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Virginia Tech Hokies 2023 Roster Review: Running Backs and O-Line Catch Up

It’s time to look at the very small Running Back Room, and get an idea of what sort of depth and positioning that Hokie Nation can expect out of the running game from a back’s perspective. We also update the Offensive line roster with some new additions. GO HOKIES!!!

Chance Black with the ball in the Spring Game
John Schneider - SB Nation

As we jump back to the offensive side of the ball, we take a look at the room many folks are laser focused on (outside the obvious Quarterback question). The Running Back room in 2022 was not particularly healthy. There was some talent there, but Malachi Thomas, the Hokies #1 was dinged up pretty harshly in practice late in the Fall ramp up, and just never got healthy. There were some other bright young prospects that filled in but, frankly, just could not run the ball effectively in 2022.

The Theory vs. Reality

This is always the case in football. The theories have volumes of pages, diagrams, charts, statistics, you name it and someone has come up with some form of something to do something against some tendency. Blah, blah, blah. The theories are manifold, and the results are manifest. Theoretical stuff dissolves in a puff of smoke as the heat of reality lights flame to playbooks and stultifies blocking schemes.

There are four basic running plays in football, and it doesn’t matter what fancy names, code words, or jargon are layered on them. The Dive, the Slant, the Sweep, and the Wide Sweep or Pitch. Those four plays are run either to the right or the left, the strong or weak side – and into the boundary or out to the field. So, to expand that thinking… the mirror of those runs ends up being 4 basic plays and 4 variations.

The entirety of the remainder is obfuscation, deception, brute force, and speed.

The simple objective of any blocker is to get between the nearest opposing player and where the ball is coming. The simple objective for the running back is to get through the hole (gap/seam) created by two big butts shoving two other big butts out of the way. Hopefully with a third moving big butt to get in the way at the second level.

The major weakness in every single modern shotgun offense is that it is a flavor variation of the ancient single wing formation and running plays are slow to develop and can be shut down at the point of attack before the runner ever gets to the line of scrimmage. No matter how fast the backs are, they are still three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage at the exchange/hand-off and have absolutely no momentum built up to hit the ‘hole’ with any authority. Just ask the ancient Chicago Bears Sid Luckman what the answer to that problem became, and how it dominated football for five decades. It’s been called “Caveman Football” and still represents the core of the sport as developed before the “modern” era instituted the ‘West Coast’ variations.

Well, that is all said to say this, if you operate a slow developing run game from a passive zone blocking scheme executed from a shotgun or pistol formation, then your running backs had better be patient, quick cutting, well balanced, and fast. A modern tailback has to run with his head up and his center of gravity low enough to accelerate quickly through developing seams. The old Gut, and Dive jargon can largely be left in the index pages of the playbook. In fact, the Gut became the Belly play. Which is essentially what we formerly called the “Cheeto” the base read/option, run up the middle.

The question is begged, now. Do we have the backs capable of executing this sort of offense? We will talk about Bowen’s stated offence later in the beginning of the season when we finish the ODU game and head into the wrap up of how we saw things unfold.

The New Situation

The offseason has given Coach Pry a chance to address the issue. The first big move was a coaching switch. Pry reached out to Maryland’s (and former DeMatha Catholic High School – a huge DC Metro powerhouse) Elijah Brooks to take over the Running Back Room. The move pushed Stu Holt to a more accustomed role at Tight Ends (and also allowed him to concentrate on Special Teams).

Along with Coach Brooks, the Hokies dug into the transfer portal to grab some depth and established running chops. Bhayshul Tuten was a huge get from North Carolina A&T (A standout player for a traditional HBCU football powerhouse.) It’s important to notice how small the Running Back roster is, again this season. There are eight listed and one of those players, Khiari Miller, is listed as the only Full Back on the roster. Nothing has changed since the start of Fall practice.

