Hokies open fall camp with kickoff press conference

BLACKSBURG, VA - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies Justin Fuente looks on in the second half of the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Lane Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Georgia Tech defeated Virginia Tech 30-20. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)
BLACKSBURG, VA - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies Justin Fuente looks on in the second half of the game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Lane Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Georgia Tech defeated Virginia Tech 30-20. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images) /

The Virginia Tech Hokies begin fall camp on Tuesday afternoon, but media availability on Monday marked the official start of the new football season

Justin Fuente and his staff at Virginia Tech have officially begun their second season in Blacksburg after a 10-4 year one at the helm. There are plenty of questions across the board, especially on offense, where the Hokies will be replacing a quarterback, their two leading receivers, and the entire right side of the offensive line.

Although practice does not begin until Tuesday afternoon, the new season officially kicked off with the first media availability of the new season on Monday. Here are some of the pertinent portions of what was said at the press conference, courtesy of the live feed and transcripts provided by Hokiesports.com.

Head Coach Justin Fuente

On experience level of the quarterbacks and the competition to be the starter:

“I think it will be pretty similar (to last season). There is not much more we can do from what we did last year and having been through several of these in our career, you try to put them in as many situations as possible to test their retention and their ability to operate under pressure. There is still no substitute for experience, but we’ve got a good plan to get them out there and get them reps and get them evaluated and try our best to make a good decision.”

On impressions of the players’ physique and the summer training:

“I think just in general terms when I think about our team right now we’re probably farther along from an athletic standpoint of physical conditioning and strength level. We’re probably not as far along as we were a year ago from a maturity standpoint. That doesn’t mean we don’t have mature guys – we have plenty of guys who have experience, I just think overall we’re just not as far along as we were. That will be one of our challenges in camp, in terms of improving our discipline level.”

On RB Travon McMillian and the running back position:

“It’s open. It’s absolutely open. We’ll see of all those guys, who is the best and who gives is the best chance. Who can play with the ball in their hands, who can play with the ball not in their hands? Like many of our spots, its open.”

On strength and conditioning coach Ben Hilgart and his programs:

“For me, it’s the extension of what we’re teaching. I’m not a strength coach and I don’t pretend to be one. To me it’s about continuing to get the kids’ ears. Continuing to command respect from them but also performance and to see the guys believe in what we are trying to build. For me disseminating our culture is as important and the gains you make numerically, either your weight or how much you can lift.”

On which is a greater challenge – getting older players to buy into something new or to get young players to figure it out:

“Well, I don’t know. Last year it didn’t seem to be that difficult and I don’t know exactly why but the older players, probably because of their character and their upbringing were all trying to make this thing work for one last year. Figuring out the workload and the toll it takes is just easier for more mature people. In all, it’s a little bit harder with the younger crew to get them to play at that same level as maybe a few guys that have been around the block a time or two.”

On Caleb Farley’s switch from cornerback to receiver and his ability to play on offense right away:

“I don’t know, in terms of what his role is going to be. We’ll put him out there and see what he remembers, what he’s picked up and all of that. When you look at where we are at, and where we need help at immediately, and where is the chance to get that guy on the field the quickest, it was on the offensive side of the ball.”

Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster

On rotating three very experienced players at cornerback – Facyson, Stroman & Alexander:

“It gets into last year where we had some guys nicked up a little bit and you roll that through and that is a nice luxury to have – three quality players at two positions. I know at times when a guy was playing hot, it’s almost like you have a hot tailback when they are trying to pick on and attack him. I will say this, those three guys, because we can get teams into third down and distance, allows us to get more defensive backs onto the field, which is a matchup game moving forward. But I like those matchups when we can get those guys on the field. It’s a good situation to have and a good problem to have, as far as having three really quality players in those spots.”

On competition at rover and if Devon Hunter will play right away:

“There’s going to be competition at that position across the board. Having quality competition is healthy for a program. As far as playing time for Devon, we’ll see. He’s been here for a little over a month now. Coming in he showed a lot of ability but is still very raw, but is extremely talented. I do like where Reggie Floyd ended up at spring practice and Khalil Ladler and that move for him, was good for him and good for us. Obviously, everyone knows the potential that Devon has. I’m excited to really see it firsthand. I’ve seen him do some drill work and things of that nature. I think the more he becomes comfortable, the better he is going to perform. I look forward to seeing him grow and develop and he is going to get a look because he is a guy that could help our football team.”

On creating depth defensively:

“We have a really experienced group coming back with guys stepping in. Tim Settle is going to have a full-time role. Instead of just being a role player playing 20, 25 plays a game, now he’s going to be asked to play 50, 55 plays a game. Tim has worked extremely hard. My biggest concern is defensive tackle and having quality depth. That’s a position where guys can get dinged up quickly. Again, finding that fifth corner and fourth or fifth safety with right now our perimeter positions. At linebacker we have a little bit of depth and we have created some depth at different spots with moves we did in the spring. My biggest concern is our front, particularly defensive tackle, but I do think that some guys can help us.”

