Starting a freshman at right guard in the opener? No problem for Virginia Tech's coaching staff
In case you live under a rock, Virginia Tech football opens its 2021 campaign on Friday night against tenth-ranked North Carolina at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.
The Hokies enter this tilt as a 5.5-point underdog, with a fair share of questions surrounding the program's ability to compete against the highly-touted Tar Heels.
One of several questions entering the opener (and the season for that matter) center around the alignment and play of the offensive line. With All-ACC left tackle Christian Darrisaw moving on to the NFL, and linemen Doug Nester (West Virginia) and Bryan Hudson (Louisville) entering the transfer portal during the offseason, many fans were left wondering how the Hokies would adapt with a new-look offensive line.
Veteran offensive tackle and future NFL draft pick Luke Tenuta bounced over from right tackle to fill Christian Darrisaw's void at left tackle, redshirt-junior Lecitus Smith will look to pick up right where he left off at left guard, and redshirt-junior Brock Hoffman will start at center.
The question marks regarding the offensive line were never focused on those three players; each of which played significant starting roles on last year's team. The questions begin and end on the right side of the offensive line, which began in fall camp with Silas Dzansi at right guard and seventh-year senior Tyrell Smith frequenting the right tackle spot. Smith injured his knee in the early portion of fall camp, leading to him missing some practice time. It is not a season-ending injury by any means, but he missed enough practice time two weeks ago to make things interesting at the right guard and tackle spots.
Now, as the depth chart has been released for North Carolina, it is Dzansi who has bumped out to right tackle, while freshman Kaden Moore will occupy the right guard spot.
Justin Fuente and offensive line coach Vance Vice have never been afraid to throw young guys into the fire in starting roles early in their career, with Moore manning the guard spot in the opener being the latest example of that.
Fuente elaborated on the decision on Monday evening during Tech Talk Live.
"[Moore] is a guy we've been excited about ever since he's been on campus. Coming into the season, we knew there was going to be an opportunity for a young guy or two to make their way into the starting lineup, particularly on the right side. He's just worked really diligently on some of the technique things that we really felt like he needed to improve on, and he's been more focused. Not that he wasn't focused before, but when you're redshirting, it's different. I think it really occurred to him that he had a legitimate chance to go play, and he's really taken a hold of it and had himself a really good fall camp."
Moore hasn't just impressed the coaching staff, he's earned the respect of veteran leaders on the team as well. In Monday's game week press availability, Lecitus Smith was asked about the play of Moore during camp and what has stood out to him about his performance.
"I'm excited about him...the thing about him was that even though he didn't know the playbook that good, and even though he didn't know who to do it to, no matter who got in his way, he was going to knock him out."
North Carolina returns a mature defensive line that will surely test Moore's ability early and often in the opener on Friday night.
Whether or not he can hold up under pressure could decide the final outcome - but Justin Fuente and Vance Vice are confident that he will be ready to play against the Tar Heels.