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Virginia Tech Hokies 2016 Roster Preview - Offensive Line

The Hokie Offensive Line looks good in the one deep, and a complete cypher beyond that. Of the five starting positions we have 7 experienced starting quality players. There are a few more with some limited game experience, but for the most part the 2 and 3 slots of the 'Three Deep" are all up in the air.

Parker's Back, where's he going ot play?
Parker's Back, where's he going ot play?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When you start to look at any offensive line, the first issue to address is unit cohesion.  That's the critical key to any line play regardless of the blocking style, size, or position of any of the players.  The five traditional positions of the offensive line; Center, Left and Right Guards, Left and Right Tackles, absolutely must play as a coordinated unit.  There is a certain amount of raw talent that will help, and size is a quality all of its own; but nothing substitutes for the ability of the players to operate as a unit.

The nature of line play, the trenches will never be glamorous or star quality.  There are the occasional ‘nailed' blocks; or the glory of leading a sweep or screen down the field and crushing the last attempt at the runner before he clips the flag going into the end zone.  Those plays get noticed by fans.  Mostly, though, the work of the line looks more like a low speed collision at or about the line of scrimmage followed by some scrambling around with the guy touching the ball getting most of the notice.  Few people besides coaches and film reviewers will notice the key block (that lasted all of a half second) by the guard on the crashing linebacker that sprung the fullback into the end zone for the score.

Such is the playing life of the lineman; but the fact remains that without an effective offensive line that can block effectively for your particular offensive scheme, your offense isn't going to run or pass anywhere.  There is an old saw floating around that the O-line is 85% of the running game.  Okay, maybe you can't find it in the Google search, and maybe it was my 8th grade football coach that said it.  I will contend that Coach Gould was exactly correct, and there are few winning teams without fielding a solid offensive line.

So, where does that leave the 2016 Virginia Tech Hokie football team?  We all know that every year for the last four or five seasons, most fans of Hokie Nation have been outright worried about the quality and depth of the O-Line.  It isn't the players' fault but the last few seasons the Offensive line has struggled mightily.  The lack of a coherent offensive design didn't help matters any.

The past lines just could not run block.  Drive blocking is basic vanilla stuff but requires practice, coordination, and most of all physical presence.  There was some success at influence/zone blocking as the seasons wore on and the line gained experience with each other, but that left some serious issues early in the season where wins can make the difference between a good bowl and a booger.  (Look, I'm not discussing championships for a while; let's just stick to winning the majority of our games.)

Pass blocking was much the same as the zone problem (these are related and overlapping blocking schemes in most modern offenses).  The team got better as the season wore on.  No one needs to be consulted more than Brewer and Motley from last season as to how critical the blocking problem was.  We'll let the two years of Michael Brewer's reputation for toughness go on the books as something that needed to be more mental than physical.  That he was constantly on the turf or picking it out of his face guard is not a testament to the quality of the blocking.  Then there was the broken clavicle.  Brenden Motley's games were similarly challenged and he had to figure out how to pick himself up after getting thumped for the ‘billionth' time.

As was noted, the season wore on, and the experience level and personnel playing stabilized, so the blocking improved.  The line still couldn't drive, but it was handling pass and influence blocking enough that Travon McMillian was running for seriously good yardage, and Brewer wasn't constantly under heavy pressure.

This season really needs to be different.  All of the coaching staff is new on the offensive side of the ball, with the exception of Coach Burden, who was pretty new himself.  There are rumors and hints that things are being done another way.  One solid piece of news that no one needs to rely on the grape vine for clues; there is an actual offense being taught.  It's what Coach Fuente is known for, and it's presumably the biggest reason for him being here.

And all of the success that his offense could have hinges greatly on the list of players that sits in the chart below as extracted from the roster at Hokie Sports:

2016 Virginia Tech Offensive Line Roster in class order

No.

Name

Exp.

Pos.

Height

Weight

Class

72

Augie Conte

3

OL

6' 6"

303

r-Sr.

71

Jonathan McLaughlin

3

OL

6' 5"

292

Sr.

61

Kyle Chung

-

OL

6' 4"

290

r-Jr.

