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. 5: James Gayle, defensive end
If you haven’t figured out the general theme of this list, it’s that for a team to be successful, reserves need to be ready to contribute, regular players need to be able to take a step forward and stars need to play like stars.
James Gayle falls into that latter category.
Gayle earned second-team All-ACC honors as both a sophomore and junior, finishing with 12 sacks, 23.5 TFLs and 47 quarterback hurries in those two seasons.
Those are two very good years. But they’re not quite elite, and that’s no slight. Defensive line coach Charley Wiles, as blunt of a person as you’ll meet, said pretty much the same thing the Russell Athletic Bowl last December. Even Gayle has said he wants to finish his college career with a double-digit sack season, something that can help the Hokies turn things around and put a jolt into his draft stock.
For as much pressure as Tech puts on quarterbacks, it hasn’t had a defensive end put up huge sack numbers in a while. Darryl Tapp was the last to reach double digits, finishing with 10 back in 2005. In fact, Tapp’s the only Hokie to reach that figure since Corey Moore‘s memorable 1999 season, when he finished with 17 sacks and won every major piece of defensive hardware that there was.
Clearly, if Gayle can get to his stated goal of double-digit sacks, he’d be in good company. (That’s not saying sacks are the only measure of a good defensive end, but it’s clearly the ultimate outcome of the larger goal — creating disruption.)
He’s dropped weight to give himself a better chance. After bulking up to around 270 pounds at the start of last year, Gayle said he felt sluggish, a step slow. As the season went on, he dropped some weight and felt like he could move better. It’s no coincidence that he played far better from the sixth week on.
This year, he’s a lean 255 pounds coming out of the offseason. He feels quicker. And as as any defensive lineman will tell you, being able to move is as important as being able to hold your ground.
He’ll have the benefit of being on a defensive line filled with capable players across the board. If Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy live up to their billing on the inside and J.R. Collins, Dadi Nicolas and Corey Marshall can create pressure from the other end position, it’ll be tough for opposing offensive lines to target one spot for double teams.
That could help free up Gayle to have the huge senior season he and every Hokies fan is hoping for.
Coming Wednesday: This group was whittled by one recently.
- 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
- No. 15: J.R. Collins and Dadi Nicolas, defensive ends
- No. 14: Demitri Knowles and Josh Stanford, wide receivers
- No. 13: Kyle Fuller, cornerback
- No. 12: Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy, defensive tackles
- No. 11: Young cornerbacks
- No. 10: Jack Tyler, inside linebacker
- No. 9: Bud Foster, defensive coordinator
- No. 8: Laurence Gibson and Jonathan McLaughlin, offensive tackles
- No. 7: Antone Exum’s right knee
- No. 6: Frank Beamer, head coach