The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching, something we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. That’s not until July 21, however. In the meantime, it’s as good a time as any to start taking a closer look at Virginia Tech.
This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on the Hokies’ roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people/ideas that will determine whether Virginia Tech’s 2013 season is a success or not. Next up is …
No. 15: J.R. Collins and Dadi Nicolas, defensive ends
For most of last year, Virginia Tech got next to no production from the defensive end spot opposite James Gayle.
Collins was out of shape and unmotivated. Nicolas was trying to regain his footing on the team after an offseason suspension following some legal trouble. Corey Marshall and Tyrel Wilson filled in and did a solid job, but they weren’t the kind of bookend force the Hokies were hoping to have.
Marshall and Wilson were the most consistent of the ends, but it’s Collins and Nicolas who might get the most playing time there in 2013.
Collins finished last year with 31 tackles, six tackles for a loss and only 1.5 sacks and Nicolas came on at the end of the season, finishing with 17 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and two sacks in limited time.
Both will need to ratchet that up this year for the Hokies’ line to be a force, but things are looking up.
Collins had a rebirth in the offseason, finding his faith and getting a wake-up call after coaches nearly left him behind in Blacksburg for the bowl game. The fifth-year senior ended his lazy ways, started showing up on time, dropped some weight and came into spring with a new outlook that coaches noticed. He’s not a lost cause. Remember, he was an honorable mention All-ACC pick in 2011 after registering six sacks and a team-high 29 quarterback hurries — numbers that were on par with what Gayle did.
Nicolas has a higher upside. The 6-foot-2, 227-pound redshirt sophomore is among the most athletic players on the line, a rangy end who ran a 4.5-second 40 during offseason workouts and had a 40-inch vertical. He didn’t play much high school football, so the game is still coming to him, but whenever he was on the field last year, he made plays, something line coach Charley Wiles values most.
Both thrived in the spring. Coaches said Collins looked like a new man. They gave Nicolas the Richard Bullock Award as the most improved defensive payer. They’re currently listed as co-starters (and Wilson, who dealt with a foot injury in the spring, and Marshall could factor into the mix as well).
Gayle is going to get a lot of attention on his end of the line. If the Hokies can get somebody that commands close to equal attention on the other side , it will make it very hard for opposing offenses to account for everybody.
Coming Sunday: Neither of them are native to this country.
- No. 25: Ryan Malleck, tight end
- No. 24: Defensive subs
- No. 23: Andrew Miller, center
- No. 22: BeamerBall
- No. 21: Ronny Vandyke, whip linebacker
- No. 20: D.J. Coles, wide receiver
- No. 19: Cody Journell kicker
- No. 18: Tariq Edwards, inside linebacker
- No. 17: Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett, safeties
- No. 16: A.J. Hughes, punter