67

Parker Osterloh

1

OL

6' 8"

336

r-Jr.

57

Wyatt Teller

2

OL

6' 5"

304

r-Jr.

64

Eric Gallo

2

OL

6' 2"

297

Jr.

77

Demetri Moore

-

OL

6' 5"

305

Jr.

66

Billy Ray Mitchell

-

OL

6' 4"

286

r-So.

58

Colt Pettit

-

OL

6' 4"

298

r-So.

74

Braxton Pfaff

-

OL

6' 5"

295

r-So.

69

Yosuah Nijman

1

OL

6' 8"

298

So.

63

Daniel Bailey

-

OL

6' 4"

296

r-Fr.

65

Matt Christ

-

OL

6' 4"

274

r-Fr.

68

Connor Kish

-

OL

6' 2"

280

r-Fr.

70

Kevin Kish

-

OL

6' 2"

280

r-Fr.

62

D'Andre Plantin

-

OL

6' 5"

290

r-Fr.

79

Tyrell Smith

-

OL

6' 3"

292

r-Fr.

52

Austin Cannon

-

OL

6' 3"

315

Fr.

51

Silas Dzansi

-

OL

6' 5"

270

Fr.

76

Jarrett Hopple

-

OL

6' 6"

280

Fr.

75

Zachariah Hoyt

-

OL

6' 5"

286

Fr.

56

T.J. Jackson

-

OL

6' 3"

330

Fr.

50

Patrick Kearns

-

OL

6' 5"

280

Fr.

What stand out most starkly are the numbers 6 and 4.  Six is the number of linemen who have playing experience.  Four is the number of players with multiple season experience.  Folks, this means a depth chart that is exactly one experienced player deep with a spare.   This isn't meant to talk down about the guys who presumably will be taking up the number 2 and 3 slots, but a football team needs a solid three deep roster, especially at the critical line positions.

There are going to be lots of new players who are going to be directly challenged, and it will come quickly.  The line is a repeated 35 mile per hour collision, Greco-Roman wrestling match, with a touch of Sumo thrown in interspersed with 20 and 30 yards sprints.  It's often exhausting work and substitution is a must.  If you add to the mix that Fuente's offense goes fast; often with less than 15 seconds between plays, the depth positions of the chart are going to be even more critical.

So the numbers stack up like this; two Seniors, five Juniors, four Sophomores, and six redshirt Freshmen.  That's seventeen immediately eligible players which is one player short of a three deep -€” assuming that all of upperclassmen are starting or near starting quality.   The incoming ‘true Freshman' class might be contributing more than a sprinkling of players.  The old Beamer practice of redshirting nearly everyone might be going by the wayside to help fill out the three deep.

Let's get started with the depth chart semi-WAG and see how it holds up over time.  First we look at the players who are sure to occupy the number 1 slot of the depth chart for each of their positions:

Augie Conte -€” redshirt Senior, a team leader, Augie has a nearly total lock on the Right Guard position.  He has played Right Tackle in the past, but really started making serious headway in the interior right side.  The new offensive scheme is likely to be a challenge for the three interior positions.  Conte will be learning a new style of play and new responsibilities.

Jonathan McLaughlin -€” true Senior, McLaughlin is another real leader and will undoubtedly be the starting Left Tackle again this season.  He played all 13 games last year at that position and short of something approaching a phenomenal practice performance for another player Jonathan will be watching the QB's back again this season.

Wyatt Teller -€” redshirt Junior, Teller was THE LEFT Guard last season and has played consistently since he moved over from the defensive side of the ball in his first season.  Wyatt is a knockdown machine.  If he gets some more control (it got better last season) with his holding penalties, Teller has two full seasons left with the Hokies if someone doesn't want him at the next level by the end of the season.

Eric Gallo -€” true Junior, Gallo is the starting Center, and played all 13 games last season.  He has good hands. His shotgun snaps have been decent though a couple of ‘off' line attempts might have created a few issues... mostly low.  The new offense is going to challenge his accuracy.  If the past seasons are any indication, Gallo is going to have the Quarterback in the shotgun for most of every game.  Drive blocking and A-gap control will continue to be an issue, it's the toughest thing for a Center to do, which is transition from the audible calls and snap control to execution during and after the ball moves.

