Coleman knows not every back will be ‘happy’ this season

BLACKSBURG – A year after Virginia Tech’s everybody-takes-a-turn running back rotation contributed to an inconsistent offense and disappointing football season, J.C. Coleman said he and his fellow backs are bracing for a stiffer competition this spring.
“There are going to be some guys that might not be happy about the way we’re doing things,” Coleman said. “Last year everybody was able to get a taste of the game action. This year might not be like that. It definitely puts a lot of pressure on all the running backs, because we have to go out and earn our spot.”
Last season, as the Hokies struggled to a 7-6 mark, Tech rotated four tailbacks in and out of the lineup. They opened with Michael Holmes starting five of the first six games, before going with J.C. Coleman and Tony Gregory in the seventh game. By the end of the season, Coleman and then-senior Martin Scales were getting the bulk of the carries.
The shuffling made it difficult for the offense to perfect its operation and kept the individual backs from developing any rhythm within games.
“I feel like I did a poor job last year, in a lot of different ways, but not being able to say ‘This is or guy, this is our guy, here’s kind of the pecking order,’” Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer said this week, as the Hokies opened spring practice.
It’s a mistake he said he won’t make again.
Beamer said he and new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, during a meeting Tuesday, discussed having a clearly defined order for the tailbacks.
Tech returns Coleman, Holmes and Gregory and adds talented freshman Trey Edmunds, who redshirted last year, to the mix. Coleman opened the spring atop the depth chart, but Beamer laughed as he told reporters not to read too much into that.
“And I told our guys, J.C. will take the first rep, because he’s returning,” Beamer said. “He finished the season as a starter. After that it’s wide open. They’ve got 15 opportunities to show what they can do. Every practice counts. We’re evaluating after every practice.”
And the players are aware of that.
“Every day is like a job interview,” Edmunds said.
And while Edmunds has the least accomplished resume, he may be the most intriguing option. With his blend of speed and power, Tech considered playing him last year as a true freshman before deciding the backfield was already too crowded to split carries in games and practices any further.
This offseason, Edmunds has added five more pounds to his frame and is now up to 215. He’s improved all his numbers in the weight room and hasn’t lost any of his speed. He was timed running a 4.3-second 40-yard dash coming into this spring.
“Extremely explosive,” Beamer said. “He can run and then to have that strength and that power, it’s exciting. It’s intriguing.”
Still, Beamer acknowledged Edmunds is very much a work in progress.
“He’s just raw, very raw,” Beamer said. “We knew that last fall. He’s gotten better at some things fundamentally. We just have to keep cleaning that up.”
Edmunds said he could tell, watching from the sidelines, that the Tech tailbacks were struggling to get into the flow of games with all the substitutions.
“I thought that, but then again, it’s kind of hard for me to put my input in since I’m not out there,” Edmunds said. “But just being a spectator, I thought it was kind of hard for one running back to get his rhythm.”
Coleman stopped short of criticizing last year’s tailback management, but said he’s looking forward to the approach being taken this season.
“I wouldn’t say a mistake,” Coleman said, when I asked him about last year’s rotation. “But of course, a running back has to get in a rhythm also. Even myself, I would like to get in a rhythm, get a little more carries. So I’m glad they’re doing it like that this year.”