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2021 Virginia Tech football season preview: Defensive line

I love the depth inside, but worry about the depth at defensive end.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Old Dominion at Virginia Tech
Amare Barno
Photo by Lee Coleman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Defensive line

Amare Barno: 6-foot-6, 245 (RS Jr.)

TyJuan Garbutt: 6-foot-1, 252 (RS Jr.)

Jordan Williams: 6-foot-5, 285 (RS Jr.)

Mario Kendricks: 6-foot-0, 290 (So.)

Norell Pollard: 6-foot-0, 281 (So.)

Josh Fuga: 6-foot-2, 308 (RS Fr.)

Jaylen Griffin: 6-foot-1, 264 (RS Jr.)

Eli Adams: 5-foot-11, 235 (RS So.)

Mattheus Carroll: 6-foot-5, 232 (Fr.)

Cole Nelson: 6-foot-3, 238 (Fr.)

Maxx Philpott: 6-foot-0, 306 (RS Fr.)

Desmond Mamudi: 6-foot-3, 296 (Fr.)

Nigel Simmons: 6-foot-2, 260 (RS So.)

Wilfried Pene: 6-foot-3, 253 (Fr.)


Key Returnees: Barno, Garbutt, Kendricks, Pollard

Key Departures: Justus Reed, Jarrod Hewitt, Robert Wooten

Top Newcomers: Williams, Carroll, Nelson


The arrival of Jordan Williams

Better late than never in the case of Virginia Tech and defensive tackle Jordan Williams. Williams, a four-star prospect out of Virginia Beach, signed with Clemson over the Hokies where he played the past four seasons. Williams was a reserve for most of his career with the Tigers, but not because of his talent. Clemson routinely signs the top defensive line prospects in the nation and the Tigers’ third-string unit is often better than most team’s top defensive line.

Williams decided to transfer out of Clemson to finish his career somewhere else in the hopes of improving his NFL draft stock. From the moment Williams announced his intent to transfer, Virginia Tech was knocking on his door. Fortunately for the Hokies, they landed Williams and hope he is the 2021 version of Khalil Herbert — a transfer who becomes the team MVP.

Since arriving earlier this year, Williams has been a tremendous leader. He immediately became one of the most respected players on the team.

As for how he’ll impact Tech’s defensive line in 2021, Williams is the centerpiece of the Hokies’ defensive line. Along with Mario Kendricks, Norell Pollard and Josh Fuga, the Hokies have some talent on the interior. Much like in 2020, depth could be an issue if any of these players are out for an extended period.


Defensive end

It’s been another strange offseason for the Hokies as it pertains to departures. The Hokies felt pretty good about their defensive line depth in the spring. Amare Barno is a star and TyJuan Garbutt is an experienced pass-rusher who is returning full-time to the team after missing most of last season.

Tech also signed a promising pair of edge-rushers in Cole Nelson and Mattheus Carroll.

What defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton didn’t count on was losing all three defensive ends from the 2020 recruiting class this year. Justin Beadles was the first, ending up at Houston. Then, shockingly, Tech lost both defensive ends from Texas, Robert Wooten and Alec Bryant, over the summer when they entered the NCAA transfer portal on the same day.

Another blow came in the form of Emmanuel Belmar’s retirement from football. Belmar had developed into a good player for the Hokies, but concussions forced him to give up football.

Losing four players, in addition to Justus Reed, who was off to the NFL, puts the Hokies in a difficult position in 2021. The Hokies need Barno and Garbutt to be healthy for every game this season. Coaches moved former tight end Wilfried Pene over to defensive end and early signs are encouraging.

The Hokies would prefer to redshirt both Nelson and Carroll but that may not be possible this season.


Outlook

There is talent on the defensive line. Unfortunately years of recruiting failures have put a dent in Virginia Tech’s depth. You wouldn’t feel so bad about defensive end had Belmar returned and the Hokies been able to keep Wooten and/or Bryant.

The good news is Williams and Barno could be All-ACC performers. Kendricks and Pollard are both impact players.

If the Hokies stay healthy up front in 2021, they have a shot at the ACC Coastal division. However, if Barno or Williams go down for a period of time, this defense is in major trouble.