As the Virginia Tech Hokies begin fall camp this week, we will continue rolling out our positional previews ahead of the 2022 college football season, which begins next month. Last week, we previewed the quarterback and running back positions.
Today, we look at Virginia Tech’s offensive line. The Hokies will look different this season as new offensive line coach Joe Rudolph replaces Vance Vice. In addition, the Hokies lose talented multi-year starters Lecitus Smith, Luke Tenuta and Brock Hoffman to the NFL, one year after losing Christian Darrisaw.
The new coach
Rudolph comes to Virginia Tech as arguably one of the five best offensive line coaches in college football. We will never know how Pry pulled Rudolph away from Wisconsin, where he coached the past seven seasons and 11 seasons overall, but it was a home-run hire, particularly for a first-time head coach. Rudolph also played for the Badgers in the early 1990s.
What is the first thing you think about when someone asks you about Wisconsin football? For me, it is power football and the offensive line. Look at the NFL over the years, and the number of Wisconsin offensive linemen have moved on to the next level. That resume and Rudolph’s personality have already positioned him as a top recruiter, and the Hokies sit well with some future talent in the trenches.
Vice wasn’t a bad coach. He proved he could recruit and was arguably Virginia Tech’s top recruiter under Justin Fuente. The problem with Vice is he too often rotated players instead of settling on a unit. That works in the offseason but doesn’t go over too well in the season. While some would say he couldn’t develop players, that is false. Look at the careers of Darrisaw, Tenuta and Smith. None came to Blacksburg as a heralded recruit, and all are now in the NFL.
Regardless, Rudolph is better, and that’s critical for the Hokies. There were depth questions in the spring, but head coach Brent Pry isn’t worried as he knows Rudolph will teach his unit and mold a solid group.
- 55. Johnny Jordan, Grad.
- 60. Silas Dzansi, R-Sr.
- 72. Jesse Hanson, R-So.
- 75. Bob Schick, R-So.
- 68. Kaden Moore, So.
- 70. Parker Clements, So.
- 52. Tyler Smedley, R-Fr.
- 53. Nikolai Bujnowski, R-Fr.
- 58. Jack Hollifield, R-Fr.
- 59. Chris Boyd, R-Fr.
- 62. Jonathan Kuhler, R-Fr.
- 63. Griffin Duggan, R-Fr.
- 71. Danijel Miletic, R-Fr.
- 74. William Jones, R-Fr.
- 65. Xavier Chaplin, Fr.
- 66. Hunter Mclain, Fr.
- 76. Johnny Dickson, Fr.
- 77. Brody Meadows, Fr.
- 79. Johnny Garrett, Fr.
The projected starters
If the season began today, this is how we’d project Virginia Tech’s starting offensive line: LT Silas Dzansi, RG Jesse Hanson, C Johnny Jordan, RG Kaden Moore, RT Parker Clements.
If everyone remains healthy, this is a good bet. Dzansi and Jordan are experienced vets. Dzansi has started multiple years for the Hokies at both tackle positions and has developed into a team leader. Rudolph could help Dzansi get drafted, as talent or effort have never been an issue for him. Rudolph immediately began working with Dzansi on improving his technique, and the early signs are encouraging.
Moore is a future NFL starter. He started every game as a true freshman last season and will only get better under Rudolph. Clements is another big and talented young player who should thrive under Rudolph’s tutelage. Hanson finally receives his opportunity after waiting behind Hoffman, Smith and others.
Virginia Tech has five true freshmen offensive linemen on the roster: Hunter Mclain, Xavier Chaplin, Brody Meadows, Johnny Dickson and Johnny Garrett. There are reasons to be encouraged about each of these young players.
Chaplin (6-foot-6, 355), Meadows (6-foot-6, 280) and Dickson (6-foot-3, 310) are massive and look ready to play immediately. Mclain and Garrett are most likely to redshirt. Garrett is a promising future tackle prospect as he has excellent athleticism, having played tight end before. His development will be fun to watch.
Chaplin is the player to be most excited about. The Hokies deserve credit for finding Chaplin and offering him early. Other schools tried to flip him, but Pry and Rudolph kept him in the boat after taking over. Once he learns his techniques, the sky is the limit for Chaplin.
Dickson is another terrific prospect who had plenty of other opportunities. He should play early in his career. Meadows is a local prospect from Bluefield who backed off his pledge from Virginia and flipped to the Hokies. His development will also be fun to watch.
It’s difficult to determine how well Virginia Tech’s offensive line will play in 2022. There is talent here, but also plenty of inexperience. If the top five stay healthy, it should be a good group. The coaches would like to see Hanson lock down the left guard position this summer and head into the season with its top unit settled.
The key here is Rudolph. It’s unlikely the same five who begin the season will finish the season. That’s not even an indication of one player struggling, but the nature of the position. Offensive linemen have a difficult job and get hurt. How Rudolph navigates the injuries and finds depth will determine the success of this group in 2022.
It’s a safe assumption to believe the focus for this year’s offense will be the running game. This offense doesn’t appear to be one where the quarterback will drop back 50 times per game. That’s good for the offensive line.
In addition to the starting five, I find the development of the five freshmen to be a fascinating storyline this season. It’s a talented group that could become a foundational class for the Hokies.