That list fills out only the interior three and one outside position.  Coach Vice is going to have to identify the one additional number 1 slot, Right Tackle. Parker Osterloh and Yosuah Nijman both have a solid season of playing experience behind them, but Nijman did most of his work at Left Tackle backing up Jonathan McLaughlin.  Demitri Moore is new, but has JUCO experience playing Tackle.  With the need for someone to back up McLaughlin I don't seen that Nijman will get another season of backup at Left Tackle.  Vance Vice is the wildcard on this one.  Regardless of what sort of possibilities were there last season, the new coach will have new ideas, and a big hole on the right side of his formation.

Yosuah Nijman -€” true Sophomore, Nijman was switched from Defensive End, to Offensive Tackle at the very beginning of last season.  His body type and balance qualities made him a better fit outside on the offensive line.  He backed up JMac (McLaughlin) for the entire season and got a respectable number of snaps at a critical position for being a true Freshman.  His talent is there, what coaches Vice and Fuente decide to do with those talents will be a challenge.  He could play Right Tackle, though he might be better off starting at Left with JMac moving to right (or so says Joshua).  My tendency is to get him one more year at #2 Left Tackle with a good set of respectable snaps to set him up to complete his eligibility there.  He and Parker Osterloh are checking in at basketball forward sized 6'8".

Parker Osterloh -€” redshirt Junior, Osterloh is BIG.  He's tied for our tallest lineman and he is our heaviest.  He played a good number of snaps last season out at Right Tackle and is the natural main contender to take that position as number 1 in the depth chart.  That will heavily depend on what side of the line Nijman and McLaughlin show up.  My guess is that given the speed and style of the coming offense, Osterloh could be splitting time with Demitri Moore, who joined the program in January from JUCO.

Demitri Moore -€” transfer true Junior, Moore was highly recruited and joined the program just at the beginning of the 2nd semester of the 2015-2016 school year.  He's got solid junior college field experience at tackle and looks like the right body type and talent to be an immediate impact player.  Right now, with nothing out on the right side with much experience, I see him sharing time with Osterloh, and a challenge for both of them at who goes 1 or 2 for the first cut of the Fall 2016 Depth Chart.

After Nijman, Osterloh, and Moore, we begin to thin out in the experience ratings.  The next few players with, at least some game experience are in order of their listed experience (which number in a few snaps in each of a few games):

Kyle Chung

Braxton Pfaff

Colt Pettit

Billy Ray Mitchell

The remainder of the active roster is listed as either redshirt Freshman or true Freshman.  There could be a couple of true Freshman that make the final squad.  Jarrett Hopple and T.J. Jackson might have a shot at actual roster time, but the true freshman part of the list is pretty small.   They might be better off spending practice time for the next season.

In any event the proposed Gobbler Country 2016 WAG Depth Chart looks like a blender past the first level.  Okay, even the first level looks a bit stirred up at the moment.

There is a fair amount of confidence for the number 1 spot for each position.  After that, all bets are off, and whatever is proposed might be the best possible guess.

Left Tackle

Left Guard

Center

Right Guard

Right Tackle

McLaughlin

Teller

Gallo

Conte

Osterloh/Moore

Nijman/Moore

Pettit*

Chung*

Moore/Osterloh

Plantin

Mitchell*

Pfaff*

C.Kish*

K.Kish*

* These are the players with some experience who might show up anywhere on a line this season.

Suffice it to say the cheese is Swiss and the slices are pretty thin.  There are two squads that are most concerning when it comes to the 2016 Hokies, the Linebackers and the Offensive Line.  We have solid experienced starters and an unfocused hodgepodge of players in the depth positions.  This will continue to be an issue for the season, and the team's success is going to depend heavily on the inexperienced underclassmen, especially the redshirt Freshman.

Every football fan knows that at some point, the offensive line that started the football season is not going to be the offensive line completely through the season, and who finishes where come New Years is completely up to fate.

Next up, the Backfield including quarterbacks, since they run in Fuente's offense.


GO HOKIES!!!!