2023 Hokie Football Running Backs

Number Name Position Height Weight Class Anticipated Depth Playing Potential
Number Name Position Height Weight Class Anticipated Depth Playing Potential
33 Bhayshul Tuten RB 5' 11" 200 Jr. 1 No doubts. Tuten will be an immediate feature back in a two back system.
22 Bryce Duke RB 5' 11" 205 So. 2 Duke has had lots of solid flashes but still hasn't been fully used on offense.
20 P.J. Prioleau RB 5' 11" 163 R-So. 3 Two years in the system - expect Special Teams and scout duties.
24 Malachi Thomas RB 6' 0" 206 R-So. 1 If Thomas stays healthy- this is his big shot at doing great things with Tuten.
28 Chance Black RB 6' 1" 190 R-So. 2 Black will play but as a third back in the rotation and used in situational packages.
41 Khiari Miller FB 5' 10" 257 R-Fr. 3 Just out of redshirt status - expect scout team and backup status.
16 Tralon Mitchell RB 6' 0" 201 Fr. 4 Redshirt expected
21 Jeremiah Coney RB 6' 0" 189 Fr. 4 Redshirt expected
This is a small room without depth beyond 3s Gobbler Country from Hokie Sports Data

Looking at this theoretical depth chart, we deal with starting “quality” again, and not actual depth position. That will be published by the team as the Fall practice closes, and we’ll make our comparisons at the time, probably in a joint article. The man issue is that the Ones and Twos are more than likely to play significant roles in the offense for the season.


Malachi Thomas – Thomas is finally healthy and reportedly running with confidence and strength.

Bhayshul Tuten – Tuten is looking like a 2nd Khalil Herbert, with skilled, patient block setups and lightning quick cuts giving him the opportunity to change directions as seams develop.


Note: This list is actually mostly 2/1s because any one of these players could start if they are needed in that situation.

Chance Black – Black improved greatly last season and is looking like a solid dual threat running back and receiver. Expect to see him often.

Bryce Duke – With the advent of return specialists popping up on the roster, Duke will probably get snaps in some situations. He’s too useful to not get involved with his redshirt already burned.

One completely unknown player’s role is listed Fullback, Khiari Miller, what his function and how he will be worked into the package schemes will be of interest.

Brutal Realities of Football

The running back position is injury prone, and no one is fooling anyone when a fluke hit, or bad cut, changes the entire thought and chart process. The final four players on the roster are going to need to be ready to produce. True freshmen Tralon Mitchell and Jeremiah Coney should expect to redshirt, but you never know.

Update on the Offensive Line

As we noted in the Offensive Line review, the Fall practice changes things up. Players are added and lost. Some are moved, and some pack it in to do other things in life. The latest changes are positive, though.

Hokie O-Line Changes for Fall 2023

Number Name Position Height Weight Class Anticipated Depth Playing Potential
Number Name Position Height Weight Class Anticipated Depth Playing Potential
71 Clayton Frady OL 6' 4" 293 Sr. 1 This experienced transfer player is expected to have a significant starting roll.
76 Johnny Dickson OL 6' 3" 295 R-Fr. 3 Dickson could be a solid addition on the interior - time will see how he works in.
54 Grant Karczewski OL 6' 7" 259 Fr. 4 Expect a redshirt
57 Brayden DeMasi OL 6' 4" 290 Fr. 4 Expect a redshirt
74 Jayson Morgan OL 6' 8" 242 Fr. 4 Expect a redshirt
Looking at the changes in the O-Line with some new players and better depth Gobbler Country with Hokie Sports Data

The Offensive line has been supplemented by a few new players, one who is expected to fit into the regular 1 and 2 level substitution rotation, transfer Senior Offensive Lineman Clayton Frady made his official appearance on the roster. The other additions look like depth moves which is greatly desired since this line has to fuse and grow over time. Face, it. Without a consistent functional offensive line, the running game is more like the stopping game, again.

As we learn more, we’ll be updating things. The team keeps personnel moves very guarded, and how Frady and the new linemen fit in will be a matter of time and event maturation.

Now It’s Your Turn


Will Virginia Tech actually run the ball better this season?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Face it, if the Offensive Line isn’t better, the Hokies could have the 2 best running backs in college football and still stall out. The line is still in question, so is the answer, too. Answer: ‘Too Early to Tell’
    (59 votes)
  • 7%
    Four solid starting quality running backs. That’s nice but running is horribly inefficient and only useful in limited circumstances. It’s still an issue for the QB and Receivers. These guys will do and that’s about it. Answer: a guarded ‘Yes’
    (11 votes)
  • 16%
    I don’t care who is running, just do it with your eyes open and head screwed on straight. No more tanking slow sprint draws into a pile of humanity for no significant yardage. I’ll take a solid 4-yard average runner over a star, any day. Answer: ‘Maybe’
    (26 votes)
  • 37%
    This looks like a winning group. Smaller than we are used to, but grade out much better. Get the O-Line working, and anyone here can make a difference. Any injury will be a problem, though. Answer: ‘Trying really hard to be positive’
    (57 votes)
153 votes total Vote Now

Next up, the big push pull for the Linebackers.