The Player Churn is Getting Low on Cream
In the first article we introduced the series and highlighted the need to look into the changes coming to Virginia Tech Athletics through the prism of the main revenue sport, football. The second article touched on the big coaching changes going on and what the pros and cons are of the program reconfiguration. This time we are going to look at the critical player personnel changes that are happening and what we are likely to see as the depth chart gets hit by a serious churn.
If this transition period was a blender running on pulse, there’d be no top. There’d be spray everywhere as the blender lost stuff, and you’d have to keep adding more to keep it full. Well, maybe a slower pulse and speed, but still the effect is the same. That blender is a combination of the Transfer Portal, the coaching change, and the COVID gratis year of eligibility.
When a Junior is Actually a Senior and College Football is ‘So Over’
There is a limit to every NCAA Division 1 (is there any other FBS Division?) FBS program’s scholarship load. The number is 85. Though there are a few exceptions like tuition grants for injury retirements and other hardships the NCAA is brutal about enforcing that number. (One day we are going to talk about scholarships, and such but not in this one.) That means in a five-year redshirt heavy program with an ideal distribution across classes a coach will have a churn of about seventeen scholarships to offer every season. Sometimes there are many fewer.
The Hokies ran into that problem in 2018 and then 2019 with a young team and very few exiting/graduating players those years. There is a rough balance over time, so large trends in either direction are viciously attacked by Newton’s Laws. The reality that the dual hit of the free and easy transfer portal combined with the personnel problems and unbalanced nature of the roster from 2016 to 2021 has created a destructive oscillation in the scholarship cycle.
Senior Day, for the Duke game, the Athletic Department listed the following seniors most of whom had remaining eligibility:
Amaré Barno, Cole Blaker, Chamarri Conner, Tae Daley, Drake Deluliis,
Silas Dzansi, Changa Hodge, Brock Hoffman, Johnny Jordan, Keondré Ko
James Mitchell, John Parker Romo, Austin Rosa, Oscar Shadley, Lecitus Smith
Tyrell Smith, Nadir Thompson, Tré Turner, Jermaine Waller, Jordan Williams
Of those only four were listed as Seniors and present on the Bowl Roster, several were listed as Juniors including Shadley and Connor. There were three who didn’t play (practice squad players) and probably didn’t have full scholarships. Of course, other listed Juniors (the sort of gratis extra year without being tagged as such). There were other scholarship players who hit the transfer portal (Tayvion Robinson and Braxton Burmeister being the most serious) before the bowl game, and still other hit the NFL opt out trail.
The effect was pretty devastating as far as the remaining experienced players on the roster, and the performance in the Pinstripe Bowl was undoubtedly directly related to the loss of a major portion of the #1s on the depth chart before the game, including the quarterback and primary starting receivers.
We have heard the announcement that Silas Dzansi will be remaining in the program for one more season. This is good news for the offensive line, that would have been starved of any starting quality Senior leadership. It’s probably also a very prudent move by Dzansi because of the glut of players hitting this season’s NFL draft, time under Joe Rudolph should increase his draft stock for next season.
The reason for the posted list isn’t to complain about the total number of exiting seniors. It’s to note that the number of starters across critical positions is alarming. The average scholarship churn was brought up to illustrate the “optimum” turnover rate; but what was left unsaid was the roster impact of those normally placed exits. There is normally a good scattering of player quality and depth chart impact, and this season it’s like a semi barreling down Christiansburg Mountain going through a paper banner. The hole is huge and happened really fast.
Critical Needs in Positions that can mean Success or Failure
We need to look at the situation honestly, but we need to give Hokie Nation some hope. (Please let that be prudent hope, and not the blind variety.) Those open scholarships are going to give the new coaching staff plenty of offering space for Portal Pickups. There were enough to nail down the high school recruits, and now there are some left over to go out and find some much-needed talent.
Scholarships are available for the critical positions that need to be filled up through grabbing some experience out of the portal. The quarterback position is probably the most important and can be the most difficult to weed through. Pry’s Offense is still not completely in place, and the best QBs in the transfer list are going to go pretty fast. The Hokies have signed two new QBs from the transfer portal (see who in just a bit) both players are “pro style”. One has a year of eligibility left, and the other has two. Whether or not they push the “starting quality” buttons will remain to be seen. Spring practice and the Spring Game will be critical this season.