On how the new strength and conditioning transition is going:

“My take on all of this is that there is a next generation of coaches coming in. Coach [Frank] Beamer was in his generation an iconic guy with what he did with special teams and those type of things. Coach [Mike] Gentry was big on the development of your players and now you are seeing the same kind of people, but it is a different era. You got a different dynamic and an offensive coach who has been known for developing offensive schemes which made his niche a little bit and you see Ben [Hilgart] in that same regard in my eyes. It’s not just about getting bigger, faster, stronger but doing things that are injury preventative and those are the types of things that I see that is a little bit different than Mike did before.”

Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelsen

Does this year seem more like a mystery since none of them (quarterbacks) have much experience?

“Yeah, I think, absolutely. [Last year, Brenden] Motley having the experience and a lot of playing time certainly made you feel like you had a guy that had been through the fire a little bit. So, I think that’s probably a fair statement.”

Will you tailor the offense to prepare a quarterback that hasn’t played a collegiate game?

“I think it goes back to our philosophy any year with any starter is how do we get him playing well. And that means taking care of the football and being efficient completing passes whether they’re deep-post routes or throws into the flat. That guy’s got to play well. He’s got to be efficient and take care of the ball and keep the chains moving. Whether he’s a guy that’s already played four years or he hasn’t, that’s what you’re trying to figure out in fall camp going into the first game is what can he do, what can we do to offensively to be efficient.”

Is receiver a bigger concern for you, the pieces around the quarterback, rather than him specifically?

“As many guys around that position that can make plays takes all the pressure off the quarterback. When you can hand the ball off to your tailback in the run game and get four yards on first down makes third downs easier, more manageable for the quarterbacks. You’re going to get more tight man coverage, which lets you get the ball out of your hands a little bit quicker when you see blitz situations.

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So, absolutely, there’s no secret that we lost a lot of production at the receiver position and we’re going to have new guys and young guys that are going to have to step up which is something in the spring we knew and all summer and that will continue to be a point of emphasis in finding those guys we can trust and that can make plays around the quarterback.”

How have you seen Josh Jackson’s upbringing as a coach’s son translate to him on the field?

“His demeanor first of all. He understands what’s going on, he understands the leadership and what that position’s about. That’s the first thing you notice about the kid. Just his football IQ. You can talk concepts and coverages, and he understands it easily the first time and he gets it. Those are the little things at that position really, that carry over and make a big difference.”

Is Deshawn McClease actively in the battle for the tailback position?

“Absolutely, he’s done a great job. He’s been a good leader for us. He’s the kind of kid that when he shows up for practice or weights or meetings, he’s got a kind of look in his eye – an intense, serious, focused look in his eye – it’s important to him. I think he was devastated that he got hurt so early and didn’t get to play much last year, so I know he’s been hungry and it shows with him every day. He’s a guy that’s got a lot of skill and talent that can really help us and we’re hoping that will come true.”

How’s the relationship with Coach Fuente in terms of you being the play caller?

“I want his input on game day, on midweek, after games. It’s a pretty open relationship from a communication standpoint that he knows at any point in a game, or during a drive, if he’s got a suggestion, I want to hear it. If he wants to take a shot or be conservative, he knows that I want to hear that and I’m not going to feel like he’s stepping on my toes to say those things. It’s a good relationship and ultimately, he’s the one that’s controlling the game from a team standpoint, as a coordinator and a position guy on side of the ball you get locked into that, so it’s important that the head coach sees things from a different standpoint and can have that input when he wants to.”

What does the right side of the offensive line look like?

“I think we’ve got some bodies there that are going to step in. Tyrell Smith has done a pretty good job of establishing himself at the tackle spot. He’s still got a ways to go and there’s guys pushing him. I like what we saw from him in the spring. I think he’s ready to kind of take that next step and jump in there. I think the right guard spot is completely wide open and yeah, I do think we’ve got a few guys that can step in there and do a great job for us. So it’s going to be a challenging, competitive fall camp for that right guard position.”

What names jump out to fill the holes in at the receiver spots?

“Henri Murphy’s a guy that got some playing time late in the year and kept coming on and I think he’s a guy that can really help us. He’s got some tools that you want with speed and has carried the ball in the return game and I think he can step up. And also the two guys that were here last year, (Eric) Kumah and (Phil) Patterson, those guys are still young, but we don’t have the luxury of letting them wait another year.

They’re going to have to be ready to step in there. (James) Clark, the graduate transfer from Ohio State, has done a good job this summer, would love to see him. Again, he’s the kind of guy that’s got the tools to get in there and help us out and he’s an older guy. Of course, Caleb Farley being here, an early grad this spring. He’s a guy that can make plays that we’re going to have to find a way to use him. Those are the guys that come to mind. Kalil Pimpleton’s another early grad kid that was here that’s done a good job and going to be in there playing for us.”

Will that make it hard on the quarterback situation not to have a veteran group to help the group get through?

“Yeah it is. It’s challenging. It’s another couple guys that you’re trying to get used to the timing. So, just like trying to establish a starting quarterback as quickly as you can, so those guys get comfortable in the first huddle, you’re trying to do the same things at the skill positions. You’re always going to play more guys than just the starting lineup, but if you’re repping six guys with the first huddle instead of eight or 10 guys with the first huddle, it makes an easier transition to get on the same page with those guys timing wise.”