At Monday’s practice and again Wednesday, the two offensive tackles atop Virginia Tech’s depth chart – Mark Shuman and Laurence Gibson – flipped sides, with Shuman manning the right tackle spot and Gibson the left.
It’s all part of new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes’ experimentation this spring to find the best lineup to put on the field.
“I want to see who can do different things,” he said. “I’m not smart enough as a coach to just kind of guess and figure it out based on a guy.”
With Tech’s inexperienced group up front, it could be his approach all spring, especially at the tackle position, where the top players on the depth chart listed on Frank Beamer‘s website – Shuman, Gibson, Jonathan McLaughlin and Jake Goins — have combined to play 61 offensive snaps in their careers.
Going from no role to a major one affects players in different ways.
“For some guys, it’s a matter of just becoming a player that’s an every-down guy that’s being counted on,” Grimes said. “When you’re on the second team, when you’re battling, you’re in a position where the burden is not on you as much. And when you’re in the spotlight, when what you do is something that’s noticed and it affects the entire offense, some guys handle that really well and some guys don’t like it as well and they back away from it.
“That’s the great thing about a scrimmage setting is that it puts guys in a different scenario, because they just recognize now that, ‘OK, we had second-and-six and now I gave up a sack and it’s third-and-12.’”
Shuman, a 6-foot-7, 314-pound redshirt junior whose father, John, is the post-grad coach at Fork Union, welcomes the fresh start he’s gotten this spring, openly admitting that he “didn’t have the greatest reputation of effort” when he first got to Tech.
He’s bought into Grimes’ no-nonsense approach.
“He pushes us every play, wants us to finish blocks more,” Shuman said. “He wants us to play to the whistle. That’s what we’re trying to do for him. … If someone gets hurt, I guess someone gets hurt. That’s how it is. Everyone’s out there competing, so we’re just going hard every day and hopefully that’s how we’re going to do it all season, so that’s how we’re going to do it now.”
A career backup, he’s got more experience on the left side, where he was a second-teamer last year. But he stepped in at right tackle whenever Blake DeChristopher or Vinston Painter couldn’t be at practice in the past.
Gibson, a 6-foot-6, 303-pound redshirt junior, has also bounced around. He started his college career as a right tackle but quickly slid inside to work at guard. After working there for the better part of two years, he eventually ended last season as a backup right tackle to Painter. While tackle is fairly new to him, playing on the left side is completely new.
“It’s a different world,” Gibson said. “But I’m just trying to take all the knowledge and tools I have on the right side and just mimic them, mirror them on the left.”
Gibson thinks he’s acclimated himself to the position, however, having grown comfortable playing in space, which he said is the biggest adjustment.
“It’s your body posture, how you get out there, how you read where they’re lined up, what the defense is doing, what they might do,” he said. “It tells me what I need to do to put myself in the best position to defend it.”
In addition to a fresh start, Grimes has brought a slightly different approach to the line. Shuman said the emphasis has been on the line hitting its aiming points, a key for the running game, along with technique adjustments.
“We’re just opening our hips more and running to the play-side number,” he said. “Trying to get our hat play side, and if we do that, then the run game works. If not, if the big linemen are in the hole, then there’s no hole for the back to run in. So we’re just trying to run, get out of the way and push the d-line back, open up some creases for the back.”
Gibson welcomes the new approach.
“It’s a fresh start. I love the intensity that we have now,” he said. “This is the first time that I felt real competition, like we’re really getting after it. I love it. [Grimes] is definitely a no-nonsense guy. That’s, I feel, the best way to go about it. I feel like it’s strictly business out there. And we’re handling it.”
Take this for what it’s worth, because of all the line shuffling going on, but the depth chart on Frank Beamer‘s website was updated today. Here’s what the o-line looks like:
- First team: LT Gibson, LG Caleb Farris, C Andrew Miller, RG Brent Benedict, RT Shuman
- Second team: LT Jonathan McLaughlin, LG Adam Taraschke, C Matt Arkema, RG Augie Conte, RT Jake Goins
- Third team: LT Goins, LG Nick Acree, C Brandon Taylor, RG Marcus Mapp, RT Parker Osterloh
- David Wang is injured right now, sitting out in a blue, limited contact jersey yesterday.
Keep in mind that this will be a fluid situation all spring and that Grimes has elevated guys to the first team and pushed them down to the second in different practice settings (Shuman and Gibson, for instance, have worked with the second team at some practices).
The big moves appear to be McLaughlin as a second-team left tackle, with Conte and Taraschke, two guys expected to be a tackle, sliding inside to play guard. This doesn’t seem like it’ll be the last adjustment to the line this spring.