It’s time to start talking about the running game. Yes, the article is reviewing the offensive line situation. Despite what the fantasy football fans concentrate on, the running game has little to do with running backs. The brutal truth of football is that running backs mostly need to do two things well; run into the open field, and ball possession. The latter issue is on the back. Holding on to the rock in traffic is critical. The reality is that the former depends on the offensive line to provide.
You’ve all seen me say this before; “blocking is 85% of the running game”. I will not take back that statement under any circumstances other than to increase the percentage of importance. There are lots of young men who can run fast and have the requisite agility to find places to execute plays. There are certainly more people on that list for the limited number of related running back positions on the field. Great running backs are an exception to these limits, but most offensive schemes are not built around great backs. They are built around getting good quality backs the space to execute the play called.
That task falls on five peoples’ shoulders, legs, feet, strength, agility, and determination; namely two tackles, two guards, and a center. Without an offensive line capable of clearing pathways for the runner (within the blocking schemes dictated by the teams’ playbooks), the rock doesn’t move very far.
Well, that’s one type of ball movement. In modern football, and certainly in Fuente’s offensive system, the primary method of offensive advance is not the run. There are no ‘Wishbones’, ‘Veers’, or ‘Triple Options’ in Coach Fuente’s vocabulary. On the 2018 Hokies you will hear more about such things in the defensive coaching sessions. To Fuente, the ‘Option’ is a Run-Pass Option (RPO), and ‘Read-Option’ (RO). Some may involve running backs, and some may not. And many times they are not the target of hand-offs they are the targets of passes.
So, making this sort of mixed pass and run offense work requires an offensive line that operates within the total scope of the offense. Linemen must understand the plays, and account for the different actions that can occur within any play package. It’s more than audible calls accounting for ‘Gap-Over’ coverage, or simple pulls to lead block through a hole. The RPO depends on pass-blocking techniques that only work for the run game if the line is fully aware of the reads that have been made and the action occurring at the time of the read. That means the line must work as a unit. Each player must understand his role within the play set, and be able to react to those fluid changes that occur within the close contact of the ‘box’.
So now what? What does that mean to the 2018 Hokies? The first part of the answer is the obvious function of the size and athleticism necessary to perform the very different jobs and techniques across the offensive line. The second part is more intangible. Offensive lines are not 5 fat guys shoving people around in some predetermined pattern. It looks like it from the stands, but that’s one of the most misguided beliefs in football fandom. Offensive lines need to “gel”. They must understand the flow of any play, and react to the defense. More importantly, though, during the first critical 5 seconds of the play, before the snap, the O-Line needs to quietly and efficiently distribute the work load assigned to complete the particular play. That sort of communication and translation into action at the point of the snap is a combination of intangible factors. Above all, every player on that line must know what he’s supposed to do, what could happen and how to adjust, and then how to impose his will on the opposing player(s). That level of trust and coordination takes time and repetition.
This Spring, the Hokies are fielding what looks like the largest and deepest offensive line roster that we have seen in quite a few years. Take a good look at the experienced players, most of whom will be in the #1 slots in the 3-Deep.
Virginia Tech Hokie Spring 2018 Offensive Line Roster
|61||Kyle Chung||3||OL||6' 3"||310||rSr||Ponte Vedra Beach FL||Ponte Vedra|
|74||Braxton Pfaff||2||OL||6' 5"||308||rSr||Lynchburg VA||Liberty Christian Academy|
|69||Yosuah Nijman||3||OL||6' 7"||322||Sr||Maplewood NJ||Columbia|
|62||D'Andre Plantin||-||OL||6' 5"||312||rJr||Norcross GA||Norcross|
|63||Daniel Bailey||-||OL||6' 3"||300||rJr||Abingdon VA||Abingdon|
|65||Matt Christ||-||OL||6' 3"||277||rJr||Sterling VA||Dominion|
|68||Connor Kish||-||OL||6' 2"||303||rJr||Oceanside CA||El Camino|
|70||Kevin Kish||-||OL||6' 2"||290||rJr||Oceanside CA||El Camino|
|79||Tyrell Smith||2||OL||6' 3"||300||rJr||North Brunswick NJ||Don Bosco Prep|
|50||Patrick Kearns||-||OL||6' 5"||292||rSo||Adairsville GA||Darlington School|
|52||Austin Cannon||1||OL||6' 2"||314||rSo||Mechanicsville VA||Atlee|
|71||T.J. Jackson||-||OL||6' 6"||335||rSo||Cumberland VA||Cumberland County|
|75||Zachariah Hoyt||1||OL||6' 5"||302||rSo||Salem VA||Salem|
|76||Jarrett Hopple||-||OL||6' 7"||312||rSo||Suffolk VA||Nansemond River|
|51||Gene Kastelburg||-||OL||6' 0"||297||rFr||Richmond VA||Benedictine College Preparatory|
|53||Aiden Brown||-||OL||6' 2"||289||rFr||Silver Spring MD||Bullis School|
|54||Lecitus Smith||-||OL||6' 3"||309||rFr||Fitzgerald GA||Fitzgerald|
|60||Silas Dzansi||-||OL||6' 5"||312||rFr||Woodbridge VA||C.D. Hylton|
|72||Brennon Garrison||-||OL||6' 1"||292||rFr||Orange VA||Fork Union MIlitary Academy|
|56||Clay Dean||-||OL||6' 3"||272||Fr||Waterford VA||Woodgrove|
|56||Joe Kane||-||OL||6' 2"||276||Fr||Wake Forest NC||Heritage|
|66||Louis MIhota||-||OL||6' 2"||274||Fr||Fredericksburg VA||Massaponax|
|77||Christian Darrisaw||-||OL||6' 5"||297||Fr||Upper Marlboro MD||Riverdale Baptist|
We know that we’ll see Kyle Chung working out at Center, and probably starting there for the season. He’s experienced, but struggled last season in a position (Right Tackle) that he was ill suited to perform. Chung is better suited to the interior positions, and having him as an experienced Center is a distinct advantage. Yosuah Nijman is a natural Left Tackle. He’s huge, quick, and has good balance. He also has really good vision and when he was in the game, JJ seemed to be more confident and less hurried both mentally and physically. Braxton Pfaff grew into his role last season. He’s probably the most improved player in both lines. He’ll likely be somewhere inside at either Guard position, though last season he was the Right Guard. But that leaves a Left Guard and Right Tackle still up for grabs (though D’Andre Plantin is looking like the favorite at RT). We are likely to see players like Zachariah Hoyt, Tyrell Smith, and Austin Cannon get hard looks this session. There were big hopes for Jarrett Hopple to step up early, and the Kish brothers have still not seen a whole lot of the field except from the sideline.
My best guess is that the line will look like:
Nijman-LT | Plantin-LG | Chung-C | Pfaff-RG | Smith-RT
There are 23 players listed of all classes, and mostly of no experience. This Spring is going to be critical for building that 2-Deep chart of players who build that trust, communication, and physical skill necessary for the running game to improve, and for the passing game to settle down. The Fuente offensive scheme requires balance and unpredictability. That means the O-Line must begin to dominate the line of scrimmage.