GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Frank Beamer is the elder statesman of the ACC, having been the leader of the Virginia Tech Hokies for more than twice as long as the second-longest tenured head coach in the conference.
The coach is very comfortable with the makeup of his 2012 squad, which resembles many Tech teams of the past that have featured excellent defenses alongside somewhat questionable offenses. It's a formula that Beamer much prefers to the idea of pairing a questionable defense with a great offense.
"If you're solid on defense, that's a great start. And if you kick the ball well, that takes you up a notch," Beamer said. "And then I think, on offense, where we are this year, it can come along [slowly] and take advantage of its opportunities and help to win football games."
Despite Virginia Tech losing an incredible amount of offensive talent, Beamer is optimistic about that side of the ball.
"We have the ability to be good on offense," he said. "Look at the offensive tackles [Vinston Painter and Nick Becton]. Both are starting for the first time. We've never had more talented big guys at offensive tackle than those two. Now, we've got to get them playing that way. We've got some talent; we just have to get them playing in a consistent fashion."
Beamer said that now is the time for seniors Becton and Painter to step their games up.
"They're big and athletic. It's time to do it," he said. "[Becton] did OK when he was in there, but it is time to take it up another notch."
Getting veterans and upperclassmen to perform consistently will be important for Virginia Tech, because relying on so many new players can result in two words that trouble any coach, even one as experienced as Beamer.
"The uncertainty," Beamer said. "You felt like Logan [Thomas] last year at this time, he hadn't done it, but you felt like he was going to be OK. And that's kind of the way I feel about the tailback, [Michael] Holmes. I kind of feel he'll be OK. Just hasn't done it yet. But he did it in high school. He's used to carrying the ball, used to scoring, used to not fumbling."
While Beamer has confidence in Holmes' out of the backfield, wide receiver is an area where several Tech players must step up.
"At receiver, D.J. Coles is a critical guy. If he can come back from his knee [injury], he's been a guy who can make a difference," Beamer said. "Marcus Davis is up there. Dyrell Roberts, back off surgery, if he can make a difference. Demetri Knowles, with his speed, he can make a difference."
With his talent on the outside, why hasn't Davis emerged as a star to this point in his career? The coach said the answer is simple.
"Playing time," Beamer said. "He knows it is his time. His responsibility [will increase] with [Jarrett] Boykin and Danny Coale [gone], two guys who were all-time leading receivers. He'll have great opportunities this year. He realizes that. He practices that way right now. He has a chance to play that way."
Beamer opened up about Coles' knee injury, from which the receiver has been slow to recover.
"That's a big factor, whether he's completely well. He makes a difference. I've got my fingers crossed," Beamer said. "We were talking about scheduling his practices and how he practices and whether he takes a day off. We're going to work to get the plan that works best for him, but I know this: We want him healthy."
Is Beamer comfortable with the running backs? Well, sort of.
"Michael Holmes has a chance to be very good. I'm excited about Trey Edmunds," he said. "J.C. Coleman, being there for spring ball helps him. Tony Gregory, we have got to see how his knee is. [Chris] Mangus is a fast guy.
"We've got to get in there, narrow it down and see how many we want to work with," Beamer added. "We have a lot of talent, it just hasn't played very much. The further away from the football a position is, the easier it is for a player to play early than, say, an offensive lineman. I want three guys you feel good about."
Expanding on the running backs, Beamer discussed the decision to use Edmunds at running back and not on defense.
"Right now, I think that's where the real need is," Beamer said. "That's where a guy can come in and play a lot right now. I think he has that ability.
"He'll eventually play on both sides of the ball one way or another. If he's your tailback, he may end up being inserted in packages on defense, nickel packages or whatever. Or if he's on defense, he might be in your goal-line package on offense," he added. For now, though, Beamer wants Edmunds to get settled as a freshman and focus on one position.
The head coach also offered some thoughts on Thomas, the returning starting quarterback who accounted for nearly 3,500 yards of total offense and 30 combined touchdowns last season.
"He'll continue to get better. Last year, he was the new guy with experienced guys around him, and they were all trying to take care of him. Now, he'll be taking care of all the inexperienced guys," Beamer said. "But he's perfect to do that. He's competitive, experienced and wants to be good. He's respected by the other guys."
Beamer has a lot of confidence in Thomas under pressure.
"I've never known him to panic. He was in some tight situations last year. He's in control and under control. He means a lot to this team," he said.
Does Virginia Tech have a complete tight end?
"I think [Ryan] Malleck is the guy right now, and then [Eric] Martin has some toughness to him," Beamer said. "[Randall] Dunn could become that because he's a threat as a receiver, and if he improves his blocking, he could get there. I think Malleck is the most complete right now."
Beamer also discussed placekicker Cody Journell, who has had off-field troubles in his career at Virginia Tech.
