Something substantive finally popped on the football front, yesterday. A copy (labeled “Unofficial”, but from all the usual sources good for accurate information) of the 2016 Fall Virginia Tech Hokie Depth Chart appeared on the webs. For the average fan this might mean something closer to knowing if he’s got the red or black checkers. That is innocent and fine because most fans aren’t football wonks that dig deeply into all of the potential machinations that produced the chart. It also really doesn’t account for the strategic and tactical motivations behind the arrangement. Each player brings a range of skills to the table, besides experience and athleticism.
Some of this chart is completely non-surprising. We’ll be scouring our early predictions and previews to see how we matched up, but for the moment, we are going to go all Dan LeBatard and Papi (well maybe not quite, I’m not into talking to banana phones) for a discussion that we (Josh and Dad) started over the phone last evening.
On the #2 and #3 ‘-or-‘ in the Quarterback Column:
Dad: Not sure of what to make of it. It looks like the entire QB thing just isn’t sorted out completely. Motley is a capable #2 within what we think will be Fuente’s offense which is heavy on key reads, options, influence runs, and the short passing game. The fact that Jackson is more of a co-number 2 though is interesting. Something tells me that as the season and results wear on this will change.
Josh: Welcome to the land of zero QB back up clarity. I think this is a bit of strategic planning on the part of the coaches- if things go well, and we’re in a spot to win, I can see them using Motley. However, if the season goes downhill, the future seems to start now with Jackson getting thrown out there. It’s a form of hedging, at least, that’s how I interpret it.
The WHIP shows up, and very capable Mook Reynolds is in the #1 slot:
Josh: Mook Reynolds at Whip means that we’re moving to a base 4-2-5 defense. He’s spent time at corner the past year and knows that position well- meaning they’re moving the Whip to more coverage duties than in the past.
Dad: Well, it’s something that we had hoped would happen, the ‘evolved’ variations of the 4-1-6 and 4-0-7 produced some interesting situational opportunities but neither of those configurations does much to establish a capable base defense; and certainly doesn’t have the mass to form a capable ‘spy’ function for the QB at the exchange or launch point of a run. Moving back to a more traditional Whip (even if it’s that hybrid Whip/2nd Rover that has developed over the last few seasons) means that there is a better way to hide defensive intents from the opposing play callers.
The obvious lack of Adonis in a lead Cornerback slot:
Josh: Greg Stroman is where he is because of Adonis Alexander’s suspension. Expect Alexander to be starting next week.
Dad: As much of an old ‘homer’ for Bristow as I might be, yeah, Stroman is the return guy and might be someone interesting to put in as a Nickel Corner in must pass situations; but he’s probably not going to beat out Alexander for starting Cornerback when Adonis has completed his disciplinary pine riding.
Bucky at Wide Receiver. Huh? Wow! Plus other TE developments:
Dad: Okay, I always thought of Bucky as being more of Shannon Sharpe than a Heath Miller so this is completely unsurprising. Bucky Hodges hasn’t played a true Tight End position much since he took the field. Sorry, but wasting his size, speed, hands, and target potential on routine blocking assignments is just not smart offense. Though I’d have put him at Slot and let Phillips do the deeper stuff. The move also works with what we know about Fuente’s offensive configuration and play calling style. The Tight End just didn’t get a bunch of work in the Memphis system. We might have seen the first hint of what’s in store offensively this season. As to Durkin and Burke in positions, I really don’t have a feel for the back and forth, Durkin is learning so I expect shuffle.
Josh: Chris Cunningham is the starting TE because Hodges is at WR, and interestingly they put him on the outside. Cam Phillips will assume slot in this alignment, which is interesting. Also, interesting that Xavier Burke beat out Chris Durkin for second string TE.
Sam Rodgers as the #1 RB instead of Travon:
Josh: Sam Rogers over Travon McMillian in the starting backfield is not surprising if you read between the lines. McMillian was hurt in the spring, and they are probably going to rotate anyhow. Not going to put too much thought into it.
