Friday, August 29, 2008

Q&A with Kyle Tucker

Kyle Tucker is the Hokies beat writer for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. Tucker is also the most prolific bloggers among Tech beat writers and shares his access to the team with the fan base. You can view his blog by clicking here. He was nice enough to answer a few questions from Gobbler Country in anticipation of the 2008 season.

GC: Which is the biggest challenge facing the Hokies this year: The new starters on defense, the lack of returning starters at skill positions or the toughest games for the Hokies this year all being on the road?

KT: The biggest challenge for Tech is not at receiver or running back or on defense or on the road. What will make or break this season, I think, is whether the Hokies can stay healthy. That's their toughest challenge. I believe Tech's starting 11 on both sides of the ball will include as much talent this season as any season before. But the second-string, pretty much across the board, is a significant drop-off. That's where being so young hurts them. Think about all the dominoes that fall if anybody gets injured. If Sean Glennon goes down, either Tyrod Taylor's redshirt gets burned again, or Tech is rolling with Cory Holt, who has thrown 19 passes in four years. If any starting offensive lineman goes down (except maybe Shuman, because Beau Warren is solid at center), the drop off is huge with the back-ups. At linebacker, if anyone gets hurt (except Cam Martin, because Cody Grimm has been very solid), it's big, big trouble. So … yeah … I'd say the biggest challenge is staying out of the training room.

GC: How realistic is it for the coaches to want one quarterback this year? The two-QB system worked well last year. Makes sense that they would want to play both again this year.

KT: You asked me this question about a week ago, and if I'd been quicker with my response, I could've waxed poetic on this. But now we know that the coaches ARE going with just one quarterback. It's pretty evident that both guys were going to play this year if Taylor hadn't wanted/agreed to redshirting. According to Taylor's dad, Rodney, the family decided that unless he was the outright starter this year, sharing snaps again wasn't good for his career. And coach Frank Beamer believes that having three years of Taylor exclusively as the starter after this season is great for the program. So there we are. As mentioned above, though, the whole thing flies out the window of Sean Glennon gets hurt early.

GC: What's Glennon's ceiling for this season? A season with 2,000 passing yards would be above and beyond the call of duty in my book. It would also mean he's not collecting too many late yards trying to lead comebacks.

KT: I have a hunch that Glennon pulls a Bryan Randall this season. He's a fifth-year senior who, like Randall, took a lot of heat and questioning from the fans most of his career. Then along came the more mobile, flashier option (Marcus Vick, in Randall's case) and made things worse. But like Randall, Glennon has kept plugging along, refusing to give up his job and his dream without a fight. QB coach Mike O'Cain loves Glennon, praising his work ethic and his smarts at every turn. And O'Cain thinks Glennon is ready for a great final act. I tend to agree. Nothing spectacular, mind you. The youth at receiver will probably keep Tech from going deep all that often and I'd expect the running game to dominate this offense. But I could see Glennon having numbers like: 2,400 yards passing, 60 percent completion, 18 TDs, 5 INTs. If he does that, and Tech's backs run for 2,000 yards between them … this team will be in Tampa. BIG CAVEAT: The line can't sustain a major injury. It all starts there. Glennon needs time or he won't be effective.

GC: How quickly will the freshman receivers and Ryan Williams be able to adjust to playing college football? Is there one that you think is more ready than the others right now?

KT: The freshmen wideouts will make the adjustment faster. They already are. Dyrell Roberts (mostly be default) will start. And he looks ready. Jarrett Boykin will play, as will Xavier Boyce. By nature, it's easier to play receiver right away. Yes, they have to learn routes (not terribly complicated) and block sometimes. But by and large, if a young guy can run, jump and catch, he can play early. If he screws up a block on the outside, it's not nearly as detrimental as, say, Ryan Williams not picking up a blitzing linebacker. And Williams is struggling with that: his blocking assignments and where he lines up on different plays. Williams is uber-talented, but he's hitting the freshman wall right now. And while it's still very possible he'll play at some point this season, it's not certain. The three rookie wideouts will play. So they're the obvious choice, in answering your question.

GC: Can you give us one offensive and one defensive player we haven't heard of that will be a household name for Hokies fans by the end of 2008?

KT: Well, there's hardly anyone that Tech die-hards haven't heard of. But if I had to name two guys who aren't yet stars and could be by December … I'd go with Boykin (only because you've already heard a lot about Roberts, who I think will also have a big year). Something tells me Boykin is going to be a BIG factor on special teams and that he could become a nice option on short passing plays, especially underneath routes. I could see him and his sure hands grabbing some key first-downs for Tech. Defensively, I'm going to go with either undersized LB Purnell Sturdivant (who had a tremendous preseason) or undersized DT Demetrius Taylor (same as P-Stump). Those two guys are far from prototypes for their positions (Sturd is 5-10, maybe, and Taylor is under 260 pounds) but both play extremely fast and aggressive. I think both will make noise this year.

GC: How worried should Hokie fans be about the kicking game this year?

