If you missed last night’s blog post, which included an update that David Wang and Nick Acree have been shut down for the spring, you can get to it by clicking here.
For this morning, here’s what defensive line coach Charley Wiles had to say about his group in his first meeting with reporters this spring.
– Wiles continued to have high praise for Dadi Nicolas, who had a strong scrimmage with four tackles, a half sack, 1.5 TFLs and a forced fumble.
In fact, the sophomore has moved up to a co-No. 1 designation with J.R. Collins at one end spot,, according to the latest updated depth chart on Frank Beamer‘s website, and the No. 2 spot at the other end behind James Gayle (in part, helped by Tyrel Wilson being nicked up).
“He’s making a lot of plays now,” Wiles said. “Very explosive. Dynamic in space. Needs to improve as a seven technique overall, but he shows up. You’ll see he and James probably working together on the field at the same time, some more as we go along.”
– Wiles’ biggest concern is the backup tackles. He likes what he’s seen out of starters Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy, but it’s muddled beyond that. Right now, he’d put Woody Baron and Nigel Williams as the backups.
“We just don’t have the depth,” he said. “We’ve got some bodies, but if we were playing tomorrow, we’d probably have to end up making a move and get an end in there. I don’t know who that would be right now.”
Wiles noted that it’s an experienced-based position, something that the departed Antoine Hopkins was able to handle. But three of the four tackle vying for second-team spots — Baron, Williams and Alton Smith — are freshmen or redshirt freshmen.
“We have two that can play right now, that we feel like can play at a championship level,” Wiles said, referring to Derrick Hopkins and Maddy. “And we’ve got to get to five, because at that position you get nicked up, so that’s an area of concern.”
– The player expected to be the third tackle in the mix, sophomore Kris Harley, hasn’t had a great spring.
“I wish he would play better,” Wiles said. “That’s the thing. He’s on the ground too much. Alston Smith is on the ground too much, losing leverage too often. At times he looks quick enough to play the position. At times he doesn’t. That’s the same thing with Alston Smith.”
– Wiles doesn’t anticipate moving anybody from defensive end to play tackle, something the Hokies did at times last year by sliding J.R. Collins and Corey Marshall inside for a few snaps. At least he doesn’t want to have to do that again. He said Tech will see how the offseason goes and re-evaluate things closer to the season.
“We would have to make it a full time move and play the position,” Wiles said. “I would hate to get down to where you’re playing three defensive tackles. We need to play four and five defensive tackles to be where we want to be.”
– Gayle, who had 3.5 sacks in the scrimmage, appears to be having a good spring, something Wiles partially credits to not having the NFL weighing on his mind.
“Last year, obviously junior year … ‘Are you coming out?’ All that crap,” Wiles said. “We don’t have that crap this year. He’s very focused and determined. He made the decision to stay in school, so he’s very focused, and I think he realizes this is a special opportunity, so his mind is really tight right now.”
“He’s got a lot of reps under his belt, so experience,” Wiles said. “The more he plays, the more instinctive he becomes. Very athletic. Very explosive. He’s got a lot of reps under his belt now. It’s an experience-driven position more so than technique. It just takes a lot of reps to get to this level, so I can see him having a really, really good year this year.”
– Wiles was equally complimentary of Collins, who he thinks has turned a corner heading into his senior season.
“A guy who’s really straightened out his life overall, being on time, not missing stuff, not sleepy,” Wiles said. “It’s hard to do things half butt off the field and then be really sharp on the field, so he’s tightened up his whole life from that standpoint.”
Wiles said last year’s brief demotion from the first team and slowly dwindling playing time was probably a wake-up call. Part of that had to do with Collins’ physical shape. He got up around 270 pounds at one point last year but has slimmed down to 252 this spring, ready for his last go-around.
“It’s like you flipped a switch,” Wiles said. “So far he’s sustained it throughout this semester. He’s really on top of his academics. He wants to graduate. He’s just been sharp, he really has.”