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Spring 2016 Hokies: Previewing the Defensive Line, or What's Left

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The defensive line lost three starters, two of whom are going on to definite scouting bowls. Who do we have to step up, and what sort of depth chart are we likely to see for Spring 2016 practice? Taking a quick speculative look at the D side of the Trenches

Defensive Lineman Woody Baron is moving up the depth chart.
Defensive Lineman Woody Baron is moving up the depth chart.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

No unit has taken more quality hits than the Hokie D Line.  Folks, when you lose three of four starting linemen to graduation, that's supposed to be a good thing, right?  Well it's great for them, but us the Hokie Nation, nozzomush...  It's not that we don't love all of our football players, and the next players in line are good; but it's sort of like getting "pantsed" by a wandering herd of bullies.  It's embarrassing, and there is no one to challenge to a duel.  So you just end up picking up your Toughskins and hoping no one noticed the inappropriate hole in the tighty-whities.

Well, the first thing to do is to check out who is leaving, and wish them a fond farewell and good luck at their attempts to play somewhere at the next level.

Number

Name

Pos

HT

WT

YR

89

Laird Gardner

DE

6' 1"

215

GRAD

90

Dadi L'homme Nicolas

DE

6' 3"

223

r-GRAD

92

Luther Maddy

DT

6' 2"

283

r-GRAD

96

Corey Marshall

DT

6' 2"

266

r-GRAD

Laird Gardener was a practice squad stalwart and we wish him well in his future, maybe his experience at Tech will give him something positive to reach the people that he is working with.  Dadi, Luther, and Corey have a chance at the NFL.

Dadi Nicolas is going to have to do some image and performance repair, he's been invited to the Senior Bowl (Jan 30), which is one of those pro workout ending with a game sort of affairs (the biggest one that I am aware of).  He'll be working with pro scouts, coaches, and personnel.  It's his time to show that his 2015 season was not indicative of his possibilities on the football field.

Luther Maddy pulled in the big ACC accolades with being named to the All-ACC 1st Team Defense.  He's training and playing in the East-West Shrine Game (Jan 23) and looks to further impress the pro scouts.  He especially needs to show some improvement after his injury plagued last few games of the season.

Corey Marshall had a solid season in 2014, but didn't play every game in 2015.  He will have to work to get the NFL scouts to notice him, again.

Well, if you didn't notice that the seniors lost some luster with the NFL evaluators, it's not an odd observation.  There aren't too many real football people in Hokie Nation who were thrilled with the end result of an "underwhelming" season of our supposedly shutdown defensive line.   Though Maddy made ACC honors, and both Dadi and Luther are going to post season scouting bowls, there were still some very disappointing aspects of the effect of their play, on the fields of 2015.  We just had trouble with the delayed run, running quarterbacks, sorting one-gap and two-gap leverage, failure to contain outside, and a general lack of ‘A' gap control at the line of scrimmage.

To state that the defensive line's total performance in the 2015 season was below expectations is the definition of understatement.

That all means that there is much to cure over the next few practice sessions.  Spring looks to bring back the following list of players:  (remember this is speculative, based on last year's roster - Freshmen are always listed as Freshmen, and can either be Sophomores or Redshirt Freshmen depending on whether they played or not.)

Number

Name

Pos

HT

WT

YR

4

Ken Ekanem

DE

6' 3"

248

r-Sr.

41

Houshun Gaines

DE

6' 4"

231

So./r-Fr.

43

Seth Dooley*

DE

6' 6"

235

r-Jr.

47

Darius Fullwood

DE

6' 4"

251

So./r-Fr.

93

Jeremy Haynes

DE

6' 3"

225

r-Sr.

94

Trevon Hill

DE

6' 5"

228

So./r-Fr.







51

Harry Lewis

DT

6' 0"

260

So./r-Fr.

60

Woody Baron

DT

6' 1"

275

Sr.

89

Dalton Roe

DT

6' 1"

235

r-Jr.

91

Steve Sobczak

DT

6' 1"

309

r-So.

95

Nigel Williams

DT

6' 4"

299

r-Sr.

97

Tim Settle

DT

6' 3"

359

So./r-Fr.

98

Ricky Walker

DT

6' 2"

284

r-Jr.

99

Vinny Mihota

DT

6' 5"

270

r-So.

* Dooley is out for Spring due to shoulder surgery

So far there have been no early commit/enrollments for the Defensive End and Defensive Tackle Positions.

There will be a lively competition for the starting positions this spring.  Ekanem, Sobczak, Williams, and Baron all got significant playing time this season.  Look for those names to start at the top of any published depth charts before March.  Not to be forgotten Ricky Walker is returning to the active roster after a redshirt year.  He looks to pick up where he left off in 2014 with some quality play, and perhaps some starts.  Tim Settle is expected to make a strong debut.  Settle is unlikely to sit much if he continues on his training and conditioning regimen.  He's going to be a seriously dangerous two-gap covering presence anchoring the center of the Bear front- should Bud Foster and Charley Wiles return to a defensive line with three down linemen playing a three technique and one playing a 4.  Of course this will be the first time for five players to get into the competitive mix for chances to play.

There is a ton of work to be done.  The starting defensive line for the Hokies' 2016 season is going to be experienced, but there aren't going to be many who have started regularly.  The roster shows that the depth chart will have capable players with snaps under their belts, and serious game situations.  Spring will be all about sorting who gets which slot in the depth chart; but I seriously doubt those positions will be permanent or particularly relevant.

Virginia Tech is going to have to rely on a substitution relay of Defensive Tackles and Ends based on the situation at hand.  This might be a case of the old he who starts may not finish, and that's ‘okay' because it's the way we are doing business this season sort of proposition.

We need to pay special attention to the defensive line this spring practice.  Besides Quarterback, Defensive Lineman will be seeing the hottest competition for that #1 position on the Depth Chart.

Next up....  The missing squad... and filling the biggest hole from 2015, the Linebackers.

GO HOKIES!!!!

Sources

http://www.hokiesports.com/football/players/

http://virginiatech.247sports.com/Season/2016-Football/Commits