Virginia Tech fall practice notes: WRs gain separation, O-line gets a boost, a ‘beautiful’ development at LB | Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech held practice No. 2 on Wednesday at the team’s practice facility and opened up six periods to reporters.

Players spent the majority of that time working on individual drills, but the final period featured one-on-one position battles.

Tech’s wide receivers and tight ends faced off against the defensive backs (corners and safeties) in the indoor field while the linebackers lined up against the running backs under the supervision of head coach Brent Pry on the outdoor practice field.

Pry was much happier at the level of competition displayed throughout Wednesday’s practice than what he saw the previous day.

“A rollercoaster,” Pry said of the first two days. “A lot of things yesterday that weren’t good enough, that were disappointing a little bit, and the entire team, particularly the defense, battled back today and had a good day.”

Here are some notes from the open periods of practice …

You got smoked

The wide receivers and tight ends flipped the script from the spring.

Tech’s skill players struggled throughout spring camp in portions of practice open to the media.

One notable example came during a practice the Hokies opened to fans at Lane Stadium. The practice session got underway with a best-of-five reps competition in the end zone between the receivers and defensive backs. The defensive backs won easily and the whole offense had to do up-downs as punishment.

While there wasn’t a contest on Wednesday, the receivers and tight ends seemed ready for a rematch.

Tech’s quarterbacks set up at the 50-yard line and rotated each rep. They completed 10 straight passes at one point that included three deep attempts for touchdowns with each going to different targets.

The receivers were getting consistent separation during the period and making crisp cuts on their routes.

Quarterback Grant Wells threw a touchdown deep down the middle to freshman wide receiver Tucker Holloway with Dorian Strong in coverage. Receivers coach Fontel Mines celebrated the score by leaping into the air.

Quarterback Jason Brown also threw a pretty deep ball to Dallan Wright, who caught it in stride over his back shoulder, with Elijah Howard in coverage. Second-year receiver Christian Moss scored the other touchdown by beating Miles Ellis down the sideline.

“You got smoked,” a defensive staffer commented, as Moss celebrated.

“I think they have made strides,” Pry said. “I think Coach Mines has done a great job. There’s talent in that unit. They’ve just got to start checking boxes in areas that they’ve got to get better at. There’s talent, and I do think they’re improving. That group needs to have a great camp.”

Center squared

Virginia Tech’s coaches feel better about its depth at center.

Former Maryland transfer Johnny Jordan spent the entire spring with the first-team offense, but only had walk-ons working behind him including Nikolai Bujnowski.

The Hokies are now rotating three scholarship players at center with Jordan alternating with Bujnowski, Jack Hollifield and Johnny Dickson. Dickson is one of five 2022 signees who enrolled over the summer.

“Absolutely,” Pry said, when asked if he was excited about the added depth. “Across the board on the O-line. Xavier [Chaplin], Johnny, all those guys, I think those young guys do bring some depth, and as they continue to grow and develop, maybe it’s not for the beginning of the season, but maybe it’s Week 4 or Week 6 when all of a sudden you need somebody. And if they keep growing and developing, they’ve got a chance.”

That added depth has allowed Hollifield to move back to center after spending much of his time at guard during the spring.

Chaplin is a South Carolina native listed at 6-foot-6 and 355 pounds. The bio isn’t lying about his height either, he was a head taller than 6-foot-5 Silas Dzansi. Chaplin is starting out at left tackle and stayed close to Dzansi throughout the individual drills.

Player to watch

Linebacker Alan Tisdale has played in 35 career games and made 18 starts, but second-year linebacker Jaden Keller is pushing him hard for playing time. The 6-foot-3, 216-pounder defender out of Tennessee maintained his redshirt last year playing in four games.

Keller was already on Pry’s list of up-and-coming defenders after spring camp, but he might arrive sooner rather than later thanks to his dedication in the weight room and athleticism.

“Right now he’s certainly in competition for the [weak side] linebacker spot,” Pry said. “He’s a beautiful looking young man. He’s really had a great summer just changing his body, looking lean and fast. He plays, when he knows what he’s doing, he plays as fast as anybody on the defense. He’s got a real shot.”