BLACKSBURG — It didn’t take long for Virginia Tech Sam linebackers coach Shawn Quinn to notice a difference in the Hokies’ offense Thursday morning. In fact, it was in the eighth period of the first spring practice as the wide receivers lined up for route-running drills against the defensive backs.
Transfer receivers Ali Jennings and Jaylin Lane created separation. Da’Wain Lofton came down with an acrobatic, over-the-shoulder touchdown reception. The usual suspects like tight end Dae’Quan Wright were able to run ideal routes and get open for the quarterbacks.
Quinn saw speed. Plenty of speed.
It’s exactly what the Hokies emphasized in recruiting this past offseason. The offense added more speed, particularly at wide receiver, and the group made a good first impression to kick off the spring practice season.
“Those guys all really are moving around well. We’ve got more threats,” Quinn said. “The biggest thing I see is we’re faster, more explosive, and as offenses you know that you’ve got to be able to create … some explosive plays.
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“It’s hard to have every drive be 20 plays and a touchdown because something bad happens a lot of times. You’ve got to have the ability to have a chunk play, and we’ve got some guys with the new receiving corps, some of the new guys at running back. Just collectively I think that they look faster.
“I’ve been impressed with Kyron [Drones] and with Pop [Watson] and the young quarterbacks, too, they’ve done a nice job. As well as Grant [Wells].”
The new additions, which also include Norfolk State transfer Da’Quan Felton and North Carolina transfer Stephen Gosnell at receiver and North Carolina A&T transfer Bhayshul Tuten at running back, are expected to provide the needed speed for Tyler Bowen’s tempo offense.
Hokies coach Brent Pry said midway through last season that the offense at times was too vanilla, which led to opposing defenses being able to force three-and-outs.
More speed should help Bowen unleash the type of offensive attack he has used at previous stops Fordham and Penn State.
“The big thing I just noticed is we’ve got a lot more speed,” Quinn said. “We were able to go out and recruit some excellent skill players. Really, the receiving corps is a lot faster, twitchier, so see them separate and catch balls.”
Quinn added the offense looked “light years” ahead of where it was last season. That isn’t simply because of the new pieces that were added through the transfer portal, but with a bulk of the offensive roster returning for a second season in the system.
Wells, who struggled at times last season and finished with nine touchdowns to nine interceptions, took most of the first reps at quarterback. He looked sharper in his decision-making process and delivered some quality deep throws to Jennings and Lane.
“I think all the quarterbacks looked really good today,” tight end Nick Gallo said. “We have a little bit more experience coming back. We were really able to hit a lot of install before this, so it felt like they looked comfortable back there and they were throwing some good balls.”
The offense wasn’t the only unit that looked fast to Quinn.
He thought the defense did “some really good stuff early [and] finished good.” The entire defensive staff is back for a second season, and Quinn felt the linebackers had taken considerable steps forward in the 4-3 base scheme.
“It helps when you know what you’re doing because you don’t have a whole lot of time to think, you’ve got to react,” Quinn said. “I think the second year into it is like being in a foreign language class; the second year you have a lot more proficiency in the basics. We’ve still got a long way to go. It was encouraging.”