Virginia Tech football had its fourth practice of fall camp on Friday, the second one open to the media. Here are some observations from practice and notes from speaking with three people in the program: offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Tyler Bowen, tight end Connor Blumrick and running back Malachi Thomas.
The ACC Network’s Football Road Trip also cruised through Blacksburg on Friday and the media had an opportunity to speak with Mark Packer, Kelsey Riggs and former Virginia Tech wideout Eddie Royal.
Heights and weights were also officially updated on Friday afternoon. Chris Coleman will have a story on the topic early next week for subscribers.
Unlike Wednesday’s open practice, there were a few moments on Friday where the media had an opportunity to get a feel for the depth chart offensively.
First Team: Grant Wells (QB), Jalen Holston (RB), Kaleb Smith (WR), Da’Wain Lofton (WR), Nick Gallo (TE), Drake De Iuliis (TE), Silas Dzansi (LT), Jesse Hanson (LG), Johnny Jordan (C), Kaden Moore (RG), Parker Clements (RT).
Second Team: Jason Brown (QB), Keshawn King (RB), Jadan Blue (WR), Tucker Holloway (WR), Stephen Gosnell (WR), Ty Eller (TE), Xavier Chaplin (LT), Braelin Moore (LG), Jack Hollifield (C), Danijel Miletic (RG), Bob Schick (RT).
Third Team: Devin Farrell (QB), Malachi Thomas (RB), Luke Bussel (WR), Tink Boyd (WR), Christian Moss (WR), Harrison Saint Germain (TE), Chris Boyd (LT), Tyler Smedley (LG), Nikolai Bujnowski (C), Brody Meadows (RG), Johnny Garrett (RT).
(Editor’s note: who is first string and who isn’t can vary depending on the formation. As you can see, when David was watching the first team offense was going with a 2-TE and 2-WR set. The second team and third teams run plays with three wide receivers and one tight end, so take the depth chart with a grain of salt at this point.)
Defensively, the starting four up front were Jaylen Griffin, Norell Pollard, Mario Kendricks and TyJuan Garbutt.
Picking Up Where They Left Off
When fall camp started, Tyler Bowen wanted his offensive unit to pick up where it left off in the spring. So much time and effort went into installing the playbook and getting players situated, which has paid off through four August practices.
Bowen feels like there’s been a good retention rate with all of the knowledge digested in the past few months, which echoes what Brent Pry said on Wednesday. That’s helped player development so far, and the growth has been obvious.
“We talked about the double positive and that starts with protecting the football, creating explosive plays,” Bowen told the media after Friday’s session. “Our execution, alignment, assignment, technique, and then playing with relentless effort. I’ve seen us improve in all three of those areas through the first four days.
“We were able to get the majority of our installation in because of what we were able to do in the summer, spring, winter, different things. I feel good about where we are there, and now it’s just continuing to develop the whole group.”
The redshirt senior from Pearland, Texas is listed as “QB/ATH” on the Virginia Tech roster, and for good reason.
In the spring, Blumrick made the transition from quarterback to more of a utility player because of what he brings to the table. He spent parts of the fourth practice with both tight ends and wide receivers, and he enjoys moving around.
Bowen said Blumrick has a unique skillset, and it’s fun to figure out how to utilize him in different packages and personnel groupings.
“I want to be in as many plays as coach can put me in,” Blumrick said. “I want to be involved with the run game, the pass game, just whatever I can do to help.”
Blocking has been the most difficult adjustment from quarterback to tight end, especially when linebackers like Dax Hollifield are running at him full speed. But he’s put on some weight – he’s currently at 222, a gain of seven pounds from last season – and his hands have gotten better.
Bowen said he was pleasantly surprised with Blumrick catching passes, and he hasn’t noticed any mistakes in his hands. He also said Blumrick looks different physically than he did at quarterback.
“I’ve always felt as if the quarterbacks have the best hands on the team,” Blumrick said. “I feel like coming from the quarterback position, it’s just kind of natural.”
The Running Back Room
A sophomore from Hartwell, Ga., Malachi Thomas is one of the favorites at the running back position this season. He’s received praise from both Pry and running backs coach Stu Holt, but the staff is quick to pick out a clear-cut leader.
“It’s a good group at the top between him and Jalen [Holston],” Bowen said, “and then other guys coming in, whether it’s Keshawn [King] or Chance [Black] or Bryce [Duke]. Kenji [Christian]’s been doing some good things. I’ve been impressed with the whole group.
“I still think we have to figure out how it shakes out, but I’d say Malachi and Holston, they’re leading the top, and a lot of guys have really stepped up over the summer.”
Thomas said he currently weighs 203, the biggest weight he’s ever played at, and feels good about where he’s at so far in camp. He played last season at 197, and he can tell the difference so far.
“Whenever I feel contact, I’m able to stand up and not just go down,” Thomas said.
He described King as “blazing fast” and Duke as “a firecracker.” King’s speed is unbeatable in the open field, while Duke is learning the ropes but understands that it’s all business.
Quotes From The ACC Network Crew
Eddie Royal played wide receiver for the Hokies from 2004-07, and he said the energy around the program was lacking for a couple of years.
He had the honor of speaking to the team on Thursday
— Virginia Tech Football (@HokiesFB) August 5, 2022
“It all hit me at one second,” Royal said. “To think back at the times of playing and all of my teammates and everything, it was like a rush of emotions. And then it was like, ‘you have to deliver this message.’
“I tried to express the hard work that it takes to be good. Like, it didn’t happen overnight, and it’s a lot that goes into it. You’ve got to love your teammates, you’ve got to fight against them during the week and then Saturdays, fight somebody else and hug at the end of it. It’s all like a battle, but you’ve got to stick together throughout it.”
Royal said the outreach from the new staff to former Virginia Tech players has been a complete 180. They’ve put together Zoom calls, and Pry has been trying to get alumni to visit since the second he was hired.
“He’s done a great job of that,” Royal said. “There’s nothing more he could do in that field. … It doesn’t matter if you were a four-year starter or you didn’t start at all, he wants you to come back and welcomes you with open arms.”
The ACC Network crew has been on the road for a week now, and Packer said he was surprised with the intensity level at Tech’s Thursday practice compared to the rest of the league.
“You could feel it was different,” Packer said. “You could close your eyes and get a sense of, ‘man, it’s hard to believe this is only the third practice.’
“For this to be only the third practice on Thursday, I was really surprised at the intensity level, which I think is great because when I think of Virginia Tech football, I think of tough, physical, let’s get down and in the dirt and go hit somebody.”