Fuente pleased with team's progress

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Virginia Tech hasn't had a perfect start to the season in terms of team play, but has managed a pair of wins, and that's what counts. While there are improvements to be made, this team is clearly on the right track thus far. According to head coach Justin Fuente, VT is doing several of the little things right.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to longtime VT fans that excellence on special teams is an area that the Hokies have emphasized - and already used to turn results in their favor.

"When I look at our football squad I think we have to do all the little things correctly to give ourselves a chance to win," Fuente said. "I think we’re going to play in close football games week-in and week-out and doing the little things in all three phases, but special teams is the one time you’re dealing with large chunks of yardage.

"We talked about the big game-altering plays. The punt return by Greg [Stroman] and those things are obviously fantastic, but through the course of the game, you get multiple opportunities to chip away at that kinda hidden yardage. I think it’s paramount to have a chance to win or have success we’re going to have to give ourselves every opportunity."

Special teams has been a consistent area of success for Virginia Tech dating back to the early days of Frank Beamer's tenure. It should come as no surprise that something the team did well last year continues into 2017 - after all, it's an important part of the program's identity, and Fuente's staff embraced it when arriving prior to the 2016 season.

One thing that the team didn't do well last year, but is performing much better with this year, is holding onto the football. The Hokis have committed just one turnover in two games, a far cry from nine (all of them fumbles) at this point last Fall. While freshman quarterback Josh Jackson hasn't lit the world on fire with his production yet this year, he's certainly doing an outstanding job of protecting possession.

“It starts with our quarterback, he’s done a good job obviously of valuing the football, and I think it's carried to our other skill players," Fuente said. "We try to make it a point of emphasis and we did that last year, but I think there is a general recognition that we can’t afford to do those things in order to give ourselves a chance to win. The key for us is continuing that mindset, as coaches as assistant coaches we can’t get tired of reinforcing those points. As a Head Coach, I can’t get tired of bringing those things up or coaching them throughout practice because they don’t carry over. Each play each week is an individual, I know you guys probably get tired of me saying that but it’s true. The fact that we’ve done a decent job these first two weeks will have no bearing on what happens on Saturday. We have to continue to do our job taking care of the ball."

Another area of the team that needed to show improvement coming into the Fall was wide receiver. That's not because the Hokies struggled out wide (by any stretch of the imagination) last year, but rather because they lost so much production as a group, including the program's all-time leading receiver in Isaiah Ford.

While senior Cam Phillips is likely to pass Ford on most meaningful career marks this year, he needs more support - and Jackson needs more support from his receivers - to continue chasing those outstanding accomplishments. Perhaps surprisingly, a couple true freshman have started to step in to fill that void. Sean Savoy and Hezekiah Grimsley have each been on campus for barely more than a month, but have stepped up their game.

"Sean is the guy that comes to mind first," Fuente explained. "He’s still working on some of the nuances of playing the position, but he went up and made the big catch there in the first half and continues I think, to feel more comfortable. We continue to push him in his practice habits. It’s just a little bit different for him week in and week out, but he’s a smart young man that cares and wants to do well, so I’m pleased with that.

"Hezekiah is another young guy that continues to improve. I’d like for him to continue to come along and I think he will. We just got to stay with it a little bit, so I get happier every day that they go out there and continue to push themselves and practice well and it makes us feel better about putting them in the game."

With all the positives so far in the young season, there are bound to be negatives, as well. That's especially true of a game against FCS Delaware - a game in which VT struggled to put the Blue Hens away once and for all. The frustrating stat of note was just 2.89 yards per carry. The ground game was a weakness last year, and probably can't be if the Hokies are to be successful in 2017.

“The one way that I’ve always felt about running the football is if you could get to the point where you can force them to play run defense, commit people to the box which then can in turn allow you to maybe make some bigger plays down the field than being efficient running the ball," Fuente said. "The other thing is when you can get to third and three or third and five and the other team doesn’t know if it’s a run or a pass I think you’re having success running the football. Statistically I’ve never really gotten to much into that.

"Obviously we didn’t run the ball very well last week. There’s several reasons for that - we also didn’t make very many plays throwing the ball as well. They were preordained to line up, to commit themselves to prevent us from running the football and we could not make enough plays to be really be efficient in other areas. You know, to me it’s about keeping the other side off balance and you run the ball on some mid-level downs well enough that you feel confident about doing it and then in turn set yourself up to make big plays."

VT will have a chance to improve in that phase of the game - and continue progress in other areas - on the road at East Carolina this weekend.