Of late, Virginia Tech has been trying desperately to upgrade their offensive line depth. Years of poor recruiting numbers, short returns, and a multitude of misses had given the team a dearth of talent. When Curt Newsome left after 2013, and then Jeff Grimes left after only a year, Coach Searels basically had to start from the ground up in a lot of ways with not a ton of talent in the cupboards. The fact that we are here today not panicking about actual bodies is a change of pace. Talent and experience, however, is something completely separate.
Offensive Line: Tackle (regardless of LT/RT for purposes of classifying freshmen)-
- Johnathan McLaughlin (Jr.)
- Wade Hansen (R-Sr.)
- Parker Osterloh (R-So.)
- Darius Redman (R-Sr.)
- Austin Clark (Fr.-Incoming)
- Yosuah Nijman (Fr.-Incoming)
- D'Andre Plantin (Fr.-Incoming)
(Note: News recently came out that Mike Arnold will be spending a semester at a prep school and expects to enroll in the spring)
Offensive Line: Guard (regardless of LG/RG for purposes of classifying freshmen)-
- Wyatt Teller (R-So.)
- Augie Conte (R-Jr.)
- Alston Smith (R-Jr.)
- Colt Pettit (R-Fr.)
- Billy Ray Mitchell (R-Fr.)
- Braxton Pfaff (R-Fr.)
- Jack Willenbrock (R-Jr.)
- Andrew Williams (R-So.)
- Cody Rhodes (R-Fr.)
Offensive Line: Center-
- Eric Gallo (So.)
- Kyle Chung (R-So.)
- Tyrell Smith (Fr.-Incoming)
- Andrew Moras (So.)
(Note: As of now, I project Zachariah Hoyt to be Center, when he enters the roster next year. He is grayshirting this year)
What's plainly clear is the youth at these positions; what's not so clear is the outlook past the starters. If someone like McLaughlin is injured, we're short of experience to replace him- bodies, no, but experience is the most important commodity on the offensive line. As a former high school offensive lineman, I will attest to the fact that the common adage that communication, tempo, timing, and familiarity are most important there more than anything else. When you have a group of people that aren't evenly experienced against defenses and with each other, you can get into problems very quick.
The good news is that this means that our class this year doesn't have to be altogether that large- though a couple of tackle prospects would definitely be helpful for depth purposes. Ideally each class would be at least 3-4 offensive linemen, but this year, Tech seems to be having problems drawing more than a little attention from many.
Currently, the Hokies only have one commitment, a tackle from a school that has only recently produced a couple of talents that have made D-I rosters.
Thomas Jarrett Hopple (Suffolk, VA. 270lbs., 6'-6", Offensive Line)
There are three definite things I like about Hopple, and two or three I don't. Two of the things I like you can't teach, the two things I don't like you can. My first like is that he's got the right height and shiftiness to be a left tackle, which is where he plays. He's mobile, capable of getting to the second level and bashing around linebackers if need be. That's good for a downfield running game- you have to have blockers get into the second level regularly. My second like is that he's mean- more often then not when he gets a hold of someone and starts pushing, he doesn't STOP pushing. And my third like is that he's good at locking up rushers, or at the very least, washing them out of the way. He's heady and seems to know where to go and what to do most times. The first thing I don't like is that he doesn't seem to have much run-blocking experience- zone or drive blocking. He probably has some, of course, it being high school and their offense being a standard read-option. The second thing I don't like is that his frame might just be too THIN to hold up muscle over a longer career. The third thing is that I am somewhat frightened about how he translates. Part of the advantage he has is that he's taller and larger than most of his opponents- how will he do against competition that's more size compatible, especially since he has a tendency to stand pretty straight up? Whatever I might think, he seems like a perfectly valid recruiting target and a good bet to take up slack after our LT spot start to run out of juice next year.
Now we get into the world of our very few reasonable recruiting targets. The first one I'll highlight is one that seems to be headed heavily in our direction. He wants academics and a position coach he likes? Well, he seems to have hit it off so far with Searels, and our academics are pretty hefty for a good football school. Last I heard he had cancelled a trip to Kentucky and plans to swing by July 25th.
Patrick Kearns (Rome, GA. 270lbs, 6'-5.5", Offensive Line)
Get out of Kearns' face. Seriously, it only means pain if he's trying to drive block. He fires out low and keeps pushing until he feels like you aren't in existence anymore. He has a lot of the same mobility that Hopple has- seems to be a thing Searels is looking for- which bodes well for any attempt to move toward a zone blocking scheme. He seems to be matched up more against people his size- though there are a couple of smaller people as well- so maybe his tape translates a bit better. My other issues might be a tendency to get so bored-in on burying the guy in front of him he sometimes ignores where the play is headed or is supposed to go- the coaches can at least reign that in though, rather than have to work someone up. Kearns is another solid get, in my opinion, and word is that he wants to commit by the end of the month or by early August.
The third heavy recruiting target is no secret. Landon Dickerson is a Hokie by family, a third generation fighting gobbler- his grandfather was Herman Dickerson, the first Hokie player drafted into the NFL. A four-star or five-star tackle from North Carolina, Dickerson is the big fish for the 2016 season.
Landon Dickerson (Hudson, NC. 293lbs, 6'-5", Offensive Line)
It's zero wonder why, as of now, Dickerson's making the Hoke faithful sweat bullets. Dickerson is MASSIVE and has a college frame already, along with that kind of nasty, unbelievable strength that makes offensive line coaches drop jaws. Dickerson is a people mover. He's a bulldozer that you sit a running back behind and just watch plow the way. He's not as athletic in some ways as Kearns and Hopple, but when your job is to make defensive linemen cry, you don't need to be. Dickerson also is good enough that he simply decks linebackers he gets to, knocking them over like bowling pins. It's clear that he and his competition right now really aren't in the same league.
But the problem with Dickerson is that he's almost too good. As I watch, I see that he took a visit to Florida State and Georgia's now after him. People are starting to think or predict he'll go elsewhere, and I wince as I usually do when Tech gets into a recruiting fight. Tech's always had a problem getting and then developing highly ranked offensive line talent, and I shudder to think that might happen yet again. Right now, we're supposedly in on a couple of other players- Johncarlo Valentin and Pete Leota come to mind- but as of today we're supposedly losing those fights to Michigan and UNC/USC (East) respectively. This class might come out startlingly light, which calls to question whether or not our enhanced efforts are paying off. Right now, the heat is on Searels to land the big fish rather than letting him get away like so many have before.