KT: Not very. First of all, it all starts with the snap, and Frank Beamer feels better about the snapping this year than last. Second, punter Brent Bowden is poised for a monster year. He has a huge leg and was booming everything during camp. Finally, I think fifth-year senior Dustin Keys will be fine. Much like Jud Dunlevy last year. He's got a big leg and he's pretty consistent (the final scrimmage notwithstanding). Beamer doesn't seem worried in the least, so you probably shouldn't be either.

GC: Tech's margin for error seems to be pretty thin. Seems to me anything between 10-2 and 6-6 is possible. What are the best and worst-case scenarios for this team?

KT: You pretty much nailed it. Although, I think 6-6 is too low. I can't see Tech dropping that far under any circumstance. Furman, Georgia Tech, Western Kentucky, Duke and Virginia are all almost certain victories in my mind. That's six wins. I think Tech probably squeaks out the opener against ECU for a seventh. And based on recent history, you have to think Tech can take down at least one of FSU and Miami, even on the road. So I'd say 8-4 would be my worst-case prediction. And I'll go with 11-1 as the best-possible outcome. With all the youth, lack of depth and the brutal road schedule, there's at least one loss in there even if this team completely overachieves. I'd say 9-3 would thrill the coaching staff and might be enough to get 'em to Tampa. Then they'd have two games to try to pick up win No. 10 for a fifth consecutive season.

GC: You recently said you expect the Hokies to go 10-4 this year. If that happens, what would it say about this coaching staff and the job they did?

It would say what most outside observers have been saying for a long while. Frank Beamer and his staff, typically (2002 and 2003 notwithstanding) get more out of their players than anyone would expect. The difference is that, thanks to the best stretch of recruiting years in program history, there's lots and lots of talent on this team. They are GOOD ENOUGH to win every game. But they're also young enough to lose a fair amount. So if this team wins the Coastal Division and picks up 10 wins, it'll be a testament to not only Beamer's ability to "coach 'em up" but also the staffs ramped-up recruiting efforts. It would signal the start of an era in which Tech truly is just reloading each year.

GC: Turning to your blog at the Virginian-Pilot Web site, whose idea was it to start the blog? Did it come from you or your editors?

KT: My first two seasons covering Tech (2004 and 2005), I drove from Norfolk to Blacksburg twice a week, every week. I was here for the Tuesday media function, that afternoon's practice, and maybe interviews the next day. Then back home. Then back to the 'burg for Saturday's game. It was brutal, driving 1,200 miles every week. I was not only exhausted, but also unable to cover the team the way I thought it should be covered. I couldn't be here every day, so I felt like my ability to break news and also write in-depth stories was greatly hindered. So I put together a proposal (including all the financials, and the fact that it would actually be CHEAPER to live here than rent cars and hotels twice a week) and pitched the idea of living here during the season. Along with that, I promised to deliver a daily blog. The bosses bit and off I went. This marks my third season living in Blacksburg. We had no idea what to expect with the blog, but it was an instant success. In 2006, we averaged 100,000 hits per month. That made living here in 2007 a no-brainer. And folks kept clickin'. 120,000 per month last fall. And the growth continues. Through the first 23 days since camp started this year, the blog had 125,000 hits. That'll probably push it over 150,000 by the end of this first month. So … thank you, Hokies. My bosses are, obviously, very pleased.

GC: I think the blog was something that's been missing from coverage of the Hokies. Someone with access to the team able to follow a 24-7 news cycle. What has the response to the blog been from fans and others?

KT: The response has been great. I get a lot of e-mails and the occasional comment on the blog (but I'd like more, so leave some comments!). I log onto all the major VT message boards, though, and the response there seems to be overwhelmingly positive. Tech fans are clearly hungry for information on their team, and I think because I strive to quickly provide every piece of available info (or all of it that I'm allowed to print), readers appreciate it and keep coming back for more.

GC: What can we look forward to from your coverage of the Hokies and the Virginian-Pilot this season? Anything new on the horizon? More videos like the one from Clemson last year?

KT: Well, I'm working on a couple of video possibilities. I may begin posting some practice clips and some post-game locker room footage. But I'm still uncertain about the technical feasibility of getting that done. My main commitment is to keep producing everything I am right now at the same level … daily blog updates and solid stories for our printed newspaper. I'm always looking for new additions, though, and am hoping to begin a "Monday Morning Quarterback" feature in which I'll solicit questions from the fans to ask one of Tech's assistant coaches the Monday after each game. I'd pick the top 10 questions (or most appropriate ones) and sit down with a coach and ask 'em. I'd like the blog to become more interactive, and that's one way I can think to make it happen. I'm always open to suggestions, though, so lemme have 'em. Send blog-related stuff to

I guess that covers it all. Thanks for having me, fellow blogger. And keep clicking everybody. Good night and good luck.

I'd like to thank Kyle for taking the time to sit down with Gobbler Country. Get inside information on the Hokies from Kyle at his blog for the Virginian-Pilot.

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