If you missed a previous recap, here they are:
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART (Stud)
- James Gayle, 6-4, 260, Jr.
- Tyrel Wilson, 6-1, 220, Jr.
- Dadi Nicolas, 6-2, 223, rFr.
- J.R. Collins. 6-2, 252, Jr.
- Zack McCray, 6-5, 245, So.
- Matt Roth, 6-2, 236, rFr. OR
- Justin Taylor, 6-2, 253, rFr.
- Derrick Hopkins, 6-0, 305, Jr.
- Corey Marshall, 6-1, 250, So.
- Antoine Hopkins, 6-1, 318, Sr. OR
- Luther Maddy, 6-1, 288, So.
- Kris Harley, 6-0, 283, rFr.
- DeWayne Alford, 6-3, 229, Fr.
- Ross Ward, 6-3, 303, rFr.
- Woody Baron, 6-2, 258, Fr.
- Jarontay Jones, 6-2, 240, Fr.
- Nigel Williams, 6-3, 270, Fr.
- Ken Ekanem, 6-3, 240, Fr.
- Seth Dooley, 6-5, 230, Fr.
- Alston Smith, 6-3, 270, Fr.
The line did quite a few good things this spring, standing out among the position groups. Most impressive was the depth. Charley Wiles could roll out two solid lines without losing too much. The second-team group, which often consisted of Wilson-McCray-Marshall-Harley gave the first-team offensive line trouble in some scrimmage situations, a testament to that depth. Wiles would like to have eight or nine players he can rotate in to keep players fresh while not losing much. It appears as though he’ll be able to do that. Individually, Maddy made huge strides this spring. Thrust into action as a freshman, his knowledge of the game is catching up to his physical capabilities. With Antoine Hopkins out, it opened the door for him to get first-team reps, and he took every advantage, earning MVP honors for the defense. The group also experimented by using a four-defensive end look that could pay off in obvious throwing situations or against the spread, just another benefit to having such a deep group.
There weren’t many drawbacks here. The only thing that hurt this spring was not having Antoine Hopkins, who was still recovering from a torn ACL injury he suffered last fall. He was in blue all spring, which kept him out of contact drills. But he is a fifth-year senior and probably didn’t need a ton of reps anyway. All that did was pass them down to younger guys.
It was a big class for the defensive line, with six signees, headlined by Ekanem, a last-minute addition who many feel might be the best recruit in the class. But it will be hard for any of the freshmen to make a dent on the depth chart. Ekanem, despite a knee injury as a senior in high school, has the best chance, but even then he’ll be fighting for reps behind Gayle and Collins, who don’t come off the field often. A redshirt seems more likely. If he doesn’t get on the field, I can’t imagine any of the rest doing so. But Wiles likes the group’s versatility, with Jones and Williams being inside or outside guys and Smith fitting in at tackle. Baron will prep for a year and I believe it’s a possibility for Dooley as well. Either way, with the number of players Tech has on the line this year, it probably won’t be dipping into the freshman class looking for bodies.
It’s got to be Maddy. He started seven games last year as a freshman, but it was probably before he was ready to do so. He had 19 tackles, two TFLs and a sack, decent numbers. But from all accounts, he was playing at a different level this spring. From our brief glimpses of the scrimmage action, he looked good. He ole’d Brent Benedict one play in particular, getting a sack. Now that he’s had an entire year in the strength and conditioning program and a full season to learn the system (remember, he was a true freshman last year), it’s not unreasonable to expect a giant leap forward for Maddy.
BATTLE TO WATCH
This one relates to the last, because the tackle position will be the most intriguing position battle to watch this August. Antoine Hopkins is the incumbent, but he’s coming off an injury. Maddy is the challenger, and he’s coming off a great spring. Hopkins as the size advantage (318 pounds) and experience (he’s played in 33 career games and started 17). And he was playing at a high level before his injury last year. But defensive coordinator Bud Foster wants his tackles to be more than space-eaters. He wants to see play-makers at those spots. And what Maddy did this spring fits the bill. He’s not a prototypical size for a run-plugging tackle (288 pounds), but he can move. And that might be more important in what the Hokies will try to do this year defensively. Both will get playing time. It’ll just be interesting to see what the split is.
THEY SAID IT
“If you’re not going to be good on the defensive line, you’re going to struggle. You’re not going to be very good as a team defensively if you’re not physical and good up front. We need to be better. That’s the expectations. I’ll be disappointed if we’re not [elite].” — Wiles
41 – Sacks last year by Virginia Tech, tops in the ACC and tied for sixth-most nationally.
THE END OF THE DAY
The is undoubtedly the strongest group on the defense. It’s got depth, variety and some of the most skilled players on the team. Gayle and Collins were second-team All-ACC picks as sophomores last season. Derrick Hopkins emerged and probably should have joined them. They’re all back, and with the number of players behind them pushing for playing time, it creates an environment where everyone is trying to get better, lest they get jumped on the depth chart. It should also allow the Hokies to rotate more players in to keep guys fresh. One of Wiles’ biggest concerns was that Derrick Hopkins played too many snaps last year and wore down. This year, they’ll sub him out more to keep his energy level higher. Foster and Wiles know that great defenses always have great defensive lines. They point to Alabama and LSU last year as proof, and it’s hard to argue. While it might be hard for Tech to get to that level, this can be one of the better defensive line groups the Hokies have had in a while. Wiles even said the depth reminds him of the ’99 season. Everyone knows how that year turned out.