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The Defensive Front Seven Preview 2022

By Ryan Hartman | September 01
Image Courtesy of Hokie Sports

The front seven for the Hokies is full of familiar names and a few breakthrough guys looking to make contributions. The defensive line is coached by the well-known J.C. Price. Price was retained by coach Pry from the previous regime and many fans were proud to see that after coach Price lead the Hokies to a win versus in-state rival UVa last November. Price brings a familial lunch pail attitude to the line and he is at the helm of a group who seem to have a lot of similar qualities that fit his mentality. Shawn Quinn and new defensive coordinator Chris Marve are tag teaming linebacking corp coaching duties. Quinn comes to Blacksburg with head coaching experience at Savannah State and spent time with coach Pry at Georgia State. Quinn has also been to blue bloods like LSU and Tennessee in his 24 years of coaching experience before coming to Tech. Marve is a young and up-and-coming coach with eight past years of experience. Pry believes in him enough to promote him from Linebackers coach at FSU to D.C. here for the Hokies.

D Line: The 1’s

The first depth chart for ODU this Friday September 1st has been released, so we have some knowledge about who the starters are going to be. Flanking at defensive end is Tyjuan Garbutt and Jaylen Griffin. Both of these names are known in Virginia Tech fan households. Garbutt 6’1’’ 252 lbs (#45) and Griffin 6’1’’ 256 (#41), both lack top end measurables but are more speed rushers from the outside. Garbutt has elite talent in setting an edge in the running game. He was tied second in sacks for the defense last year with 3.5 as well. Expect to see #45 near the quarterback often this year as he will hopefully continue to show his prowess in getting after the signal caller. Griffin played more on the interior of the line last year but he moves into a more fitting role on the edge for this year. In a more appropriate role for the product out of Rome, Georgia, expect to see more production from Griffin on the edge than the interior.

Photo Courtesy of Hokie Sports

The interior defensive line also features names fans will recognize at the top of the depth chart with Josh Fuga, Norell Pollard and Mario Kendricks. Brent Pry spoke to the media a few weeks ago and each of these guys were mentioned as having different sparks for the team. Fuga at 6’2’’ 302 lbs (#6) brings a big bodied run stopping mentality to the front of that line. His tape shows ability to plug holes and get push into the backfield. Fuga also started every game last year and will bring a lot of experience in for the 2022 campaign. Pollard may be a bit undersized at 6’0’’ and 285 (#3) but he brings a lot of production in from last year totaling 27 tackles and 3 TFLs. Kendricks is 6’0’’ 290 lbs (#22) and has probably the best pass rushing ability from the interior. Kendricks only had one sack last year but expect that number to grow with a more prominent role in 2022. These guys have been around and have produced in various ways in significant spots. The top of the depth chart at both end and tackle is strong but where the struggle might come is with the depth.

D Line: The Depth

A lot of young guys sprinkle the depth on the line this year. These are a majority of guys who are unproven but a lot of them have shown serious talent in camp and the opportunities they have gotten. Wilfred Pene 6’3’’ 290 lbs (#91) is a Frenchman who converted from TE to the defensive line primarily due to his size. Pene is listed on the depth chart at tackle behind Pollard, so expect to see him in week 1 against ODU in a reserve role. Another guy with great size that shows a lot of potential is Mattheus Carroll 6’5’’ 244 lbs (#90). Carroll’s tape in high school shows a true athlete with a lot of ability. He is likely still working to refine his craft to produce at DE. He saw some time last year with 42 snaps under his belt and in camp he has seen time at both end and tackle so that versatility will come in handy with any injuries that come. Cole Nelson 6’3’’ 241 lbs (#17) played in 11 games last year as a freshman, but fans have yet to see exactly all he has to offer after transitioning to the college game. He will certainly factor in at the end spot as well.

