BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Justin Fuente arrives as Frank Beamer’s successor at Virginia Tech with an offensive background that has Hokies fans excited, and with lofty expectations.
Last season at Memphis, Fuente’s offense was steered by 6-foot-7 quarterback Paxton Lynch, the 26th player selected overall in the NFL draft, and he’s not yet certain who will fill that role for the Hokies. The contenders are Brenden Motley, who showed dual-threat ability in six starts last season, and transfer Jerod Evans. He has no major college experience, but threw for 38 touchdowns against just three interceptions in just eight games before being sidelined with a wrist injury last year at Trinity Valley Community College in Texas.
Motley, a fifth-year senior, was inherited, while Fuente also recruited Evans when he was at Memphis.
Fuente has expressed no desire to rush before making a decision, and that’s fine with the contenders.
“I’m a team-first guy,” Motley said. “I know Rod is a team-first guy. If that’s what coach wants to do, that’s fine with me.”
Revered defensive coordinator Bud Foster is still around calling the defensive shots. He is looking to rebuild a defense that disappointed last season, especially in its inability to stop the run.
“Last year was very poor according to our standards,” Foster said as camp got started. “We are going to get back to that. I don’t feel any pressure. When coach (Fuente) and I first started talking, he told me that I wouldn’t have to play perfect defense anymore. I told him that he doesn’t know me very well from that standpoint.”
In the offseason, several linemen in the defensive mix bulked up and got faster. With potential phenom Tim Settle in better shape and still weighing in at above 320 pounds — and several other linemen having added weight and muscle — Foster is optimistic.
“It is hard to play perfect,” he said of the defense overall, “but we are looking for excellence.”
Here are some things to watch at Virginia Tech this season:
The Fuente era begins with a home game against Liberty, and the Hokies would do well to perform in a way that gives them a good feeling heading into Week Two. That’s when they will play Tennessee of the SEC at Bristol Motor Speedway, a long-anticipated matchup where 150,000 or so fans are expected to be in attendance.
In Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips, Virginia Tech has one of the best tandems of receivers in the ACC. Fuente likes to play fast and shuttle in lots of players. That has put pressure on young receivers to learn fast, although tight end Bucky Hodges and fullback Sam Rogers are also very capable pass-catchers.
Foster has several young players that he has high expectations for, and in a defensive scheme that feeds a lot of the playmaking to the linebackers, he will need several of them to be ready to prove that his expectations are warranted quickly.
The matchup with the Vols is huge and has been hyped as such. But with a Coastal Division title the primary objective for the year, the Hokies’ games at division rivals North Carolina on Oct. 8, at home on a Thursday night against Miami on Oct. 20 and at Duke of Nov. 5 will have the most to say about their prospects.
The Hokies have limped into bowl eligibility several times in recent years, leading to the change at the top. But Fuente’s fast-paced system is much different that the conservative approach Beamer preferred, and while it may take some time to hit their stride, there’s too much talent not to go bowling again.
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