July 13, 2020

Virginia Tech: Hokies’ plan for replacing injured Motuapuaka and other notes

After a big, needed win over FCS opponent Furman the big news of the week for the Virginia Tech Hokies leading up to their first away game against Purdue was the loss of starting middle linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka.

Motuapuaka exited the game against Furman in the third quarter, in what was originally deemed a minor injury. Earlier this week it was instead revealed that he had an MCL sprain and could be sidelined for four weeks, a substantial loss for Bud Foster’s defense. While Motuapuaka struggled against Ohio State, the depth behind him is thin in the form of Sean Huelskamp, a walk-on redshirt sophomore, a true freshman Carson Lydon.

Middle linebacker is an especially important position on the defense as they are responsible for calling plays and reading and adjusting the defensive positioning to match the offense along with heavy responsibilities in the run and pass attack. Even with Motuapuaka’s shortcomings, he was clearly the best the Hokies had.

Huelskamp will be the starter for now, as his three years in the system likely means he has a better handle of the play calls and adjustments needed. How well he can actually play the position once the ball is snapped though is up for debate. A walk-on isn’t likely to have the same physical tools as a real recruit.

Lydon on the other hand was a solid three-star prospect and certainly has the physical tools, but like with fellow freshman Dwayne Lawson on the offensive side, it’s uncertain whether he can handle all the pre-snap responsibilities. The Hokies were originally planning to redshirt him, but head coach Frank Beamer indicated that those plans would change in his weekly radio appearance Monday. Expect him to mix in with Huelskamp to start and if he adapts well, to slowly take the reins full-time.

Either way this will be a hard adjustment for the Hokies who were already weakest on defense at linebacker heading into the season. They’ll have to lean even more on their talented and experienced defensive line and corners until Motuapuaka returns.


Other Notes

  • Tech’s defense has famously had the Lunch Pail which has carried a number of traditions including placing dirt from the fields of vanquished foes inside and being awarded to the defensive MVP of the week. Well now Tech’s offensive line has introduced a trophy of their own, a custom designed meat tenderizer lovingly titled “The Fool’s Hammer” which is awarded to the offensive lineman with the best week in practice. Maybe that’s what’s been behind their resurgence early this season, or it could be Wyatt Teller mauling every defensive player in sight.
  • Advanced Stats Corner: Virginia Tech checked in as the 25th best team in the nation in the F/+ Combined Rankings which is overall advanced measurement of how a team performed on offense, defense and special teams. That’s 4th best in the ACC behind Georgia Tech, Florida State and Clemson. Interestingly, by S&P+ component stats, one of the pieces used to make F/+, the Hokies offense is what’s holding up the team so far, at No. 10 in the nation, while the defense is down at No. 61. Expect that to change as the season progresses, but a good sign nonetheless for a beleaguered unit.
  • Ever since David Wilson left campus for the bright lights of the NFL it’s seemed impossible for the Hokies to settle on even two tailbacks they liked, running through large combinations of players. That’s continued this season with J.C. Coleman, Trey Edmunds, Travon McMillan and Shai McKenzie all seeing significant time. Running backs coach Shane Beamer indicated this week that that isn’t likely to change soon. And don’t forget Marshawn Williams, who is nearly ready to return from his torn ACL.
  • The Hokies will be making the trip to West Lafayette, Indiana for their first road game of the season against the Purdue Boilermakers, their second Big Ten team in three games. The Boilermakers won’t be quite as tough as Ohio State though, they’re ranked No. 82 in the F/+ Combined Rankings. However, any road game is still a significant test for a team counting on a couple of green players in important roles.

Washington Redskins Season Preview Part II: Running Backs

All this week leading up to the Washington Redskins 2014 season opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7, District Sports Page is taking an in-depth look at the players that will make up the 53-man roster to start the season in a position-by-position breakdown.

Monday, Neal Dalal took a look at the Quarterback position.

Tuesday, we examine the situation at running back. Who will be the third down back, who didn’t make the team and just how deep are the Redskins in the backfield.

[Read more…]

Washington Redskins Preseason Game 4 Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It may have been a short week for the Washington Redskins, but it certainly was not short on drama.

From a quarterback controversy to a suspension to a “will he or won’t he” scenario that had Coach Jay Gruden playing his starters against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Thursday, the Redskins certainly do not look like a team ready for the start of the regular season.

