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2021 Virginia Tech season preview: Running backs

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There is a lot of talent here, but it’s mostly unproven.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh
Jalen Holston
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Running backs

Jalen Holston: 5-foot-11, 215 (RS Jr.)

Raheem Blackshear: 5-foot-9, 198 (RS Jr.)

Marco Lee: (5-foot-11, 227) (Jr.)

Keshawn King: 5-foot-11, 180 (So.)

Malachi Thomas: 6-foot-0, 197 (Fr.)

Jordan Brunson: 6-foot-0, 215 (Fr.)

Kenji Christian: 6-foot-2, 201 (Fr.)

Chance Black: 6-foot-1, 182 (Fr.)

Tajh Gary: 5-foot-8, 220 (RS Fr.)

Jalen Hampton: 5-foot-10, 192 (Fr.)

Nashun Overton: 5-foot-6, 170 (RS Fr.)


Top returnees: Blackshear, Holston, King, Lee, Brunson, Hampton, Gary

Top newcomers: Thomas, Black, Christian

Key departure: Khalil Herbert


Who starts?

No one player is going to replace Herbert in 2021. That doesn’t the Hokies don’t have options.

First up is Holston. He came on in relief of Herbert last season and looked like a different player. Holston’s vision and patience were much better, and he proved to be a load to bring down. Holston has earned the first crack at being Virginia Tech’s starting running back this season.

Lee is a bowling ball. While I don’t see him being Virginia Tech’s lead back, at least initially, he will serve a role.

Blackshear can do a little bit of everything. When he came over from Rutgers last season, many expected Blackshear to play one season and leave for the NFL. Unfortunately, offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen didn’t do enough to get Blackshear the ball in space. He can play in the slot and be Tech’s third-down back.

King is now in his third year in the program and is having a strong fall camp. He is arguably the most talented back on the roster. A big problem for King is his size. He’s struggled to keep weight on in his first two years, further exposing him to injury. Coaches must find ways to get the ball in King’s hands in 2021.


Outlook

Herbert was the first bell-cow back in the Justin Fuente era at Virginia Tech. He will be difficult to replace. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be done with one player. The Hokies have multiple talented options in the backfield. And, it’s not just Holston, Blackshear, King and Lee.

The Hokies brought in a talented running back class. All reports indicate Thomas is blowing coaches away this summer, and it wouldn’t surprise if he finds a role in 2021. Physically, Christian is ready to play right now. Black is more like Blackshear. I wouldn’t peg him as a true running back, as he can play in the slot and split out wide, too.

With Braxton Burmeister as the unquestioned starter at running back, Virginia Tech needs its running game this season. Burmeister was injured on multiple occasions last season, and he isn’t as big as either Hendon Hooker or Quincy Patterson. So, he can’t be relied upon to run the ball 15 times per game. He would absolutely be effective in doing so, but you risk losing the only passer you can win with in 2021.

The offensive line may take a step back this fall after the departures of Christian Darrisaw and Doug Nester. That means Cornelsen needs to be creative on offense. That may be asking too much based on his tenure here.

This is a strong group with depth. In past years, one injury would have changed the trajectory for this position. Now, the Hokies have several talented runners who bring different skill sets to the offense.


Depth chart

  1. Jalen Holston
  2. Raheem Blackshear
  3. Keshawn King
  4. Marco Lee