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The 2020 Virginia Tech Defensive Line: The Good, The Bad, and The Future

By Brett Smith | October 22
The 2020 Virginia Tech Defensive Line: The Good, The Bad, and The Future
via Zach Lantz

Virginia Tech sits at 3-1 on the season, with a loss that we all would love to replay with no Covid-19 restrictions. The offense is BOOMING, averaging over 40 points a game (that’s something I never thought I’d say in my lifetime). However, the defense is leaving a few question marks for Hokie fans, especially in the trenches.

The Good

"TnT" Bringing the Boom

With Bud Foster's retirement at the conclusion of the 2019 season, it was unclear how the defensive staff would stack up for 2020. In January, former NFL DL coach Bill Teerlinck was announced as the new defensive line coach for the Hokies. Alongside him, former Hokie great and NFL veteran Darryl Tapp would become his right-hand man as an assistant.

These were glamourous hires for the Hokies, but there was a lot of work to do when they arrived.

The Plan is in Place

From the first mumblings of JHam and TnT working together, it was almost certain we were going to see some different styles of DE’s coming into the program. Hokie fans were expected to see more stand-up ends, such as Amare Barno (who has already been a major factor) in this role.

Bud's scheme also did not include the idea of "stand-up" defensive ends (with the exception of Chris Ellis). The term "stand-up" defensive end is quite literally a longer and leaner defensive end that doesn't typically get in a three-point stance. Players like Belmar and Reed are not those guys and JHam will have to adjust for the time being. True-freshmen Alec Bryant, Robert Wooten, and Justin Beadles all fit this scheme and they will need time to gain some experience.

Early Success

TnT showed success in their first two games, amassing 13 sacks. That was almost a third of all sacks in the 2019 season! The defensive line had seemingly improved as they were plugging gaps and getting pressure in both games with relative ease. This gave Hokie fans a reason to believe TnT really were a vast improvement after a few years of mediocrity at the position.

The Bad

Interior Line Size

Based on the depth chart released just before the season, here is the Hokies two-deep lineup for the interior line:

Defensive Tackle

- No. 36 DaShawn Crawford - Sr. – 6’0”/290

- No. 96 Norell Pollard - So. - 6’0”/265

Nose Tackle

- No. 5 Jarrod Hewitt - R-Sr. – 6’1”280

- No. 93 Mario Kendricks - So. – 6’0”/290

Virginia Tech’s average interior line size: 6’0”/281

Now let’s look at Clemson’s two-deep interior line:

Left Defensive Tackle

- No. 11 Bryan Breese – True Fr. – 6’5”/290

- No. 59 Jordan Williams – r-Jr – 6’4”/310

Right Defensive Tackle

- No. 13 Tyler Davis – So. – 6’2”/295

- No. 8 Tre Williams – True Fr. – 6’3”/300

Clemson’s average interior line size: 6’3.5”/299

That’s a glaring difference which includes two true-freshmen that will only get bigger on the Clemson meal plan.

But Brett! Of course Clemson is going to have better and bigger guys, they are the best team in the country!

Alright sure, let’s look at a team the Hokies will be competing with year in and year out. I am going to give the average size and maybe you can guess who it is.

*****’s average interior line size: 6’3”/296

Any takers?

It is indeed the UNC Tarheels, and here is how they stack up two-deep:

Nose Tackle

- No. 51 Raymond Vohasek – Jr/Transfer – 6’3”/295

- No 98 Kevin Hester Jr. – r-Fr – 6’ 4”/280

Defensive Tackle

- No. 52 Jahlil Taylor – r-So. – 6’0”/320

- No. 90 Xach Gill – r-Jr. – 6’5”/290

Looking at the three compared side by side evokes a concern

Virginia Tech’s average interior line size: 6’0”/281

Clemson’s average interior line size: 6’3.5”/299

UNC’s average interior line size: 6’3”/296

via 247 Sports

In Bud Foster’s scheme, he relied on A LOT of filling gaps from his linebackers and safeties coming up in the run defense in all sorts of blitz packages. The defensive line could get away with not being quite as big because they had help behind them.

