“I’ve told them repeatedly that nobody is assured a position and everybody has got to earn it from me — from the guy who has earned it the most to the guy who just got here,” Grimes said last week.
Grimes, who was hired in January along with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and receivers coach Aaron Moorehead, will have his work cut out for him. The Hokies return only two players – Andrew Miller and David Wang – who have started at least 10 games in their career, with no player on the roster having any extensive experience at either tackle spot.
Given Grimes’ approach, though, that doesn’t matter. Just because the interior linemen have more experience doesn’t mean he thinks they’ll anchor the line.
“They do have more experience, but that doesn’t mean they’re better players,” he said. “There’s no reason we couldn’t come out of the spring and say that our two tackles are the strength of our offensive line. I know that’s a bit counterintuitive, but again, I don’t think that enough has been proven with this line to say that there’s a strength anywhere right now.”
It’s why Grimes will push his group this spring. When he got to Auburn, in 2009, the returners were juniors like Tech’s group, but slightly more established. Tackle Lee Ziemba and center Ryan Pugh, who is now serving as a graduate assistant at Tech, had proven themselves already. They, along with two more linemen Grimes had that first year, formed the core of the national championship team’s line.
Tech’s situation is much more wide open.
“I felt like at that point that we had four guys who we could win and compete with anybody with [at Auburn],” Grimes said. “I don’t know how many [at Tech] have proven that they can be a successful offensive lineman at this level yet. You know what I mean? So I think there is a lot more unknown. I think there’s a lot less that’s been established to this point. And I think that’s a good thing.”
Grimes will shuffle players to his liking to find the right combination. Already, he’s shifted Nick Acree, who is coming off an ACL tear, inside to left guard. David Wang took some reps at center the first day of spring practice.
“The No. 1 goal is to get the best five guys on the field.,” Grimes said.
The players that buy into Grimes’ idea of toughness should have the best shot.
“I think anytime you want to establish a mentality, it’s got to become a part of the culture,” he said. “And in order to do that it’s got to be something that’s talked about every day, all the time. It’s got to be at the front of their minds.”
Grimes thinks his vision of a tough offensive line aligns with Beamer’s hopes for playing a hard-nosed brand of football, something that Tech seemed to get away from last year but has made a goal to return to this offseason.
“We’re not trying to have the most plays in the league,” Grimes said. “We’re not trying to operate at a high-tempo all the time, necessarily. That’s not what we’re attempting to do. Our philosophy is going to be built around how we’re going to run the ball, create explosive plays in the running game and then be efficient when we drop back and throw it.”
Grimes has worked in all types of schemes in his career, from run-based ones to up-tempo ones like Gus Malzahn‘s that led Auburn to the national championship. His teams have run the ball everywhere he’s gone, though.
“For me, as an offensive line coach, I just want to be somewhere where I know we can win and I just want to have a chance to run the football,” he said. “As an offensive line coach, I don’t think many of us would opt to be in a situation where we’re going to pass it 70 percent of the time.”
Does Tech’s approach sound up his alley?
“It’s what I would prefer to do, if given my druthers,” he said.