Eli Adams 5’1’’ 230 lbs (#46) is a guy who contributed quite a bit last year playing in 13 games. Interestingly he is not on the depth chart right now but is likely to see the field. C.J. McCray 6’3’’ 237 lbs (#56) is another familiar name. Pry said in his presser yesterday “he is dealing with a minor injury so he is touch and go right now.” C.J. will also likely factor into the depth at line though. Jorden McDonald 6’4’’ 237 lbs (#39) comes from down the road in Salem with his brother Jayden (#38). Jorden comes down to the line from defensive back last year, so he sees a pretty big jump to a new spot and as a freshman he will likely be a project in motion this year. Speaking of freshmen, the rest of the line is composed of young guys all freshman including:

Kyree Moyston 6’4’’ 239 lbs (#14)

Keyshawn Burgos 6’5’’ 239 lbs (#2)

Gunner Givens 6’5’’ 287 lbs (#32)

Malachi Madison 6’3’’ 288 lbs (#54)

Lemar Law Jr. 6’5’’ 320 (#55)

These guys will look to emerge as playmakers and we will probably see one or two of these freshmen on the field this year if they are able to separate themselves from the pack. There are some other guys lower on the depth chart who will see action when called upon if more depth is needed including Max Philpott, Lakeem Rudolph (who makes a positions change from LB), Nigel Simmons and Desmond Mamudi.

K Eonta
Photo Courtesy of Hokie Sports

Linebackers: The 1’s

At Mike Linebacker a fan favorite graces the top of the depth chart in Dax Hollifield 6’1’’ 245lbs (#4). Fans know what they are getting from number four and it is tenacity, effort and heart. He uses his extra year of eligibility from the COVID season to keep improving his ability. He fits well in the new more standard scheme as the true guy in the middle. He has said he wants to improve in coverage this year and fans have seen his intensity and love for the game and his team. The Will linebacker spot is not as straight forward and the waters were muddied a bit ahead of the kickoff at ODU. Jaden Keller 6’3’’ 223 lbs (#24) has turned heads all camp and brought a competition to this spot along with freshman Jayden McDonald 6’4’’ 231 lbs (#38) to veteran Alan Tisdale 6’3’’ 225 lbs (#34). Keller was a 3-star recruit from Bristol, TN who enrolled in the 2021 class and Jayden was also a 3-star from Salem, VA. Pry has said that he has a plan for this position and wants to see the best 11 guys on the field, so this could be a who emerges as the hot hand situation. Keonta Jenkins 6’3’’ 214 lbs (#7) is listed as the starter at the final Sam linebacker spot. Fans will be used to seeing Jenkins in the defensive backfield, but he moves a bit closer to line here. He will still be important in coverage but his new role will see him attack the quarterback more as well. Pry loves to utilize this position’s versatility and expect Jenkins to make plays all over the field.

“The sams have learned will and the wills have learned mike.”

— Brent Pry

This quote from the head whistle makes it apparent that the linebackers will be prepared to play wherever needed. A few player fans are likely to see are Keshon Artis 6’0’’ 246 lbs (#15), J.R. Walker 6’0’’ 223 (#19) and Dean Ferguson 6’2’’ 225 lbs (#47). Walker played in all 13 games last year and flashed at time. Artis was also seen in all 13 games last year and made some plays in the backfield against MTSU and Richmond . Ferguson is a name that has floated around for a while, but he has yet to see too much action on the field. All three of these guys provide much needed depth at this position this year. Walker is behind Jenkins at the Sam spot, Artis is listed behind Dax at the Mike and Ferguson could probably contribute at multiple different areas.

Keli Lawson 6’4’’ 215 lbs (#21) has been mentioned now multiple times by coach Pry as a guy who has showed serious ability in camp, so it would not be surprising to see him fill a role in a few spots. It might be tough to play him in more than 4 games and burn a redshirt but he has the measureables to be a great defender for the Hokies. Tyler Matheny 6’1’’ 227 lbs (#30) saw a prominent role during the COVID season in 2020 against UNC and Duke and will play a reserve role. Some other reserve guys are Ben Skinner and freshman Will Johnson. Other unfortunate things to note is that Matt Johnson and Pheldarius Payne (transfer from Nebraska) were both lost for the season with injuries.

The backers are potentially the best and deepest unit on the team with proven guys as starters and even back-ups who have shown ability. The line is a bit of different story with a top heavy starting unit and some depth concerns with young guys needing to contribute immediately. The front seven is learning a new scheme under coach Pry and Marve and it seems to fit the play of the guys more smoothly. The defense on paper proves to be more productive in the back end with the linebackers and defensive backfield having more returning talent but if the line can stay healthy and have some freshmen and sophomores step up it could be a stout defense in year one for coach Pry.