With James Mitchell Out, How will Virginia Tech Replace his Production?
Heading into the 2021 season, there were concerns about Virginia Tech's ability to withstand injuries to a number of position groups, including quarterback, linebacker, offensive line, and defensive end.
The one position group that was not a significant concern from a depth standpoint was tight end, where the Hokies boast playable depth behind All-ACC tight end James Mitchell.
Nick Gallo has proven to be a capable pass catcher, while Drake Deiuliis has shown ability as a capable blocker and pass catcher, when called upon, in limited playing time.
Now, with James Mitchell out for the year from a knee injury suffered against Middle Tennessee State, the onus will be on Nick Gallo and Drake Deiuliis to piece together production at tight end to keep the offense afloat.
To put it simply - you can't replace a talent like James Mitchell overnight. He's an All-ACC player and future NFL Draft pick for a reason. However, given how Brad Cornelsen utilizes the tight end in the Virginia Tech offense, I believe that this is a bigger loss for the running game than the passing game. Mitchell is one of the team's best blockers, and the pass-catching aspect of the tight ends group is traditionally not utilized as much as it probably should be in the Virginia Tech offense. Mitchell is certainly one of the offense's best weapons in the passing game, and that will be missed, but the first thought that came to my mind was Mitchell's impact on the running game and the difficulty replacing his excellent blocking ability.
So how will Virginia Tech divvy up the snaps with Mitchell out of the lineup?
In my opinion, it's quite simple. The Hokies have run several two tight end sets this season, and I don't expect that to change. Gallo and Deiuliis have different enough skillsets to make this work with Mitchell out, but it's going to require some schematic adjustments in both the passing game and the running game.
The strength of Gallo's game is in the passing game, and the strength of Deiuliis is as a blocker. However, both tight ends will need to improve on their weaknesses and step up in order to give the Hokies a realistic threat at the tight end position to both pass and run.
Given Virginia Tech's propensity to try to establish the run, I'd anticipate seeing more Deiuliis than Gallo on early downs, while Gallo will likely be on the field a ton in obvious passing situations and on third down. And again, both will be on the field quite a bit together, as Virginia Tech loves to both run and throw out of two tight end sets.
The timing of Mitchell's injury is not ideal, as the Hokies prepare for one of the stiffest tests of the season this upcoming Saturday in Morgantown. Will Tech try to supplement the loss of Mitchell in the passing game by playing with three or four wide receiver sets more often? Will they be comfortable playing Gallo and Deiuliis at the same time on such short notice?
We'll find out the true impact of Mitchell's loss immediately in a big game this Saturday, but the way that the Hokies account for the loss with their offensive alignment will be a storyline to watch on the first couple of possessions of the game on Saturday.