Things really are different this spring in Blacksburg.
We’ve officially rotated back to football season and nothing feels the same. Literally every aspect of the program feels dramatically different right now — and that’s a good thing.
We can start with the football program’s roster of players, which has new faces at many positions. Nobody knows who is going to play quarterback, though two of the favorites — Jason Brown and Grant Wells — are new to the town.
The lack of familiarity continues on offense. Jadan Blue probably has a starting spot locked down at wide receiver, but he’s still learning his way around campus. Da’Wain Lofton has a new number (3), but at least he knows where the position rooms are. Kaleb Smith is the lone Blacksburg vet in that position group, meaning several fresh faces are going to get a look.
The offensive line is a toss-up as you generally don’t replace three starters overnight. Johnny Jordan, Slias Dzansi and Kaden Moore are still around, but most of the remaining offensive linemen on the roster are newbies.
Linebacker might be the only spot where many of the same players are still around, but more guys are getting added to the room. Brent Pry’s preference for the 4-3 defense means the Hokies need more bodies there. JR Walker has already transitioned over to linebacker, as have the McDonald twins. One of those brothers, Jorden, has already shifted to defensive end. Who knows, more changes could be coming.
Pheldarius Payne has added his name to the mix along the defensive line, joining a blend of new and old folks. Norell Pollard, Mario Kendricks, TyJuan Garbutt, Jaylen Griffin, Josh Fuga and more return to that position group, but Gunner Givens and Lemar Law threaten to crack the rotation.
Perhaps the most familiar group on this roster are the defensive backs, where many of the key players are guys who’ve been wearing maroon and orange for quite a while. Chamarri Conner returns, as do Brion Murray, Armani Chatman , Dorian Strong and Keonta Jenkins. How does DJ Harvey factor in? What about Jalen Stroman? There’s plenty of questions to be asked, but at least fans will know who’s competing.
Most of the freshness of this spring can be felt off the field, where the Hokies have employed a contrasting approach. Pry and his staff have flipped the table, eschewing previous practices for new ones, and the new ones are a nice change of pace.
First, you can watch Virginia Tech’s spring game this year without making the pilgrimage home to Blacksburg. For the first time in I literally don’t know when, the Hokies will have their spring game televised, just like every other major program.
I almost forgot — Virginia Tech is actually having a spring game this year. After two straight years of cancellations and previous editions of practice sessions, the Hokies are returning to the tried-and-true format. That is, unless injuries derail the whole thing.
But the Hokies’ willingness to have their spring game televised this year is part of a broader shift. The Hokies are marketing themselves more now on social media than they have in the past.
Pry knows how to tweet, as does his coaching staff, which is certainly a welcome change. Tech is taking advantages of public relations opportunities, unlike the previous regime. Whether it be a family lunch at the indoor practice facility, speaking privately to the Corps of Cadets or showing off Pry’s support for Blacksburg Sports Club, this coach and this leadership group are attacking the PR game far better than the Hokies have done in the past. And that’s important, especially for a first-time coach working with a flawed roster.
Things feel really different around Blacksburg right now. Heck, I can feel the difference from Virginia Beach.
Maybe that difference will show up in the win-loss column, too.