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August 30, 2013

Stock Watch: Bama In The Dome

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The wait is nearly over. It's been eight months since the Virginia Tech Hokies last took the field, and one of the most anticipated matchups in recent memory is quite the way to start 2013. Coach Frank Beamer is looking for his first victory over a Top 5 team, but it won't be easy against college football's current dynasty.

As a weekly column during the season, we take our first look at whose stock is rising and falling heading into Saturday's matchup with Alabama.


CB Kendall Fuller, freshman, Virginia Tech

It's hard to believe that the fourth Fuller brother has only been in Blacksburg for a couple of months. The freshman phenom has turned heads since the first day he arrived, and he's already earned a starting spot opposite his older brother, senior Kyle Fuller.

Although Fuller is getting the start due to the absence of Antone Exum, he's shown in camp that he's more than capable of making highlight-reel plays. It would be surprising if the bright lights and deafening noise of the Georgia Dome get the best of the Good Counsel )Md.) graduate, considering his skill level is through the roof and he's also a very intelligent player.

While there is sure to be some hiccups over the course of the season, the experience that Fuller will gain this year playing consistently will be invaluable for his later years. When the Hokies go to their nickel-package, Fuller will move to the inside- you'll really be able to see his coverage skills there.

When Exum does indeed return, the cornerback group will be downright scary to throw against. Quite honestly, if Fuller is able to jump the difficult freshman learning curve, Fuller, Fuller, and Exum (sounds like a law firm) could become the best three-man cornerback unit in the country.

RB Trey Edmunds, redshirt freshman, Virginia Tech

Just a few months ago, there was a debate about how the ball would be spread around amongst four solid running backs. With an expulsion, an ACL tear, a suspension and an ankle injury to the group, it now appears that Edmunds is the only option to carry the load against Alabama. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Edmunds's rare combination of blazing speed and impressive strength will give defenses fits all season long. With J.C. Coleman still questionable to play, one would have to think Edmunds will get the lion's share of the carries, even if Coleman suits up.

With his aforementioned strength, Edmunds could become very reliable in the pass-protection scheme, especially if a revamped offensive line struggles. While there are many intriguing possibilities with a tandem of Edmunds and Coleman this season, the redshirt freshman will have to produce big-time if the Hokies are to have a chance against the Tide.

WR Amari Cooper, sophomore, Alabama

With exactly 1,000 yards receiving and 11 TD in his freshman season, the sky is the limit for Cooper. He didn't even start until the sixth game last year. If the Hokies want to stop Alabama's air attack, keeping the 6-1, 202-pound speedster contained is a good start.

It will be interesting to see where Nick Saban puts Cooper (out wide, slot, etc) considering Virginia Tech has no plans to shadow him with Kyle Fuller. We'll find out exactly where Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller are at when either matches up with Cooper.

Cooper is on a current streak of four 100-yard games in his past five contests, including a 105-yard, 2 touchdown performance in the BCS Title Game. He's sure to be a huge factor in the outcome of this game.


DE J.R. Collins, redshirt senior, Virginia Tech

After registering a total of 11 sacks in his first two seasons in Blacksburg, Collins recorded just 1.5 in 2012. He's currently listed as a co-number 1 on the depth chart alongside Dadi Nicholas, who's a pass-rushing monster.

That isn't to say that Collins can't return to his dominant form, but he should be inclined to produce early and often if he hopes to continue playing the bulk of the snaps. If he doesn't, Nicholas will only receive more opportunities.

Perhaps the best scenario is if Collins performs well on the early downs to help stifle the run game, so Nicholas can concentrate his efforts on rushing the passer on third down with fresh legs. Including a likely impressive year from James Gayle, Collins must return to form if Virginia Tech hopes to have a dominant defensive line. Either way, he'll have a big impact on Saturday.

OL Brent Benedict, redshirt junior, Virginia Tech

Following a fierce competition amongst the offensive line, Benedict finds himself as a backup guard behind Caleb Farris to start 2013. The junior started six games last season, including the Russell Athletic Bowl, so the experience is there. But he just hasn't been able to put everything together on a consistent basis, leaving him the odd man out in terms of the linemen that saw significant time last year.

However, it would be in Benedict's best interest to continue working relentlessly every day. With all the injuries that have been occurring, it certainly wouldn't be surprising if Benedict finds himself back in a starting spot at some point this season. His skills appear to fit the zone-blocking scheme well.

With several unanswered questions along the offensive line, the five guys that take the field could change often in 2013.

CB Geno Smith, sophomore, Alabama

After playing in 13 games as a freshman in 2012 (two starts), Smith will be looked upon this season to be a big factor in shutting down opposing wide receivers, mainly at the nickel spot. But he won't be on the field for Alabama this Saturday due to an arrest during the summer.

Given the fact that the Tide are incredibly deep at pretty much every position, this might not be a crushing blow to the cornerback unit. Or it might be, if players like Josh Stanford and Demetri Knowles are able to capitalize on Smith's absence.

For all the injuries the Hokies are having to deal with, Smith is the only important asset for Alabama that will be missed. Will it make a difference? We'll find out Saturday.


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