Hokies Hope Strong Recruiting Finish Boltsters Defensive Line

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

With five of the top seven defensive linemen and linebackers exhausting their eligibilty, the Hokie defensive staff will look to see who will step up

After spending the last week on the offensive position breakdowns, we now move to Virginia Tech’s vaunted "Lunch Pail Defense." We will focus on the front seven (or six depending on the WHIP/Nickel positions) which consists of the defensive line and linebacking corps. After finishing with a nationally ranked top ten defense in most of all of the major statistical categories, including fourth in total defense, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has to replace three of his starting front four, along with his "Mike" and "Backer" positions.

WHAT’S THE WORRY? WE’LL JUST RELOAD

I wish it were that easy for a program renowned for its dynamic and aggressive defense. Depth issues along the front four are of grave concern heading into spring ball. Man-child Dadi Nicolas (r-Jr) will move up to assume a defensive end spot vacated by James Gayle, J.R. Collins and Tyrell Wilson. After that, unproven but heralded DE in former four star Ken Ekanem (r-So) will be counted on by defensive line coach Charley "Mayor of Del Ray Beach" Wiles (credit flyers13 for the clever nickname) to make an impact opposite of Nicolas.

The wild card here is if DE/DT Corey Marshall will be back at full capacity this spring and moving forward. The former blue-chip four-star Marshall, who left the team for personal issues shortly before the Alabama game is said to be back on the team. We all know what kind of a player Marshall is as evidenced by his playing time as a true freshman and versatility playing on the inside and edge. It sounded like Marshall’s preferred position is at defensive end, but with the team’s depth issues at defensive tackle, he may be asked to help fill that void. The Hokie faithful are crossing their collective fingers in hopes of his return. Though the question weighs heavily: When he does return, will he be the same player?

Only time will tell, and Marshall was able to use a red-shirt for 2013 so he will be classified as an r-Jr moving into 2014’s campaign. If all goes well, we can count on him to anchor a solid line in 2015, as the potential for an incredible DL recruiting haul is on the table at 8am tomorrow morning, when Derrick Nnadi makes his announcement. The guess here is that the Hokies may wait to have their breakfast until after 8:15, when the second of their four high-profile targets announces his intentions. Better to lose your appetite than have indigestion.

Editor's Note: Hokie fans will know early tomorrow whether they have the best class ever across the board coming to Blacksburg. Right now it's up in the air, with room for debate, as there are no five-stars. Let it be said here, if it hasn't been said elsewhere: If the four remaining four-star targets on the board opt to become Hokies on Wednesday, then it will go down as the best class to date. With something quality at virtually every position of need. It also seems that this year doesn't contain the usual filler. But that's a discussion for another day. What, you didn't think recruiting ends tomorrow did you? We're Nick Saban men over here, no time to relish the victories!

--Flyers13

WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Moving inside to the interior, the lack of defensive tackle depth is alarming and worrisome. Luther Maddy (Sr) returns for his final season in Blacksburg. Maddy did check with the NFL advisory committee towards the end of the season to gauge his draft stock, luckily for us he did not like what they had to say. Imagine had he left a year early, our situation at defensive tackle would’ve been at DEFCON 5. I know Corey Marshall wants to move back to defensive end, but with the Hokies barely able to fill out a two deep, the coaches may have no choice but slide him back, at least for 2014.

Youngster Nigel Williams (r-So), who showed flashes of brilliance this past season as backup defensive tackle gained valuable experience that the Tech defense will certainly rely on to be a key contributor this coming season and beyond. Playing in all 13 games and registering a sack in the opening game versus Alabama, Williams seems to be the odds on favorite to replace the departed Derrick Hopkins.

Joining Williams as the primary back up to Hopkins and Mady in 2013, Woody Baron (So) will certainly play a bigger role in the two deep this coming season. Baron comes from good lineage as his uncle Jim was a former Tech defensive tackle back in the mid 90’s.

With only 3.5 scholarship DT’s on the roster (I’m listing Corey Marshall as both DT and DE for now) it is imperative for Williams and Baron to continue to improve as they will be counted on heavily.