Zone coverage also has been more present under JHam. This is keeping the safeties/whip players from filling the gaps and making plays in the first and second level of defense.

This was painfully clear in the UNC game. While the Hokies were missing key players in the secondary to help out, they still struggled to show any resistance up front.

In the first quarter of the BC game, the Hokies were also getting no push up front, but the defense came up big on turnovers early to keep it under control.

Attrition and Injury

Over the last couple of years, not many positions have been hit harder with attrition and injury than the defensive line.

Let’s first look at players the Hokie’s have lost due to dismissals, departures, and injuries the last year or so.

DE Tyjuan Garbutt

Garbutt was a coveted 4* player in the 2017 recruiting class that was expected to rotate with Justus Reed and Emmanuel Belmar. He had already made a serious impact the last two seasons and would have helped greatly with depth, but decided to opt-out of the 2020 season.

DT Jaden Cunningham

Cunningham suffered a season-ending Achilles injury before the season, a blow to the depth of the interior line. Cunningham was a player the Hokies were looking forward to bringing in the rotation with his size at 6’2” 306.

DE Jaevon Becton

Becton was suspended in March for violating Virginia Tech’s code of conduct and entered the transfer portal in June. Becton played in 10 games in the 2019 season and was expected to also be in the rotation with Reed, Belmar, and Garbutt.

DT Cam Goode

While Goode never actually made it on the field for the Hokies as he departed the program before the 2018 season began, he would have been a big help come 2020. At 6’0 304 pounds as a freshman, he would have been a major gap-filler after a Coach Hilgart plan.

via Virginia Tech Athletics

The Future

Young and Promising Players

One thing to note about our current two-deep interior line is that the Hokies are young behind Hewitt and Crawford. Pollard and Kendricks are both true sophomores, with Josh Fuga as a redshirt freshman behind them. Derrell Bailey Jr., a true freshman, is rumored to be playing some interior at 6’6” 275 but he has yet to see the field.

Fuga has shown some promise early and he also is the largest interior lineman we have at 6’2” 323. I expect him to become a major part of the JHam era defense in the coming years.

As for the outside, it’s clear what TnT are looking for. Long and athletic guys who can stretch out an offense. I noted in the previous section “The Good” of Alec Bryant, Robert Wooten, and Justin Beadles. They are all long and lean outside rushers, with some good size as well for true freshmen.

- Alec Bryant 6’3” 240

- Robert Wooten 6’3” 240

- Justin Beadles 6’5” 235

Once they gain some experience, I believe JHam and TnT will be able to fully implement these guys into their positions they were recruited for.

Amare Barno

Barno has already shown his athletic prowess, reach, and motor in the times he has played this season. He is still a bit underweight, but I expect a normal spring and summer workout will get him up to day-one-or-two NFL draft potential size.

What's Next?

As it stands, the Hokies have no interior lineman and two defensive ends (Cole Nelson and Matheus Carroll) in their 2021 class. As I said before, the defensive line has young depth behind the starters, but I would not be surprised to see another JUCO transfer or two arriving in Blacksburg in the future.

As for now, I am excited to see what TnT will do with the DL as the season goes on.

via Virginia Tech Athletics
Brett Smith

Welcome to the Terror Dome my fellow Hokies. I am a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in Agribusiness along with minors in Communication Studies and Entrepreneurship. I come from a Hokie family. My mom, dad, sister, grandfather, uncle, great uncle, two cousins….you get the point, I bleed maroon and orange. I can’t even remember the last time I missed a Virginia Tech football game in person or on TV, laptop, iPhone, or even radio (the 2003 Texas A&M game). I am located in the beautiful small town of Seaford, Virginia working for a coffee company in research and development. In my free time you will see me playing golf, fishing, or playing electric guitar. Yes, I know how to play Enter Sandman. So to my Sons and Daughters of Hokie Nation, START JUMPING!

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