Dad: This might be a tip off for the type of play calling that will happen with the first series. If presumably Fuente starts off with a fast paced 12 second 70% passing/QB Option Read sprint up the field. Remember no substitutions when he runs this. We might be looking at a tease. Either way the top two RB positions in any depth chart are completely situational. The fact remains that Rogers is a team leader, and offers greater flexibility with targets in the short part of the Fuente passing game.
Obvious ‘smack’ Pettit starts over Teller:
Josh: Colt Pettit over Wyatt Teller is mostly due to some unknown something behind the scenes. We’ve been hearing this for a week or so now. Not sure what it is but it’s obviously not enough to get Teller suspended but enough to cheese the coaches off into demoting him. For how long, no one knows.
Dad: Not going to venture what the gig was, but no one with Teller’s experience is going to get trumped unless there is some reason. I do know that he’s prone to holding calls, and in the interior of the line, grabbing and holding usually means that you are getting beaten too much. It’s a warning sign that you’re getting over-matched. We’ll see how the chart shakes out after the Tennessee game. We’ll also get a feel for what the fallout is if Teller gets to the field and this is just a motivational nudge.
Receiver Depth Besides the Bucky move – which changed up some stuff:
Dad: I really think that the Bucky Hodges to WR move put a clinker into everyone’s thinking. With that move, it bumped Divine Deablo down to #2 for the presumed ‘Y’ position (‘X’ being primary, ‘Y’ being second read, and ‘Z’ being third read). Something tells me that there is just a whole lot of flux going on at the wide-out positions. Frankly, I am surprised that Bucky isn’t in the slot, but that might just be my prejudice about who motions when and where the routes are run. We’ll see how it works out the #1 configuration is pretty tough to beat though.
Josh: Divine Deablo being this high with Jaylen Bradshaw and C.J. Carroll shows how thin our wide receiving corps was formerly. I’m actually impressed Carroll made it on over some of the other talented kids we brought in.
Other things that popped up that look interesting:
Josh: Greg Stroman is still kick and punt returning. Someone get me Maalox now rather than later.
Dad: Hey, he’s not too bad if he remembers what direction he’s supposed to run after the catch. Oh… and Kick Off Receiver rule #1. If you catch the ball in the end zone; TAKE A KNEE!!! NO EXCEPTIONS; EVER!
Josh: Yoshuah Nijman is assuming the LT position and Jonathan McLaughlin to RT, meaning Moore’s gone to the land of the red shirts. Having Tyrell Smith at LT backup is interesting, though. Moved him out of the interior.
Dad: Well, you predicted the Nijman - McLaughlin swap, though I am a bit surprised that Parker Osterloh isn’t backing up Nijman. But it’s not far off from what we thought after the Spring Game.
Josh: Defensive line has no surprises; same goes for middle linebacker.
Dad: Yupper… no surprises, other than Andrew Motuapuaka cut his hair. Cool look Andrew! High and tight… He also looks a bit muscle beefier than he did last season. He was the most improved player on the team last season. I sure hope he keeps that trajectory up. He’s still better off being outside but with what he’s learned he should be even more effective this season. Edmunds’s addition to the roster in the middle of the field finally gives us a legit second middle linebacker though he’s playing OLB for now.
Josh: Corner is thin if a freshmen recruit is second team, though I’ve heard good things about Rodgers. Also, Deon Newsome already being the backup at rover after transitioning from wide receiver.
Dad: Look, and a big “no foolin’”, the secondary is going to be an issue this season. There are going to have to be more than a few underclass examples of “rising to the occasion” this season.
All in all, the most controversial thing that we can see about this depth chart is that it lists Joey as the backup punter. I’ll have to see him punt to see how that all works out. It is good to finally have a roster clue as to who the coaching staff is looking at to lead the team for the season. Given that this is the opening game against an FCS challenger and a presumed full contact scrimmage more than an anticipated slug fest, it is unsurprising that there are position switches, and depth surprises.
This probably won’t be the last depth chart that we see that doesn’t involve injury. We can’t predict disciplinary moves, but we certainly know that there is still churn going on for a good deal of the team. Saturday is the first big test. I’ll be on the field, and Josh will be in the booth. So get on the thread and follow us @gobblercountry on Twitter.