Many are blaming Redskins great Joe Theismann for at least stirring the quarterback controversy pot with his problematic comments to ESPN, but it’s Robert Griffin III’s production — or lack thereof — that ignited the debate in the first place. Let’s be honest, there is no quarterback controversy in Washington, regardless of what Theismann or the thousands of fans calling for a switch behind center are suggesting. It cannot, however, be what Gruden or Griffin envisioned for the offence after three preseason games, the last of which was RG3’s worst outing.

Even with the offense sputtering, Gruden announced on Tuesday that he had no plans of playing his starters against the Bucs, allowing every Redskins fan to exhale. Then begs the question: was Gruden purposely vanilla this preseason, stunting the offence and Griffin’s efficiency or is Griffin and the starting offense as bad as they appear?

We’ll have to wait until Sept. 9 in Houston to find out.

With the first round of cuts in the books, the dreaded and often ugly fourth preseason game will be the last chance for players on the bubble to put some plays on tape. All NFL teams are required to trim their rosters to 53 players in advance of the 4 p.m. deadline on Saturday, Aug. 30.

There will a number of positions up for grabs when the Redskins travel to Tampa Bay on Thursday, Aug. 28.  Kickoff from Raymond James Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. ET. NBC-4 and Comcast SportsNet will broadcast the game to a local audience. The game can also be heard on the Redskins Radio Network.

Third Running Back: Alfred Morris and Roy Helu Jr. haven’t set the world on fire this preseason but they’re not going anywhere. They are locks for this squad and should be. The question is, who is going to be No. 3, joining Morris, Helu Jr., and fullback Darryl Young on the Redskins roster?

Rookies Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd have been spotty but impressive, while incumbent Evan Royster has done everything he can to outplay fellow veteran Chris Thompson.

It is no secret that fans and coaches love Thompson, thanks to his world-class speed, but the guy can’t stay on the field. Gruden went as far as suggesting on Tuesday that the second-year pro needed to learn how to play through pain; not exactly what you would call a glowing endorsement. With Andre Roberts handling returns, Thompson is going to need a miracle to make this team, and chances are he’s not going to find one in Tampa.

Royster has been quietly doing what he’s done since the Redskins drafted him in 2011 — make plays. Not gifted with tremendous speed, Royster has good hands and can be a hard runner when he wants to be. He has shown in the past that if he’s given a chance, he can reel off a 100-yard game or two. With both Seastrunk and Redd battling Royster for one, perhaps two spots, this is going to come down to a numbers game for Royster.

Right now, those numbers are not stacked in his favor, and he will most likely join Thompson on the unemployment line. If the Redskins decide to carry four running backs on the roster, look for them stash Redd on the practice squad if he’s not snatched up first.

Safety Valve: Thanks to his second suspension in as many years, safety Brandon Merriweather will miss the first two games of the regular season, baring the outcome of an appeal, once again leaving Washington coaches scrambling to find a square peg to stuff in a round hole.

With Philip Thomas sidelined with a foot injury, Bacarri Rambo and EJ Biggers, neither natural strong safeties, will be called upon to fill the void. This may be a blessing in disguise for Rambo, who DeAngelo Hall called the preseason’s best defender.

After what can only be considered a disastrous rookie campaign that saw Rambo miss more tackles than he made, he lost what could have been a starting free safety gig to veteran Ryan Clark. The Redskins are no doubt hoping Rambo can be that square peg in Merriweather’s absence, but if he’s not, Biggers has made a career of filling in where he’s needed, splitting time between corner and safety for the Skins last season, and is capable of being a stopgap for two games.

Merriweather’s suspension, combined with Thomas’s injury, which requires a trip to Dr. James Anderson in North Carolina, could end up being yet another reason for coaches to find a place on the roster for rookie linebacker-turned-safety, Akeem Davis, who is a tremendous athlete and has impressed many this offseason. It will be fun to see if Davis can continue to make an impact on Thursday and find his way onto the team.

All Hands on Deck: It has been a long time since the Redskins have had too many talented wide receivers, a problem Gruden has no trouble accepting.

We know Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, and Andre Roberts are 1-2-3 respectively on the depth chart, leaving spots four, five and six up for grabs. For anyone who’s watched a game this preseason, you know Ryan Grant, a 2014 fifth-round pick out of Tulane, has wrapped up one of those remaining spots, meaning veterans Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Nick Williams, and Aldrick Robinson are left fighting for the scraps.

