Q&A with Virginia Tech beat writer Chris Coleman

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Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas is 72-131 for 868 yards with 4 TDs and 4 INTs this season. (Photos: Icon/SMI)
Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas is 72-131 for 868 yards with 4 TDs and 4 INTs this season. (Photos: Icon/SMI)

Defensive back Jayron Hosley could be a difference maker this Saturday night. What are his strengths? And how do you think this secondary matches up with Clemson's receivers?

Hosley’s strengths are downfield coverage and an outstanding football IQ. He’s probably the most natural, fluid cover man we’ve ever had, and we put DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Flowers, and close to 20 other defensive backs in the NFL over the past 10 years. He led the country in interceptions last season, picked off Andrew Luck in the Orange Bowl, and dropped a second interception of Luck. Against ECU and Arkansas State, Bud Foster matched Hosley up with the best receiver on the opposing team. For Arkansas State that was Josh Jarboe, a former 5-star receiver who got kicked out of Oklahoma. Foster has never done anything like that before. Tech predominantly runs a boundary corner (short side) and a field corner (wide side).

The best thing about Tech’s secondary is that they all can cover. Hosley is the best, but the safeties can cover too. Eddie Whitley, who is our rover (short side) has started games at corner for Tech. Free safety Antone Exum (wide side) is more athletic that Whitley, and he was our nickel back as a freshman last season, and that required a lot of downfield coverage.

Tech has intercepted at least one pass in the last 11 games. Since joining the ACC in 2004, their average national pass efficiency defense rank is 9.1. It’s probably the best coached group of defensive backs you’ll see, and Bud Foster helps them out with a scheme that has proven to be a major menace to quarterbacks throughout the years. So it’s not really the Tech defensive backs against the Clemson receivers. All four of Tech’s starters in the secondary will get drafted. Clemson has talented receivers. It’s a good matchup. The real key is weather the Clemson receivers are advanced to enough to make the proper pre and post-snap reads against Foster’s defense.

The Virginia Tech special teams have not looked, at times, like a Frank Beamer-coached team. Are the special teams a serious issue this season?

It was bound to happen at some point. Tech has had a senior kicker every year since 2006, and they’ve all been outstanding. Tech’s last two punters, Brent Bowden and Brian Saunders, have spent time on NFL rosters, and Bowden was even a sixth round pick. Tech has had so much talent at placekicker and punter, that the law of averages says we’re going to have to have a down year at some point. It appears that this is the down year.

[Placekicker] Cody Journell has talent, but he’s inconsistent. Scott Demler is the punter, and I think he’s only the third best punter on the team. However, Beamer really doesn’t want to use wide receiver Danny Coale as the punter, and at this point he doesn’t want to pull the redshirt off true freshman Michael Branthover. You can’t change punters against Clemson, so you’ve got to go with who you’ve got and hope things get better.

Fortunately the return game is very good. Jayron Hosley is a very good punt returner, and David Wilson is an explosive kick returner. Tech also has probably the best kickoff man in the league in Justin Myer.

To answer your question, yes, kicker and punter are serious issues.

Logan Thomas is a BIG quarterback. What are his strengths and what are his weaknesses? Can he take over a game like Tyrod Taylor or even like Michael Vick?

Logan Thomas isn’t the same type of quarterback as Tyrod Taylor and Michael Vick. Those guys were quick, shifty players. That’s not Logan Thomas. He has good straight ahead speed, and any defensive back (and most linebackers) who meet him in the open field are going to come out on the wrong end of things. He banged up his shoulder a bit against Marshall, but if he’s 100%, the Hokies will definitely use him in the running game.

He also has an extremely strong arm. He’s a prototypical pocket passing quarterback, and I think one day he’ll be an NFL quarterback. He’s cool under pressure; he’s got a good head on his shoulders, etc. He’s everything you want. He’s also still very young, in his first season as a starter, in an offense that focuses on the running game. His accuracy is still a bit inconsistent. He really has some impressive downfield throws where he puts the ball on the money, and then later he’ll come back and throw behind or above a target.

I’d say his inconsistent accuracy and his youth are his weaknesses. One of those problems will go away eventually, and we’ll have to wait and see about the other.

What is the status of Tech's receiving corps? I know there have been some injuries, and what is the status of Boykin? Who is one player Clemson needs to watch out for?

This is one banged up group of receivers. Dyrell Roberts, a senior, is out for the year. Jarrett Boykin, Tech’s all-time leader in receptions, is questionable for Saturday. I’m not sure how Boykin can be effective when he hasn’t been able to practice full this week. Marcus Davis has a foot sprain and was on crutches following the Marshall game. Apparently Danny Coale and D.J. Coles have minor, nagging hurts as well, but it’s nothing they won’t play through.

With the injuries, I fully expect Clemson do a lot of pressing at the line of scrimmage, and force this banged up group of receivers to beat them one-on-one. Danny Coale is more of a zone wideout, and Coles is still a very young player. Corey Fuller is a former walk-on who really shouldn’t be playing. Tech is talking about pulling the redshirt off Demetri Knowles, who might be the fastest player on the team.

Watch for D.J. Coles, #18. He made his first career start against Marshall and caught 8 passes. He is a much improved player. If Boykin can’t play, Coles will get all the reps at split end. He is a big target, at 6-3, 225.

For those who have never watched David Wilson play, who would he remind them of? What is the best part of his game?

I really don’t have a comparison for David Wilson. He’s a unique back. He has excellent straight ahead speed. Very underrated power in his lower body. He broke 31 tackles in the first two games of the season, combined. He’s not a cutback runner, and he’s not a guy who will get shifty and make a defender miss in the open field. He will either try to run by the defender, or run over him.

Wilson still has his weaknesses. He’s a junior, but he’s a young junior. He played in a Wing-T in high school, which is completely different from Tech’s zone blocking scheme. He didn’t redshirt in 2009, and then had to split carries with Ryan Williams and Darren Evans last year, so his reps have been limited. His vision isn’t natural, and he still has footwork issues at times. He’s an outstanding receiver out of the backfield, and when he’s in a position where his natural ability can take over, he’s one of the best running backs in the country.

However, he’s still learning how to read blocks behind that zone blocking scheme. I fully expect Clemson will sell out to stop Wilson and the Tech running game, which has been very good, but inconsistent.

Our thanks to Chris Coleman for taking time to do this Q&A. You can read more of his work on Virginia Tech at Techsideline.com

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