Monday, April 14, 2008

Backfield in Traction: Injuries piling up

Three key members of the Virginia Tech backfield have gone down with injuries, some more serious than others, in the last week.

- QB Tyrod Taylor: Sprained his left foot during a scrimmage Wednesday and will miss the rest of spring practice.

- RB Kenny Lewis: Will have surgery Tuesday to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and will be out four to six months.

- RB Jahre Cheeseman: Suffered a broken left fibula during Saturday's scrimmage and will be out six to eight weeks.

While its good the injuries are happening now instead of in the fall, this is a key offseason for Tech's backfield. It's important for Taylor to continue to learn the offense and develop chemistry with his receivers as he vies with Sean Glennon for the starting quarterback job in the fall. Lewis and Cheeseman were co-No. 1s on the depth chart at running back. Both are in the hunt to replace running back Branden Ore, who was dismissed from the team last month.

Taylor's injury appears to be the least severe at first glance. This is because putting him in a walking boot seems to be a precautionary measure to keep him from hurting his left foot more. Also, the Hokies still have Sean Glennon, who helped lead Tech to the ACC title.

The injuries to Lewis and Cheeseman are more disconcerting. The Hokies now have two freshmen at the top of their depth chart, Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby. If Lewis is only out four months, he will return in time for fall practice, but there's no way he could be anywhere near 100 percent when that happens.

If he's out six months, it means he won't be back until October, when the Hokies face the meat of their conference schedule. Even if he's back for fall practice, I don't see him being at full strength until mid-October. I believe the coaches should limit his contact in the fall and limit his carries in the early part of the season. Tech will need him in order to repeat as ACC Champions.

Cheeseman's injury was to his fibula, or calf bone, which is the smaller bone in the lower half of the leg. It looks like he will be at full-strength for fall practice.

The injuries to Lewis and Cheeseman give more carries to Evans and Oglesby. Both of them need the experience, which is good. I've said before that Evans and Cheeseman should be the ones splitting the majority of the carries next season. This allows Evans to get valuable experience before the fall.

It also gives the coaches a better look at Oglesby. Running backs coach Billy Hite has been quoted as saying that he has all the tools and could be the best runner of the group. However, he lack experience and is still adjusting to the speed of college football.

What the injuries do is force the Hokies to figure what kind of players Evans and Oglesby are and how they will fit in when the season starts. And they can do it without taking carries away from Lewis and Cheeseman. It also gives Glennon a chance to separate himself from Taylor to ensure more snaps in the fall. However, it has a profound negative effect on the offense's ability to gel at a time where nothing could be as important.

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