Robinson has been productive this preseason, albeit against second and third stringers, and has, along with Grant, been a favorite of Kirk Cousins. Once a one-trick pony, Robinson has also shown this preseason that he is more than just a burner, flashing good hands and making the tough catches in traffic. Moss has been steady, and has shown he still has some burst, which may be enough to entice Gruden to make him the sixth wideout heading into the regular season. Although coaches love his size, look for the oft-injured Hankerson to join Williams as the odd men out.

Stay Healthy: There’s going to be 22 men cleaning out their lockers on Saturday. Up to 10 can be added to Washington’s practice squad, while the others will be released. Of those, some may find employment with another team.

An injury can change all of that.

Sure coaches will be looking for players to put plays on tape, to impress, to win a job, but what they are really hoping for is an injury-free 60 minutes of football. There will be players on the field Thursday who will end up playing important roles for the 2014 Redskins, whether as a backup or special teams.

With their 22 starters set, the Redskins have one goal: survive Thursday.

Joe Mercer is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A communications specialist with a municipal government north of the border, Joe is an aspiring author with close to 20 years experience in the newspaper business. Starting as a sports reporter covering the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts for a small daily newspaper in Barrie, Ontario, Joe is also a self-taught graphic designer with more than a dozen regional and national newspaper awards to his credit. A Redskins fanatic since the early 80s, Joe has often made the 12-hour journey from his hometown 45 minutes north of Toronto to Washington for both training camp and regular season games. You can follow Joe on Twitter @stylesmcfresh.

Washington Redskins Position Battles: Running Back

This summer, District Sports Page will be taking a close look at some key position battles leading up to Washington Redskins training camp. In this first installment, we look at the battle for playing time at the running back slot.

by Justin Byram, special to District Sports Page

There is only one thing certain about the Redskins Running Back position: Alfred Morris is the starter. After that, there isn’t much clarity at the position. The battle for playing time at the running back spot should be one of the most interesting position battles of the summer. Although Alfred Morris is the clear starter, the third down and receiving back jobs are wide open (something that is pivotal in Jay Gruden’s offense). Whoever wins these jobs will have a big role in the offense and an increased role from years past.

The Running Backs currently on the Redskins roster include Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Lache Seastrunk, Evan Royster, Silas Redd, and Chris Thompson. Obviously one of the three roster spots is occupied by Morris, but who will prove worthy of the other two spots?

Roy Helu is the next safest bet. Although Helu is set to count more against the salary cap than starter Alfred Morris, two other running backs would have to shine during pre-season in order to knock Helu off the roster. Helu does provide good pass catching skills (31 catches for 251 yards in ’13) and offers a change of pace to the plodding Morris (62 carries, 274 yards, four TDs), but Helu’s actual results have been average at best throughout his time in Washington. But we’ll assume he retains his spot as the No. 2 back.

With two of the three spots likely filled, it will be a battle between the remaining four for the final position, and the ability to play on special teams may very well provide the difference.

Evan Royster has showed some versatility (the ability to play fullback) however, little else. He carried just twice in 2013 for zero net yards. Silas Redd was a solid back collegiately at Penn State and he is now supposedly 100% for the first time in a while. If fully healthy again, Redd is a dark horse candidate to make the roster and a player to keep your eye on in training camp and pre-season.

The battle for the final roster spot will likely be a battle between Chris Thompson and 2014 draftee Lache Seastrunk. This early in the process you have to like Seastrunk. Unlike Thompson, Seastrunk was drafted by Gruden, which means he is already on the head coach’s radar. Thompson has showed no durability, failing to stay healthy throughout his career, and his production on the field has lacked. At the end of the day, Seastrunk is a more durable version of Thompson, and will likely bump him off the roster.

The team went out of its way to describe Seastrunk as a dynamic kick returner during the draft process, and it’s definitely an are of need for the Skins. Thompson averaged 20.0 yards per kickoff return last season on eight attempts, but his longest was just 28 yards. He also returned seven punts for 36 yards, a measly 5.1 yards per attempt average.

My final prediction is Morris as the starter, Helu as the backup and third down back, and Seastrunk as  a change of pace back and return man, unless he displays enough aptitude during training camp to take on a larger role.

However, with Helu’s cap hit, it could be interesting if Redd shows something during camp and in preseason now that he’s fully heathy.

Running back will be one of the most intense competitions in training camp and throughout pre-season. It will be a fun roster battle to watch, and with a lot of competition a good player will likely be cut or make the practice squad rather than the 53-man roster.

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