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Virginia Tech football spring preview: Defensive line

There’s a lot of youth here.

NCAA Football: Miami at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt
Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Spring Roster: Defensive linemen

Jarrod Hewitt, Robert Porcher, Houshun Gaines, Xavier Burke, DaShawn Crawford, Jaevon Becton, TyJuan Garbutt, Eli Adams, Nathan Proctor, Aiden Brown, Jimmie Taylor, Emmanuel Belmar, Zion Debose, Gideon Driscoll

Virginia Tech spring roster: defensive line

There may not be a more questionable position on the 2019 Virginia Tech Hokies than the defensive line. Sure, it’s just spring and there is a lot to sort out, newcomers will arrive and perhaps change things a bit. However, as of now, this should be head coach Justin Fuente’s biggest area of concern for this team.

It also happened to be a concern last year, too. Go back and watch the Pitt or Boston College games as evidence of the issues up front. Last year, the Hokies still had Ricky Walker. Walker was a good player for Tech for his entire career, but, last year he didn’t have the stability of Tim Settle or Woody Baron playing beside of him. Walker was often double-teamed and also played through some injuries.

The hope is junior Jarrod Hewitt steps up and assumes Walker’s role. At 6’1”, 282 pounds, Hewitt is a bit undersized. He is plenty strong, though. And throughout the years we know that defensive coordinator Bud Foster likes his defensive tackles smaller and quicker. Settle was an outlier because he was such a freakish talent.

The Hokies are excited about sophomore Rob Porcher. The son of a longtime NFL star, Porcher came to Blacksburg as a defensive end. Coaches asked him to move inside and, while reluctant at first, appears to be taking to the move. Porcher has the ability to play somewhere this season and the added bulk (he is 272 pounds now) should serve him well inside. Porcher’s progress will be encouraging to watch.

DaShawn Crawford is a junior-college transfer with three years of eligibility remaining. Foster and Charley Wiles believe that Crawford can come in and give immediate depth to a thin position. This spring is big for Crawford as he hopes to solidify his spot in the DT rotation.

Aiden Brown is a former offensive guard giving it a try at defensive tackle. He certainly has nice size (6’2”, 300) and is just a redshirt sophomore. If Brown shows potential, this could be an outstanding move for all involved. Brown can use the spring to get ahead of the new arrivals this fall.

Jaevon Becton is a redshirt freshman who we believe will end up at defensive tackle. Becton has good size (6’4”, 250) and the frame to carry more weight. It will be interesting to watch his development as the coaching staff has always done well with players like Becton in the past.

Xavier Burke remains out this spring as he recovers from an Achilles’ injury.

At defensive end, there’s lots of potential, just not a lot of production. Houshun Gaines is the senior leader, however, he is out for the spring after ACL surgery late in the fall. He should be good to go for the season.

The most intriguing young player is sophomore TyJuan Garbutt. He received some playing time last season and always seemed to be around the ball. At 6’1”, 245 pounds, he’s a little on the smaller side, but as we said with the defensive tackles, that works perfectly for Foster and Wiles. The coaching staff would love to see Garbutt or Nathan Proctor seize spots in the two-deep this spring. Both were highly regarded coming out of high school, if not a bit raw.

Emmanuel Belmar played in 12 games last season. He’s a good depth player and will stay in the mix. Coaches would like to see him get to the quarterback more. That could come with more opportunities. Belmar improved from his freshman season and that’s encouraging.

Zion Debose and Eli Adams are two more young players that could end up being good players for the Hokies. Debose is a redshirt sophomore who can help this team somewhere. His added bulk makes us wonder if he may try moving inside this spring. Adams is undersized, however, his high school film was fun to watch. He could get to the passer. At 5’11”, 240 pounds, the redshirt freshman from Rock Hill, S.C., is a player to watch.

While a lack of experience is a major concern, there is plenty of youth. Hopefully, Foster and Wiles can sort through some of these players this spring and answer some major questions heading into the fall.