Josh Jackson will throw the ball for Maryland. Eric Kumah will catch it for Old Dominion. Tavien Feaster will run it for South Carolina. Trevon Hill will rush the passer for Miami. Bryce Watts will defend passes in practices at North Carolina.
Brock Hoffman and Braxton Burmeister await NCAA rulings on whether they’ll be able to play for Virginia Tech this football season.
The slew of offseason transfers around the ACC has opened opportunities and questions for the Hokies as camp begins this weekend.
Here are five of the most pressing:
1 Will the run game improve and is Deshawn McClease the back to lead that attack?
Now that Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster has said he’s headed to South Carolina, where will Virginia Tech turn to get its running game going? Feaster seemed like the perfect quick fix when he expressed interest in becoming a Hokie. Instead, Tech must make do with the backs it already had on the roster.
That means another shot for Deshawn McClease to become a big-time back. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior has shown signs he can handle the job over the past two years.
Tech also returns Jalen Holston and Terius Wheatley. But the program’s best backs may be its young ones, including freshmen Keshawn King and Tahj Gary.
The Hokies ranked ninth in the 14-team ACC last season, running for 174.3 yards per game.
Only six conference teams gained less than Tech’s 4.4 yards-per-carry mark.
2 Who will be the second cornerback?
Tech took its lumps playing a pair of young corners last season in Caleb Farley and Bryce Watts. That was supposed to pay off this year, with each having gained valuable experience. Then, Watts decided to transfer to ACC Coastal Division rival North Carolina.
Now Farley has a chance to be a breakout star for the Hokies, but the team will go into fall camp searching for a second starter at the position.
Junior college transfer Jeremy Webb, who has suffered two ruptured Achilles in his short time at Tech has been cleared to practice this fall. If he’s truly healthy, Webb could be the answer, though the Hokies have no shortage of options.
Sophomore Jermaine Waller and junior college transfer Brion Murray are talented prospects and senior Jovonn Quillen offers some experience. Redshirt freshmen Armani Chatman and Nadir Thompson also could figure into the competition.
3 Where will the pass rush come from?
After Virginia Tech dismissed Trevon Hill early last season, its pass rush lost that explosive element. Houshun Gaines started to fill that role as the year went on before he suffered a season-ending knee injury. Now, Hill’s in Miami and Gaines isn’t expected to play this season, meaning the Hokies—who return just 13 sacks, their fewest since 2010—could be pressed to pressure quarterbacks in 2019.
Emmanuel Belmar is the only true known quantity at defensive end. Tech has a trio of young ends in Tyjuan Garbutt, Zion Debose and Nate Proctor, along with junior college transfer Amare Barno, to fill the second end spot, but getting a pass rush may become the responsibility of another position. Linebacker Dax Hollifield has the skill set and the motor to be an effective blitzer, as does defensive back Devon Hunter.
4 When will VT get answers on their transfers … and what impact can they have?
Virginia Tech is still awaiting word from the NCAA on whether either of its transfers—Coastal Carolina offensive lineman Brock Hoffman and Oregon quarterback Braxton Burmeister—will be cleared to play this season or if they will have to sit the year out. Those decisions could come down this week.
If Hoffman plays this season, there’s a decent chance he’ll be able to work his way into the starting lineup. The 6-foot-3 316-pounder started all 24 games for the Chanticleers the two last seasons, playing at guard and center.
Burmeister’s path to playing time is a bit more complicated. He played in 11 games in two years at Oregon, starting five as a freshman. At Tech, he needs to learn the offense and unseat returner Ryan Willis to get on the field.
5 How big a jump can Tre Turner and James Mitchell make in Year 2?
Turner and Mitchell showed big-play capability in the passing game, Turner with an impressive rookie season and Mitchell with a big spring.
Turner, a wide receiver, and Mitchell, a tight end, figure to give Willis some explosive downfield receiving threats, assuming they’ve progressed from last year.
With Eric Kumah and Sean Savoy’s transfers, the Hokies need some targets to emerge to supplement Damon Hazelton and Hezekiah Grimsley. Tech hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Isaiah Ford in 2016.