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If You’ve Got the Line Virginia Tech Hokies, We’ve Got the Win

Summing up the Hokie preseason Offensive Line situation and current roster. Looking at potential Depth Chart changes, position flips, and avoiding wishful thinking.

Running the Ball, it's the line that paves the way
Running the Ball, it's the line that paves the way
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Well it's time to look at each of the roster sections, and as the poll from the introduction shows, the number one fan concern is the offensive line, and how it's going to perform.  The first generality to note is that there is no official Fall 2015 Depth Chart (as of August 18, anyway) posted on HokieSports.com which is the official team site for such things.

While it is very annoying to those of us out here in Analyst world, it's understandable from the standpoint of coaching.   It gives each of the players that "feeling" that publically, at least, there is no position completely locked for the beginning of the season.

There were some interesting developments along that line in the Aug. 15 first scrimmage.  Not all of the spring #1's were playing on the #1 squad.  I noticed that Wyatt Teller was playing on the #2 squad; I think I also saw Augie Conte in with the #2's but can't be sure.  Now, don't go thinking untowardly just yet.  I think that there is enough high quality depth between the #1 and #2 positions on the Depth Chart that it is a really healthy thing to mix the two lines up, and get the 2nd level players pushing to keep up with the 1st level guys.  I really think that mixing all three teams (if you have the personnel) is a good idea, especially early in the practice season.  Of course by the end of practice, you want to have the 1st team playing mostly with the 1st team.  That being said, WHO is going to be the "FIRST TEAM"?

If you look at the roster, we have 17 Offensive linemen listed.  That number actually makes me a bit nervous.  Playing Offensive Line is a 3 hour Greco-Roman wrestling match, mixed with a good bit of SUMO, and stirred up with good ole' country wraslin'.  Guys get hurt; they get their knees twisted, and their ankles rolled up.  They break noses, fingers, and sometimes some tough guys even lose part of said digits.  There are going to be more than a few opportunities for O-Line players in 2nd and 3rd tiers to play.  It's also important to note that sometimes a player who starts out as a Right Guard, might end up on the Left, or snapping the ball, or even pushing out to Tackle in a pinch.  Of late, Tech has been in some serious pinches.

So, in the spirit of attempting to channel Coach Searels, as I see it at the moment the 1st and 2nd squads should shape out the same as the Spring Depth Chart:

Postion

Left Tackle

Left Guard

Center

Right Guard

Right Tackle

1st

McLaughlin

Teller

Gallo

Conte

Hansen

2nd

Nijman/Redman

A Smith

Chung

Willenbrock

Osterloh/Nijman

There doesn’t look to be much movement in the first level, if McLaughlin keeps up a measure of quality. I am concerned about too much backside pressure on the quarterbacks at all levels, so a competition could develop. Redman might not be appreciably better than a rapidly improving Yosuah Nijman. It may be interesting to move to put him at second team Left Tackle; and have Osterloh take the Right Tackle spot. The lack of depth at Left Tackle is my biggest concern and Nijman might just be the cure. The fact that there are several other big players in that size range means there could be some right to left or position switching if things don’t work out.

Aside from the potential shuffling around of personnel on the Two Deep chart, there are some other issues that need to be addressed by the line.  The Hokie Offensive Line does not run block with much drive and power.  I cannot emphasize this enough; the running game is fully and completely dependent on the ability to block for the running back.  There is an old saw out there floating around that running offense is 80% blocking.  Five decades of experience and observation have taught me that the old saw is there for a reason; it's true.  Ask Timmy Smith what sort of star a line of Hogs can make you in an instant.  This line will grade above average for pass blocking, by the start of the season.  Its run blocking is still lagging far behind, and without some dramatic improvement better be matched by an offensive strategy that minimizes the weakness.

Offensive Line Roster (in Alphabetical Order)

No.

Name

Position

vl

Height

Weight

61

Kyle Chung

C**

-

6' 4"

293

76

Austin Clark

RT

-

6' 6"

310

72

Augie Conte

RG

2

6' 6"

302

64

Eric Gallo

C

1

6' 2"

299

77

Wade Hansen

RT

1

6' 5"

295

71

Jonathan McLaughlin

LT

2

6' 5"

308

66

Billy Ray Mitchell

RG*

-

6' 4"

278

69

Yosuah Nijman

RT#

-

6' 8"

273

67

Parker Osterloh

RT

-

6' 8"

323

58

Colt Pettit

RG

-

6' 4"

288

74

Braxton Pfaff

RG*

-

6' 5"

296

62

D'Andre Plantin

**

-

6' 5"

290

52

Darius Redman

LT

1

6' 5"

294

75

Alston Smith

LG

1

6' 2"

293

79

Tyrell Smith

C

-

6' 3"

288

57

Wyatt Teller

LG

1

6' 5"

304

55

Jack Willenbrock

RG**

1

6' 3"

252

*      On the Spring Depth Chart, position change possibility

#      Moved from Defense to Offense in the past season

**     Not present on Spring Depth Chart, either freshman or injured.

I have included a group often left out of the Offensive line analysis.  You will see them in the receivers piece, coming up in a future piece, but for the purposes of a thorough analysis of where the line is before the first kickoff on Labor Day, we cannot forget the Tight Ends.  This is especially true since Tech has, in the recent past, sorely neglected the Tight End position as a receiver. Of late we have used TE for strong side blocking -an extra Tackle, and the occasional dump pass.  We now have some players garnering next level interest that should change that strategy.

Currently there are six tight ends on the roster.  Without being able to really see each on the field and the play and pattern packages put in while they are playing it is difficult to judge just how they are going to be used.  My educated guess is placed in the "Balance" column.   As you can see, there are some serious receiving contenders in the mix.  Hodges will put his nose in and block, but is more of an H-Back sort of tight end who can be moved around the formation to provide that extra big body receiver under the zone, and in the seams.  Ryan Malleck is a professional prospect Dual purpose (Blocking and Receiving) player who the team relies on as an extra body for jumbo line situations, and is a really sure handed pass catcher who can challenge the zone coverage.  Kalvin Cline is re-emerging as a solid dual threat that can block capably, and run with Hodges quality on down field routes.  It's the blocking part we are looking for, and Malleck and Cline are the two players in "playable" position that offer the necessary blocking support for big body situations.

We'll see how things work out over the next two weeks as to who gets the "First Team" nod, but if you want blocking as a priority it's Malleck.  If you are thinking of making it interesting then that player is Bucky.  You also cannot discount the probability that both of them will be in the game since Bucky is as good if not better than most purpose receivers.

Tight Ends (In Alphabetical Order)

No.

Name

Balance

vl

Height

Weight

82

Xavier Burke

Dual

-

6' 2"

264

89

Kalvin Cline

Dual

1

6' 4"

237

85

Chris Cunningham

Blocker

-

6' 2"

236

8

Matt Hill

Receiver

-

6' 5"

241

7

Bucky Hodges

Receiver

1

6' 7"

242

88

Ryan Malleck

Dual

3

6' 5"

252

In the end, and by kickoff of the OSU game, the biggest issue that this Hokie Offensive Line must face is its weakness in run blocking.  At some point the offensive staff must look at play design and game planning that minimizes the weaknesses, and maximizes the strengths.  The line is better this year than last; that is not in question.  The issue is will the offensive scheme fit the talent or try to ram the talent into the offensive fantasy mill?

Time and triumph or heartbreak will tell.

Next up:  Running and Catching:  Can we do both at the same time?