HOW IN THE WORLD DID WE GET TO THIS POINT?!

For starters, highly touted four star Wyatt Teller (r-Fr) was moved from DT to the offensive line in fall camp, as many feel he will vie for a starting spot at offensive tackle. Alston Smith (r-So), son of Virginia Tech and NFL legend Bruuuuuuuuuuce Smith was also moved to offensive line as he will compete most likely at the guard slot.

2010 brought VT ballyhooed giant of a man in four star Nick Acree, who eventually had to give up football due to injuries. Justin Taylor, three star DE left the program last August after being buried on the depth chart. DeAntre Rhodes never qualified and subsequently decided to head to Louisville after a year in prep school.

Former blue chip-four star defensive tackle Kris Harley’s uneventful Tech career came to an end as he left the program in early January. Part of 2011’s recruiting class, Harley played in only one game this season and falling down the depth chart behind the two freshman in Williams and Baron, Harley will be transferring to FCS program Western Illinois where he will be eligible to play immediately. Disappointing would be an understatement in describing his stay in Blacksburg.

2012’s class included four star Jarontay Jones, who after just one season at Tech quit the team and transferred to Bethune Cookman.

That’s seven players who have either quit the team or moved to a new position, most of them highly acclaimed recruits. It’s head scratching to think why Wyatt Teller and Alston Smith were moved to the offensive line as we have 18 O-linemen (counting the incoming freshman), as they both could be key contributors at DT right now. We can’t afford an injury or we may have to thrust some true freshman into action.

DEPTH IS A PROBLEM AT END AS WELL

Rounding out the current depth at defensive end is rising r-Jr Matt Roth out of St. Augustine, FL. Roth, primarily a special teams contributor has yet to make any noise on the defensive line in his time with the Hokies. Dewayne Alford (r-So) also has played sparingly during his time in Blacksburg, logging a majority of his time on special teams. Seth Dooley (r-Fr) from Salem, VA drew some positive early reviews from the coaching staff, will be given every opportunity to make a crack at the two deep.

I'm not really sure what to say here. As you can see that paragraph is pretty short. Not exactly what anyone wants to see out of a premier defensive program's churn. But as you can see below it's possible some immediate help is on the way.

STOP BLABBERING AND TELL ME ABOUT THE NEWBIES

Vincent Mihota - 6’4" 252lbs

Massaponax (Fredericksburg, VA)

Offers: VT and Alabama

24/7 – 4 Star

Rivals – 3 Star

Vincent Mihota 2014 DE (Spotsylvania, VA) (via 247SportsStudio)

Vincent Mihota, who enrolled a few weeks ago, hopes to take advantage of our lack of depth on the defensive line and get a running start at his college career. In reviewing his video, Mihota has a nice first step and uses his hands very well. He looks strong in the upper body and I’m wondering once he gets "Gentry-fied" if his ultimate destination is at tackle. While he only had two offers and the other being from the Devil himself, Alabama coach Nick Saban says a lot of your potential. Mihota has long since been a Hokie verbal, and telling Saban "thanks, but no thanks" earns Mihota a special place in our hearts. If Mihota can stack on an additional 10-20 lbs and acclimate to the speed of the college game, I give him a good chance at avoiding the redshirt this fall.

Ricky Walker- 6’2" 275lbs

Bethel (Hampton, VA)

Offers: VT and 20 others including Michigan St, Nebraska and South Carolina

24/7 – 4 Star

Rivals – 3 Star

Ricky Walker. Bethel High School (via 6wasps12)

Because Chip West went into the 757 and came out with two top defensive players in Virginia, Ricky Walker was an important get out of the Tidewater region. He has the tools to become a special player at Tech. Quick and agile for a 280lb guy, Walker can beat you with a bull rush, or he can utilize an array of his crafty swim moves to be disruptive in the backfield. Walker was sought out by some of the best programs in the nation, Hokie fans should feel good about his commitment and potential. I wouldn’t be shocked if Ricky dressed out for games this fall. But he may need to get stronger up top to compete on enough downs to make it worth burning his shirt.

