With one year under his belt, Brent Pry enters his second season as the head whistle in Blacksburg with plenty of pressure on his shoulders.
Eight losses and a bowl-less December later, there’s no doubt that the honeymoon period is over for Pry and his staff. Virginia Tech needs to generate some positive results in 2023, and that process began this winter.
Pry made a flurry of roster moves to try and fill holes on his roster that were already there, plus some extras that showed up after the season. He spent much of his time on one position in particular, but let’s take a holistic approach and examine each of the position groups on offense.
Hokies Searching For Starter At Quarterback, But Also The Odd Man Out
Grant Wells did not replicate much of his success at Marshall in his first season at Virginia Tech. His completion percentage dropped six points from the prior year, and he finished with just nine touchdown passes in 11 games. Wells, simply put, had a tough season.
Wells’ struggles meant the Hokies needed to address the quarterback position in a big way this offseason, but it remains to be seen if that mission was completed.
Pry’s primary solution comes in the form of former Baylor backup Kyron Drones, a four-star prospect that attempted just 23 passes in 2022. Drones has less experience than Wells and has roughly the same playing experience to the other four quarterbacks on the roster. Drones in many ways is a complete unknown.
Drones and Wells figure to lead the quarterback competition this summer, but one wonders how second-year passer Devin Farrell fits into the equation. The same can be said for Tahj Bullock, the lone remaining quarterback on the roster recruited by Justin Fuente.
Tech has six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster and will likely need to shed one of them before the 2023 season gets underway. Freshmen Pop Watson and Dylan Wittke are likely redshirt candidates, meaning Farrell and Bullock might be gunning for the last seat at the table.
The Great Wide Open
Even Tom Petty would agree that the running back reps for next season are entirely up for grabs.
Virginia Tech’s most productive running back from last year, Keshawn King, is long gone. So is Jalen Holston, who took up a significant number of reps in the rotation.
Brent Pry’s answer seems to be North Carolina A&T transfer Bhayshul Tuten, who ran for 1,363 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2022. Tuten and Malachi Thomas have the most experience in the room, but second-year players Bryce Duke and Chance Black should get looks as well.
Even with Tuten’s addition, the Hokies are dangerously thin at running back. This will be something to keep an eye on come October and November, when injuries begin to pile up.
Talented Trio Of Transfers Reshape The Receiver Room
While many of the Hokies’ offensive struggles from last season lay near Grant Wells’ feet, Tech’s lack of productive receivers played a critical role as well.
Kaleb Smith’s decision to transfer to Notre Dame made the issue even worse, but Pry and his staff took a big swing at some solutions and the on-paper perspective is a positive one.
Da’Quan Felton, Jaylin Lane and Ali Jennings each would’ve led the Hokies in receptions and receiving touchdowns in 2022, while Lane and Jennings both would’ve led the team in receiving yards. Talk about an infusion of talent…
The arrival of Jennings — likely Tech’s No. 1 receiver — Felton and Lane mean that the competition for reps will be a stiff one. Incumbent receivers Da’Wain Lofton, Tucker Holloway, Christian Moss and others will have their work cut out for them.
Expect some attrition here after spring camp. By my count, Virginia Tech has 15 receivers on scholarship, which is way too many. Regardless, Pry’s transfer additions have changed the narrative of this position group. What was a glaring weakness last season may be the Hokies’ most pronounced strength in 2023.
The Time Is Wright
Anyone watching Virginia Tech’s offense last season saw the potential within Dae’Quan Wright. In a historically bad offense, Wright still caught 19 passes for 208 yards in a backup role. With some better weapons around him and hopefully improved quarterback play, it’s reasonable to think Wright is ready to take a big step in his development.
Nick Gallo returns and that offers some security, but Wright is the future at the position. Gallo got most of the reps in 2022 because of his blocking ability, or perhaps better phrased, Wright’s lack of blocking ability. The tight end position went mostly unaddressed this offseason, with grayshirt Ezekiel Wimbush being the only addition.
The job is Wright’s for the taking. Gallo is a serviceable blocker but offers little value as a receiver. With some improvement in the run game, Wright could find himself as TE1 in no time.
Help Needed In The Trenches
Virginia Tech’s offensive line played rather poorly in 2022. In all of my years as a Tech fan, reporter and observer, I’m not sure I’ve seen an offensive line with so many issues.
Joe Rudolph has two positions to fill — Silas Dzansi and Johnny Jordan vacated left tackle and center, respectively — but few easy options to fill them. Is Jack Hollifield ready to captain the offensive line at center? Can Xavier Chaplin develop into a starting left tackle? The returning starters bring their own set of questions, too.
The Hokies are very green along the offensive line heading into spring practices. Kaden Moore is a capable starter, but it’s unsettling that he projects as Virginia Tech’s best lineman on the roster.
Even if the Hokies struggle a bit up front, the least Rudolph and his players could do is cut down on the pre-snap penalties. Those hindered an already flawed offense, and the offense may not be much better next year.
Where Does The Improvement Come From?
Virginia Tech should be better at wide receiver in 2023 than they were this past season, but that’s the only position that looks markedly better. There’s no guarantee Kyron Drones is better than Grant Wells, and Tech’s offensive line might need another year of seasoning before they’re ready to compete effectively.
It’s not inconceivable that Virginia Tech’s best four players on offense next year will all be transfer additions. Ali Jennings, Jaylin Lane, Da’Quan Felton and Bhayshul Tuten might be the ones taking the lead in 2023, which offers some hope that this coming season will feature a better offense, even if only a marginally better one.