There is also a screaming need for starting talent for the Defensive Line, and certainly for the Offensive line, now that Hoffman, L. Smith, and Tenuta are trying their luck at the next level. So far, with Dzansi staying there are very few #1s scattered in the mix. The D-Line is Swiss cheese and getting into the details will just depress all of us. JC Price has a real coaching experience ahead of him as he gets what he has in some sort of shape and sees if he can get some reinforcements from the portal.
The Hokies have a pile of running backs (too many, frankly) and no one has seen the new core group led by Malachi Thomas making a break for what they see as greener pastures. There is a real need to trim down that section of the roster, however.
Cleanup, Fixup, and Rebuild
So, the challenge to the new coaching staff and administration is pretty plain. The 2022 Spring Roster is going to be full of early holes that need to be filled. Many of those holes are at critical leadership and skill positions.
To get this done we are going to see a serious effort to first, cleanup the current mess. It is a mess, folks. There is no sense in shaking fingers at the prior regime. They are professionals and will have done their best to leave in good order, but that does not mitigate the reality that their departure leaves some serious player disarray in the offing.
The cleanup is therefore concentrated within the defense. It didn’t hurt that JC Price and Pierson Prioleau were retained. This gives some defensive coaching stability in a squad that has a fair number of returning players. They are going to need help and support as they learn their new roles, conditioning, playbook, and position coaches’ methods.
The fixup part will be the offense. The hits to the offensive roster were heavy and will require some serious fixups. The coaches are going to have to find some starting level talent in the portal. This is just to keep a viable team on the field. No one rational expects a thunderously successful season (the winces in regard to the bowl game come quickly, here). The priority will be to find a starting quarterback and perhaps even a backup. There needs to be a serious effort to find a couple of experienced offensive linemen to provide some leadership and needed skill at the upper levels of the depth chart. But the biggest challenge will be to find some defensive line talent to fill out the immediate needs of the roster.
Just to help everyone breathe a little better, the staff has signed up two transfer QBs:
Grant Wells has committed to transfer from Marshall
Let’s get to work! pic.twitter.com/2kL4QOpB3n— Grant Wells (@GrantWells__) January 6, 2022
And Jason Brown who is transferring from South Carolina:
Been waiting awhile for this one.. I’m comin’ HOME! pic.twitter.com/Sxn5uRVi9U— Jason Brown (@JasonBrown_QB) January 6, 2022
Both are solid quarterbacks who are looking to compete for a chance to play consistently. These two young men look like they might be 2022 and 2023 season savers.
The rebuild will not be a rapid process. The first step was in rescuing a respectable recruiting class. There are still several offers that have yet to be signed off on, and those might go by the wayside. Those players are mostly redshirt candidates. Nearly all won’t have any immediate impact in the lineup for two seasons or more. That means the fixup phase will go on for a few years, while the new recruiting staff rebuilds the recruiting tree, and rebalances the roster churn. That’s just going to take time and Hokie Nation is just going to have to be patient for several years.
Time for you to answer the question:
Do you see that there will be enough cleanups and fixups to keep the team in plus win territory before the new recruiting effort begins to land players?
This poll is closed
It better have, there is little patience for wallowing around at, or around .500 with booger bowls to lose.
The Hokies are in for a multi-year stretch of rebuilding and fixups getting to or beyond .500 for a few seasons will be a miracle.
There are the makings of a good team, right now. It just takes a better strategy, use of players, and play calling and Tech will be challenging for the Coastal, soon.
Who cares? The NIT? That’s the best we’re gonna do? The NIT? Yeesh...
And that’s the way we end this trip through the player personnel issue. Next, we have to talk about US. Hokie Nation has lots to think about in relation to how to deal with transitions. We had forgotten tough times; and some fans never have seen them at all. That’s the final and tricky part of this series.
We’ll get that one out for y’all to chew over, soon. Until then,