"He made some terrible mistakes in judgment. He is a good person from a good family. He'll learn from what happened," the coach said. "I want him to succeed in his personal life. He'll have some challenge for the job. He was very good last season. If he had been there in the Sugar Bowl, we might have made some decisions differently. I'm certain he has learned and want him to end this this in a great direction."
Penn State & Recruiting
The sanctions levied against the Penn St. Nittany Lions were a huge topic during ACC media days, as was the potential for Nittany Lion players to transfer to nearby ACC schools. Could Virginia Tech look to pick up a player or two?
"We recruited some of the guys [before they signed with Penn State] -- we might," Beamer said. "I need to get back and talk with my staff.
"That is the most severe punishment you can hand out because it affects your team for years to come," he added. "The guys you recruited won't be there. No bowl for that many years affects recruiting."
Beamer added that Penn State had been very good at recruiting in Virginia and Maryland "in the past," two areas heavily recruited by the Hokies. The emphasis on the past did not seem unintentional.
The Hokies are likely to have an excellent defense in 2012, with almost every important contributor from 2011 -- as well as several Hokies who were injured during 2011 -- returning for Virginia Tech. One of those contributors is Kyle Fuller, a junior cornerback.
"Fuller is a talented guy. The game makes sense to him. He's versatile and has a great future beyond Virginia Tech," Beamer said, declining to say whether Fuller will play the "whip" linebacker position against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to open the season.
Despite Fuller's presence, the head coach of the Hokies is still a lot more confident in his deep defensive line than he is in the thin secondary.
"The competition for playing time is big. Upfront counts. The secondary will be OK, but most of the backups are going to be freshmen. We have to stay healthy back there," Beamer said.
Beamer isn't worried about his top three linebackers missing spring practice.
"I want Tariq [Edwards] to come back full tilt and Bruce Taylor to come back full tilt, and after that, I think the experience of the past kicks right in," he said. "Then with the preseason, the number of practices you have to get ready, and we've added one more scrimmage in there this year, just to get some more full-speed work. That's something I felt like we needed, a little more game-like full-speed work. They'll be fine as long as they're healthy."
Beamer said that the three linebackers will all be OK.
"They all bring something," he said. "The best thing for us is to be able to rotate them. You keep a fresh guy. They're not as huge as some guys. Keeping them where they can play hard every play and stay fresh [is important]. It's like you consider all of them starters. There's not a big dropoff, which is a good thing."
"Both of them work very hard. They're a factor coming off that edge," he said. "They're right up there [with some of the Virginia Tech defensive ends of the past]."
Virginia Tech opens up with Georgia Tech on Labor Day in a nationally televised night game, an arrangement that the coach said has its pros and cons.
"The national TV and the exposure is great for the program if you do well," Beamer said. "Preseason practices go better because you have something to really look forward to. Having extra time to work on their offense" -- Georgia Tech famously runs the option -- "[that's the] only time you see that all year," so getting as many reps as possible heading into the opener is a bonus.
And on the other side?
"The bad, ideally you want to play your non-conference games first and get some positions set. With us, it's tailback, and we might have a freshman punter," Beamer said. "This is one of those years in which we could really use some time to get our team set, like our offensive line. And then you're playing a critical conference game early."
And make no mistake: History says it is a critical matchup, with the winner of the GT-VT game taking the Coastal Division in every season since Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004.
"For the last few years, that has been the way it is," he said. "Our fans and stadium will be excited. We're gonna show up."
Beamer doesn't like playing on five days' rest, but noted that the situation is not the same as a few years ago when the Boise St. Broncos beat Virginia Tech, followed by the Hokies turning around five days later to lay an egg against the FCS' James Madison Dukes.
Asked if he likes playing games in Washington, D.C., at FedEx Field, Beamer said that he did, noting that Tech's game against the Cincinnati Bearcats in 2012 is actually listed a home game for Cincinnati. Beamer joked that he'd rather play in D.C. than at Cincinnati.
- On being the winningest active coach in the FBS: "It makes me appreciate the people around me. I've had great coaches, players and administration. At a lot of places, I wouldn't have been there. They hung with me."
- Beamer directed scheduling questions to Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, but indicated that the school would be having a discussion on the optimal non-conference strategy to accompany the the nine-game conference schedule coming in 2013. He was extremely noncommittal when asked about keeping Tech's upcoming series with the Wisconsin Badgers and Ohio St. Buckeyes of the Big Ten.
- Beamer is still committed to using his best players on special teams. He mentioned that new punting formations make it more difficult to block kicks.
- With Tech likely to start a freshman punter, Beamer said he is worried about getting consistent play from the position.
- Beamer credited a consistent approach and continuity in the staff for the success of the program.
- Beamer supports the new playoff system. He said that playing the Auburn Tigers many years ago when they were undefeated helped to convince him of its merits, because he said Auburn was good enough to win the national championship that year. He is not, however, in favor of an eight-team playoff.
For more on Hokies football, visit Virginia Tech blog Gobbler Country.