There's no question that the best Virginia Tech football teams have relied on a strong, nationally-ranked defense.
This year the defense may be the only thing the Hokies can rely on until a number of questions are answered on offense.
|Vital Info: Virginia Tech|
2012 Schedule • Roster
Latest news updates • Talk Virginia Tech
Nine starters return on defense at Virginia Tech, including three players who rate among the best in the country at their respective positions.
Linebacker Bruce Taylor, cornerback Kyle Fuller and defensive end James Gayle are on multiple watch lists for the top defensive players in the country.
Sharing the same field with such a highly-regarded defensive unit is a comforting thought for redshirt junior quarterback Logan Thomas, who set a single-season record at Virginia Tech with 3,482 total yards in his first year as a starter last season.
"It's a weight off my shoulder," Thomas said. "Having an annual top 10 defense is just a blessing. All any offense needs is a good defense to have their back."
Only three full-time offensive starters return. The Hokies have the size and skill to replace NFL draftees such as wide receiver Danny Coale and running back David Wilson, and they have several experienced backups ready to step in on a revamped offensive line.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is confident that his defense can lead the way while the offense retools around Thomas.
"If you can be solid on your defense, that's a great start," said Beamer, who begins his 26th year in Blacksburg against ACC rival Georgia Tech on Labor Day. "On the front end we've got some experienced guys who have been in the battles. Hopefully we can be very solid in our defense."
Beamer is also confident that Thomas, with a full and productive year under his belt, can bring out the best in the offense, especially with an offensive line that has just one returning starter.
"Logan is just the right kind of guy to lead our team," Beamer added. "The kids love him. He's a great person. The whole thing will be as tight as it can be. I think the offensive line will play as well as they can for Logan."
The Hokies are the preseason favorites to win the ACC Coastal Division for the sixth time in eight years. Thomas, meanwhile, finished a close second to Clemson's Sammy Watkins in a vote by member of the ACC media for preseason player of the year honors.
HEAD COACH: Frank Beamer, 26th year at Virginia Tech, where he has a 209-98-2 record; 251-121-4 record as a head coach.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: CB Kyle Fuller -- While the extremely talented Logan Thomas anchors an offense that could be a work in progress, Kyle Fuller is one of the leaders and certainly the most versatile player on a veteran Virginia Tech defense. A second team All-ACC pick last year, Fuller, who is on the watch lists for two national defensive player of the year awards this year, has contributed when called upon at both safety and the whip linebacker position for Bud Foster's defense. The Hokies expect him to be a lockdown corner in his senior season.
BREAKOUT STAR: WR D.J. Coles -- One of the top prep players in the country when he came to Blacksburg three years ago, the senior has waited patiently for his turn as a go-to receiver behind the two most productive receivers in Tech history, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Coles caught a career-best 36 passes for 480 yards and three touchdowns last season. He is a possession-type receiver with big play potential and he has the size to post up smaller corners.
|More on Virginia Tech|
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: RB Michael Holmes -- Holmes is the leading candidate to replace David Wilson at tailback, a position with even less experience on hand than the offensive line. The redshirt freshman's strong, but steady running style reminds some Tech observers of former Hokies star Cedric Humes. Holmes won "Iron Hokie" honors during spring strength and conditioning testing and was given the Paul Torgersen Award as the top offensive newcomer of spring practice. Coach Frank Beamer says Holmes was good enough to play as a true freshman behind David Wilson last season. "We didn't know if we could get him enough playing time last year," Beamer said. "We expect a lot out of him."
KEYS TO SUCCESS: A defense often ranked among the best in the nation has a chance to be something special this season. It has to be while the offense breaks in eight new starters. Nine starters return for longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster's defense and three of them are among the best at their respective positions. Linebacker Bruce Taylor, in fact, is on four watch lists, including the Butkus Award (for the top linebacker) and the Lombardi Award (for the top lineman). Cornerback Kyle Fuller is up for both the Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski awards, while defensive end James Gayle is on the Bednarik and Lombardi award watch lists. In addition, tackle Derrick Hopkins and end J.R. Collins are potential All-ACC picks. Health is important. Freshmen will fill a number of backup roles.
AREAS OF CONCERN: The Hokies lost four starters from the offensive line, and their replacements reportedly struggled at times during the spring. The one returnee, however, center Andrew Miller, is a good one and three of the top candidates at guard and tackle gained some experience last season. The least experienced area on the team is at tailback, where redshirt freshman Michael Holmes and true freshman J.C. Coleman open camp atop the depth chart.
-- LB Bruce Taylor could be the most decorated defensive player in the nation if he wins everything he's under consideration for in the preseason. Taylor is on four preseason watch lists, including the Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski defensive player of the year awards. Taylor, despite missing six games last season with a broken arm, earned honorable mention All-ACC honors last year. He led the team with 53 tackles and five sacks through eight games before he got hurt.
-- Senior center Andrew Miller is the only returning starter in the Hokies offensive line, but he's a good one to build around. Miller is a candidate for the Outland Trophy for the top interior lineman as well as the Rimington Award for the top center. Frank Beamer is confident about Tech's rebuilt offensive line, especially with Miller there.
-- WR Dyrell Roberts has been plagued by injuries the past two seasons, missing 16 games. The fifth-year senior injured his leg two years ago and missed most of last season with a broken arm. He is expected to be ready to go as preseason camp opens.
-- PK Cody Journell has been reinstated to the team some seven months after his arrest on a breaking and entering charge. Journell, who was suspended just before the Sugar Bowl, agreed to a plea deal of misdemeanor trespassing in the case. The redshirt junior was the starting place-kicker last season, making 14-of-17 field goal attempts and converting 43-of-44 extra point kicks.