You know football season is right around the corner when the first official depth chart is released. On Monday, the Virginia Tech Hokies released their first official two-deep depth chart. As is the case with the first depth chart every year, there were a few small surprises.
First, let’s review the offensive depth chart. Ryan Willis, of course, is the starting quarterback. It may surprise some that redshirt sophomore Hendon Hooker is the primary backup. I don’t think anyone should be surprised by this from everything we’ve heard during fall camp. Hooker, who entered the transfer portal after last season, removed his name and decided to stay in Blacksburg and compete. That hard work has paid off, as Hooker is the primary backup to Willis and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see coaches call some plays to get Hooker’s athleticism on the field.
Deshawn McClease also entered the transfer portal in the winter. After talking things over with the coaching staff he also decided to return and now sits atop the depth chart at running back. Behind him are junior Jalen Holston and true freshman Keshawn King. King will play a role this season, sooner than later, too.
No real surprises at receiver with Tre Turner, Damon Hazelton and Hezekiah Grimsley as the starters. The one small surprise is redshirt freshman Kaleb Smith is Turner’s top backup. We’ve heard Smith getting rave reviews so he will see the field this season. We know the Hokies are also loaded at tight end and instead of listing returning starter Dalton Keene as No. 1, James Mitchell is listed as co-No. 1 along with Keene. Don’t take this as a knock to Keene but more to what coaches think of the talented Mitchell. Freshman Nick Gallo is behind Keene and Mitchell. This is a group we should all be excited about.
On the offensive line, Christian Darrisaw and Silas Dzansi return at left and right tackle, respectively. Zachariah Hoyt is the center while redshirt freshman John Harris is listed as his top backup. If Hoyt struggles with his snaps, Harris will see time. Of course, Brock Hoffman would be the starter here but the NCAA had other plans.
Redshirt junior T.J. Jackson is the starter at right guard. True freshman Doug Nester is the top backup. This position is fluid as I could see both playing until one just takes over the position. Jackson has worked extremely hard and is deserving of the opportunity right now. Nester will play this fall. Lecitus Smith is the left guard and that’s not a surprise.
Defensively, the concern is real along the defensive line. I have not seen a defensive line this thin in a long time. There is some talent, but most is unproven. I believe TyJuan Garbutt could establish himself as the next great Hokie pass-rusher. Emmanuel Belmar is the starter at the other defensive end spot with redshirt freshman Eli Adams as his top backup. Adams’ high-school film was terrific and he can get after the quarterback.
The Hokies are counting on junior-college transfer DaShawn Crawford and the returning Jarrod Hewitt inside. Hewitt has improved steadily each year and Bud Foster is counting on him being the top guy. Rob Porcher could factor here, but three freshmen linger in Josh Fuga, Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard. The coaches are excited about each of these freshmen. Due to the depth issues they may be forced into action this season as the Hokies generally like to redshirt those in the trenches.
No surprises at linebacker with Dax Hollifield the starter outside with Alan Tisdale and Amare Barno as his top backups. Tisdale is another to watch. Inside, it’s Rayshard Ashby with Keshon Artis as his top backup, along with Dylan Rivers. It’s a bit of a surprise to see Rivers here as he split time with Hollifield early last season. Artis is another player who could jump right into the lineup and the defense not miss a beat.
At free safety and rover, these spots were easy as Divine Deablo and Reggie Floyd returned. Devon Hunter is listed as the top backup to Floyd at rover. Hopefully, we see Hunter carve out a role this season and make an impact for the Hokies.
The biggest surprise is at nickel where sophomore Chamarri Conner is listed as No. 1 ahead of Khalil Ladler. It doesn’t sound as if Ladler has done anything wrong, but that Conner has been one of the most impressive Hokies throughout the spring and summer. It should be fun watching him progress this season.
Finally, at left cornerback we have sophomore Jermaine Waller and senior Jovonn Quillen tied atop the depth chart. At right corner, Caleb Farley is No. 1 with Jeremy Webb and Armani Chatman behind him. I would expect Webb to find his way on the field rather consistently at some point opposite of Farley if he shows he is truly 100 percent recovered. Chapman is another young corner the coaching staff is excited about.
Grimsley is listed as the top punt returner with Tayvion Robinson. At some point, I think Robinson takes over that spot. Hokie fans are going to be excited about him.
So, Hokie Nation, any real surprises on the depth chart?