So, here we are, the middle of July, and about a month away from the Fall practice season starting. The first sort of depressing news is that Phil Steele is essentially blowing us off this season. 247Sports put out his top 25 and guess what? Virginia Tech appears nowhere in that list. Boston College, of all the random flotsam of the ACC does appear, but we don’t.
Folks, I don’t really take a huge bunch of stock in such pre-season predictions. Most of it is based on fumes, feelings, prejudices, and program status. It would be better to put out ranges of teams 1-5, 6-10, etc. , but to cut Virginia Tech out is err, well, annoying. Maybe that will be fuel for some folks. I certainly hope it puts a huge chip on the collective shoulder of the Hokies. Maybe the “sports punditry doesn’t think that you can do this” stink will be some serious motivation.
No one is denying that we have some serious player losses to make up for, but college players are nowhere near as important as college coaches and program influence. The defense took some hits, but Bud Foster might not be a “light bringer” but he is certainly a defensive mastermind, and rarely has a ton of experience in the defensive backfield. He manages to field a capable defense almost every season, often from inexperienced underclassmen; not completely sure why this season is different.
One absolutely true fact this season is that the most experienced unit for the Hokies on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage is the Defensive Line. What’s also abundantly clear is that the D-Line is going to be absolutely critical in making this year’s effort successful. This team cannot afford the defensive line to be good at one thing, and not so good at another. They have to both stuff the run, and heavily pressure the quarterback.
Fall 2018 Hokie Defensive Line Roster
|8||Ricky Walker||3||DT||6' 2"||304||rSr||1|
|99||Vinny MIhota||3||DT||6' 5"||284||rSr||1|
|11||Houshun Gaines||2||DE||6' 3"||240||rJr||1|
|94||Trevon Hill||2||DE||6' 3"||245||rJr||1|
|43||Xavier Burke||1||DT||6' 3"||283||rJr||2|
|55||Jarrod Hewitt||1||DT||6' 1"||285||rSo||2|
|40||Emmanuel Belmar||1||DE||6' 2"||245||rSo||2|
|35||Zion Debose||-||DE||6' 1"||247||rFr||2|
|45||TyJuan Garbutt||-||DE||6' 1"||244||rFr||2|
|58||Nathan Proctor||-||DE||6' 2"||240||rFr||2|
|18||Raymon MInor||-||DL||6' 2"||245||rSr||3|
|47||Darius Fullwood||1||DL||6' 3"||278||rJr||3|
|96||Jimmie Taylor||-||DL||6' 2"||266||rSo||3|
|98||Robert Porcher IV||-||DL||6' 1"||260||rFr||3|
|46||Eli Adams||-||DL||5' 11"||237||Fr||R|
|90||Jaevon Becton||-||DL||6' 4"||258||Fr.||R|
|95||Cam Goode||-||DL||6' 0"||331||Fr.||R|
Stuffing the run and controlling the line of scrimmage is a base necessity that all defensive lines must accomplish. Last season the core tackles, Tim Settle and Ricky Walker were very successful in getting penetration and stopping the conventional runs. With Settle gone, and Walker the “captain” of the defense, Vinny Mihota has been moved inside. Vinny struggled getting off blocks in DE pass rushing attempts, last season, but he was really good at closing up the hole and containing the run impulse to his side of the line. He’s been moved inside with Ricky. Walker looks to be the Nose in the Bear Front, with Mihota playing the more mobile Tackle position. That combination should be able to glue up the ‘A’ gap, and then with Mihota’s speed (Ricky is no slouch on quick inside moves, either) put interior natural pressure on the passing game. This will take pressure off of the linebackers to allow them to cover under the zone and account for running QBs. It will also help spoiling the crossing routes, digs, and drags of the 3 – 4 second quick downfield passing game by hurrying the QB and messing up the timing of the play.
The Number 2s in the defensive line tackle chart, I anticipate will be Jerrod Hewitt, who played well last season, and emerging are Xavier Burke and Jerrod Hewitt. Burke has playing time in 14 games over the last three seasons (he redshirted 2015). Hewitt played in 10 games in 2017 getting significant time and grabbing a fumble to go with it. Of the remaining players on the roster, we might see Fullwood build some experience and mix things up a bit.
Things are a bit deeper on the Defensive End side of the chart. Frankly, this has been the major hit that our defensive line strategy has taken over the last decade or more. Our D-Line often looks like three Defensive Ends and a modest sized Tackle. The change started with Tim Settle and Ricky Walker anchoring the middle. Instead of the light line we finally had one heavy Tackle, one speedier, and then a big DE who can play with his hand in the dirt combined with a fast, tall outside rusher.
There are only two brand new Freshmen on this squad, Cam Goode looks like he’s going to be a bruiser, but at 6 feet even and 331 he isn’t going to be pulling on the string to ring the happy bell for this coaching staff. He has redshirt and a solid year with Coach Hilgart in his future. Jaevon Becton looks like he’s also a prime candidate for the bright red of development. He’s tall and has some really good scouting notes, but he’s still pretty light, and Defensive Ends we have a ton of. I see red and Hilgart’s training program in young Mr. Becton’s future, as well.
The big challenge for the Defensive Line will remain the necessity for generating natural pressure on the quarterback while controlling the line of scrimmage. This takes a defensive line with four radically different physical capabilities, and serious discipline.
We will see almost immediately after the first snap in Tallahassee if this group can get both assignments done.
The Defensive Line is
This poll is closed
Likely to be the best squad this season.
Too small since we lost Settle. It’s going to struggle to stuff the run.
Might be surprisingly good at its job this season.
Don’t ask. I’m numb and have no expectations, at all.