Kevin Bronson – 6’4" 253lbs

Village Academy (Delray Beach, FL)

Offers: VT and 23 others including Florida, Miami, Arkansas and South Carolina

24/7 – 3 Star

Rivals – 3 Star

Kevin Bronson Senior Highlights 2013 (via Village Academy Athletics)

This guy, Bronson. Wow. When I first watched his film that’s exactly what I said. His first step is incredible, exploding out of his stance like a champion sprinter. Bronson’s motor reminds me of former Hokie great Daryl Tapp, relentless aggression and downright scary. He’s got that "Florida" athleticism, runs very well just looking at his offer list tells you all you really need to know about how highly regarded he is. Three star or not, I’m more impressed with Bronson than any other Hokie defensive line recruit we have. I wished he was in school now, as Bronson is physically ready to help Tech out at defensive end, possibly slide over on the interior on third down passing situations. I’m looking forward to watching this young man this fall.

Steve Sobczak – 6’1" 305lbs

Massaponax (Fredericksburg, VA)

Offers: VT and JMU

24/7 – 3 Star

Rivals – 2 Star

Steve Sobczak (via ACC Recruiting)

Sobczak, a late bloomer and very under the radar recruit may very well be the one who plays early in his career over the others. Teammate of Vincent Mihota at Massaponax High, Sobczak is 300lbs and displayed a great motor, strong bullrush up the middle with surprising agility. I’m not quite sure why he was so lightly regarded, garnering only an offer from JMU. I’m hoping Sobczak has the Luther Maddy impact for us, finding a gem late in the game.

WHAT IS THIS MASS OF HUMANITY?

With so much attention on the defensive line and the recruits, the ever so important linebacker positions is going to be a hotly contested battle this spring and fall. Veterans Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards have exhausted their egilibility, Coach Foster will be looking to replace his "Mike" and "Backer" spots.

Depth is not as dire as the defensive line, but with many unproven players in the pool to choose from, we will undoubtedly go through some growing pains. Ronny Vandyke (r-Jr) who played in all 13 games in 2012, but he unfortunately missed all of 2013 while undergoing season ending shoulder surgery in the preseason. This was a blow to the Hokies defense as "RVD" was playing the ever so important play-making WHIP position. RVD has a chance to become a veteran on a very young and inexperienced LB corps. Deon Clark (Jr), Devin Vandyke "DVD" (r-So), Chase Williams (r-Sr), Jameion Moss (r-Fr), Dahman McKinnon (r-So) and Andrew Motuapuaka (r-Fr) all have a chance to emerge this spring and beyond, it’ll be interesting to see who takes that next step.

Finally, this brings us to our lone linebacker recruit in Melvin Keihn. Keihn, a fringe four-star recruit who boasts offers from the likes of Miami, Michigan St and Notre Dame has been steadfast in his commitment to the Hokies. With uncertainties regarding our depth at the positions, Keihn will have as good as shot as any to garner playing time this fall. He’s got good size and runs well, versatile as he can put his hand in the dirt and rush off of the edge as well. His video showed a lot of blitizing up the middle at LB, similar to the types of blitz schemes Coach Foster employs.

Melvin Keihn – 6’1" 225lbs

Gilman (Baltimore, MD)

Offers: VT and 18 others including Miami, Michigan St and Notre Dame

24/7 – 3 Star

Rivals – 4 Star

2014 DL/LB Melvin Keihn 2013 season highlights (via Prep1Force)

2014’s season will see a bunch of new faces in the Hokies front seven, Coach Foster and Coach Wiles will have a lot to evaluate and teach in order to keep one of the nations most elite defense performing at the level we’re accustomed to. The potential and quality of the incoming recruits is one of the best I’ve seen in some time at VT and if we can nab late potentials in four star DT Derrick Nnandi of Virginia Beach and LB Raymon Minor, it may very well be the best defensive haul in school history.



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