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Virginia Tech football: Hokies sign 14 players during Early Signing Period

The Hokies picked up their biggest commitment on Wednesday.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 12 Rhode Island at Virginia Tech Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Virginia Tech Hokies wrapped up the Early Signing Period on Wednesday with 14 players signed to the class of 2020. Officially, National Signing Day isn’t til February so the Hokies can add more unsigned players over the next several weeks. I would expect the new defensive staff to be looking at cornerbacks specifically after missing out on some of their top targets.

Virginia Tech class of 2020

It’s been a strong few days for the Hokies on the recruiting front. As of Sunday morning, Tech’s 2020 class was down to 10 players. Much of that was due to uncertainty on the defensive coaching staff as head coach Justin Fuente still has yet to name a defensive line coach or cornerbacks coach. Former Virginia Tech great Darryl Tapp will be a defensive assistant but not the official defensive line coach.

Back to this class, two players committed on Sunday evening as Kaden Moore and Justin Beadles pledged to the Hokies. Robert Wooten followed up with his pledge on Tuesday.

Today, the biggest shoe dropped when four-star defensive end Alec Bryant of Pearland, Tx., chose the Hokies. Unheralded tight end Wilfried Pene also picked Virginia Tech on Wednesday morning.

We will examine the class more in-depth in the offseason, but here are some initial thoughts on Virginia Tech’s 2020 class.

#TX2VT movement is real

The Texas to Virginia Tech movement appeared to begin when 2021 quarterback Dematrius Davis committed to the Hokies back on November 13. If you haven’t seen Davis yet, take some time and go to Youtube. This kid is special. He is winning state titles at quarterback against the best competition the Lone Star State has to offer.

Then, there is 2021 running back Brandon Campbell. Another big-time talent, the four-star Campbell loves Virginia Tech and it would not be a surprise to see him commit to the Hokies at anytime.

For this class, the Hokies hosted a few kids from Texas on official visits last weekend. Wooten and Bryant were their top targets and they landed them both. While it is difficult for a school like Virginia Tech to maintain a consistent presence in Texas, it’s impossible to ignore the Hokies are a strong brand in perhaps the most talent-rich state in the United States.

Bryant is a former LSU commit who chose the Hokies over Oklahoma, USC and TCU. Wooten is a former Missouri commit.

Quality control assistant Beau Davidson deserves a lot of credit for Virginia Tech’s current presence in Texas. A Texas native, Davidson is due for a promotion soon. Also, new running backs coach Adam Lechtenberg deserves credit, too.

Hokies clearly looking for size along the DL

The additions of Wooten, Bryant, Bailey and Beadles signal a clear shift in Virginia Tech’s preference in defensive linemen. While all were recruited as defensive ends, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if more than one don’t end up inside. All are at least 6’3” and have big frames, capable of adding more size with ease.

The Hokies don’t just plan on going bigger at defensive tackle, but at defensive end, too. While new defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton prefers bigger defensive linemen, this was also a mandate from Fuente, too. The Hokies have struggled to recruit along the defensive line for years, relying heavily on former defensive line coach Charley Wiles and the strength staff to develop lower-rated players.

For the most part, that has worked. However, the lack of depth up front has been more apparent the last two years. Something needed to change and the time was right with Bud Foster’s retirement.

This is an encouraging group for many reasons. The first, it shows the Hokies are committed to recruiting bigger linemen, which is important if they are going to take the next step. The days of succeeding with 220-pound defensive ends and 260-pound defensive tackles is most likely in the past.

This will also help in recruiting. How many top-rated defensive ends would want to commit to Virginia Tech when you see the lack of NFL players at the position?

Now, it is important to see the final hires on the defensive staff.

Hokies wanted to get bigger at RB, too

Remember the days when it was never a problem getting elite running backs to Blacksburg? Lee Suggs, Kevin Jones, Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson come to mind.

That seems like long ago. Although Keshawn King, a four-star recruit last year, showed tremendous promise as a freshman in 2018, there has been little else in recent years. The state of Virginia has featured some elite backs the last three years in Ricky Slade, Devyn Ford and Chris Tyree. All went out of state.

That’s a massive problem.

Part of the reason is this offense just struggles to run the football. And don’t blame it on the running backs. Blocking has been poor until recently, but most importantly, the run scheme is just not very good. When the Hokies brought Jerry Kill on last season, he noticed the issues as well.

One of Kill’s recommendations was getting bigger backs. The Hokies added four running backs this class as we should expect some attrition at the position in the offseason. Marco Lee, a junior-college transfer, is 225 pounds. Jordan Brunson is 210 pounds. The Hokies also brought on Jalen Hampton and Kansas transfer Khalil Herbert. While those two aren’t bigger backs, they add a different dimension to the running game.

Of the new backs, Brunson is one to watch. He had some attention late and stuck with the Hokies. Lee appears to be a candidate to play immediately in 2020.

This class is all about evaluations

We always knew this class was going to be on the small side. The Hokies have taken some bigger classes in recent years and the roster is loaded with underclassmen. That is a good problem. Although, you still need to add more talent.

Virginia Tech rallied a bit in the last week to get some good players in this class. However, not signing anyone amongst the state of Virginia’s top 20 players is a glaring issue.

First, let’s give the staff props for going out of state and getting good football players. That trend must continue. But the Hokies have to get back to recruiting better within the state. The hope is some of these new hires on the defensive staff will help in that area. That remains to be seen as we still don’t know who the full staff is actually going to be.

When you sign a smaller class like this one that is not loaded with high-level talent, you are putting tremendous pressure on your coaching staff. For this class to be successful, the Hokies need to hit on several of these players. If you are going to miss the top players, you better nail your evaluations on the lower-rated players. That’s how the Virginia Tech program was built.

Next year is critical for the future of Virginia Tech. The Hokies need to keep Davis in the fold and add some top talent around him. The focus on Virginia must also improve.

So, Hokies, what was your impression on how Fuente and Co. finished this class after the slow start?