coleman was handling contact better, was able to stay on his feet better while running through tackles, and was still moving quickly like he was pre-conditioning. Had he not added as much weight as he did, I’m not sure if Coleman would have seen the field this season simply because of his size. He’s a different back than he was in the spring though, and that’s a good thing.
Coleman is a quick and elusive back by nature, and his size could actually prove to be a benefit to him at times. When Coleman (5’8) finds himself lined up behind Logan Thomas (6’6), especially out of the pistol formation, Coleman could prove tough to find by defenders who are being shadowed by the bigger offensive line and quarterback. Coleman demonstrated his escapability against the first team defense in the open scrimmages. One play in-particular resulted in a 50+ yard gain, including missed tackles by Antone Exum and others who are usually sure tacklers. If Coleman can continue that type of success against opponents, he will see the field plenty this season.
Martin Scales – Third-String
Last of the three running backs we’ll be touching on is Martin Scales, a converted fullback from last season. Again, I’m guessing that Scales is the third-string running back since nothing is official yet. Scales spent most of his time playing special teams last season, but due to David Wilson leaving early for the NFL Draft, Scales switched positions for depth reasons. As a redshirt-senior, Scales is the most experienced runner in the Hokies’ backfield, just not necessarily at this position.
Scales is also the most physical running back in the Virginia Tech backfield this season. At 5’11, 222 pounds, Scales has the size to pound the rock up the middle and fight for the tough yards that a player like J.C. Coleman might not necessarily be able to at this moment in time. Because of this, it’s likely that Scales will be a more situational running back when he enters the game. If there’s a tough one or two yards to get, Scales might be the man for the job (when Logan Thomas isn’t leaning forward for those yards #LetLoganLean).
That’s not to suggest that Scales is one-dimensional in his running style. During the open scrimmages, we saw Scales bust off some pretty significant runs on misdirection plays and counters. One play in particular was a counter option out of the pistol formation, and Scales took the ball for roughly 27 yards after bouncing outside to the right. That shows that Scales is versatile enough to be more than a situational back if the coaches want to use him as such.
Being the estimated third-string running back, it’s unlikely that Scales will see the field too much this season. But if Scales wants to have success this year, he will have to prove to be the tough runner that it’s believed he can be. When called upon, he’ll need to be able to fight for those tough yards, and he’ll need to be able to pass protect for Logan seeing as Scales is the biggest, most physical back the Hokies have.
Well, that’s all for today – tomorrow we’ll look at Bruce Taylor, the fill-in backer for the Hokies against Georgia Tech.