2005 VT Football Preview: The Defensive Line

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The Virginia Tech defensive line is expected to be a team
strength this year, and with the talent returning it certainly should be.
However, there are some depth issues, as well as a possible position switch that
could soften the effectiveness of the front four. The Hokies need some backups
to step up within the next week, so defensive line coach Charley Wiles can set
his two deep for the season.

Stud

Chris Ellis, r-So., 6-5, 254

At this point it appears that talented sophomore Chris
Ellis will beat out incumbent starter Noland Burchette at the stud defensive end
position. Ellis saw a lot of playing time as a redshirt freshman for the Hokies
last season and showed flashes of being a big time player. He hit the weight
room hard in the winter and dominated the Tech offensive line in spring
practice. That has carried over into August, and Ellis could very well be the
best defensive end that ACC followers have never heard of. After an impressive
first scrimmage this past Saturday, it looks like they’ll be hearing about him
sooner rather than later.

Noland Burchette, r-Jr., 6-2, 252

The fact that Chris Ellis will likely win the starting job
should not make anyone say “What’s wrong with Noland Burchette?” On the
contrary, Burchette has had a good camp as well. He is an improved player after
having a solid 2004 campaign. The simple fact is that Ellis just looks better
right now. Burchette is not a top flight pass rusher, but he is very good at
maintaining gap control and stopping the run. He will see a lot of snaps this
fall and be a valuable part of the defensive line.

End

Darryl Tapp, Sr., 6-1, 268

Darryl Tapp is the returning star of the Virginia Tech
defensive line. Tapp broke out in 2004, recording 8.5 sacks while on his way to
First Team All-ACC honors. A pass rusher in the Dwight Freeney mold, Tapp doesn’t
have ideal height for the position, but he makes up for it with strength, a good
first step, and an amazing drive to succeed. As the leader of Tech’s defense
heading into 2005, the only question about Tapp is whether or not anyone will be
able to pry the lunch pail from his hands.

Well, there is one more question about Tapp. How much
defensive tackle will he play this year? That’s dependent on whether or not
some young backups develop at defensive tackle. Kory Robertson showed promise in
the recent scrimmage, so that is a good sign. The Tech defensive line would be
most effective with Tapp and Ellis at end, and hopefully Tapp will be able to
devote the majority of his time to the outside.

Orion Martin, r-Fr., 6-1, 243

Orion Martin is a former walk-on who earned a scholarship
after an impressive showing in spring practice. Martin proved to be a very
formidable player in space. He has good speed and good acceleration, and he can
make plays from sideline to sideline. He also showed a very good ability to get
to the quarterback. However, Martin is by far the smallest defensive end the
Hokies have in the upper body. He lacks the power to stand up to powerful
tackles in the running game, so his effectiveness and playing time will be
limited this year because of that. But he does have a nice future on defense for
the Hokies.

William Wall, Fr., 6-4, 253



Wall is probably the most physically put together freshman
defensive end that Virginia Tech has ever brought in. Right now he is more
physically ready to play than Martin, but he doesn’t know the system and is a
bit lost. I expect him to start the season behind Martin on the depth chart, but
he has a great chance to pass him at some point during the season as he adjusts
to the speed and strength of the college game. Wall appears to have a great
future at end for the Hokies.

Nose

Carlton Powell, r-So., 6-2, 285

Like Chris Ellis, Carlton Powell played very well as a
r-freshman last season for the Hokies. One of the top hustlers on defense,
Powell appears to be the front runner to start in 2005 for Tech. Not much has
been heard out of Powell during August, and Charley Wiles’ idea of moving Tapp
inside seems to indicate that perhaps Powell hasn’t made as much progress as
hoped. But I expect him to have a solid year and to develop into one of the
better defensive tackles of the Beamer Bowl Era.

Tim Sandidge, r-Sr., 6-1, 310

Sandidge played very well as a freshman in 2002, but his
play has leveled off since then. He appeared in ten games last season but was
only in on seven tackles. However, he had some very good players in front of
him. Reports indicate that he has had a very good preseason and is putting heavy
pressure on Powell for the starting job. I do expect that Carlton Powell will
win the job, but Sandidge should see a lot of snaps as a backup and have a year
similar to that of Kevin Lewis in 2004.

Tackle

Jonathan Lewis, Sr., 6-1, 308

Lewis will serve as the bell cow of the Tech defensive
tackles during his senior season. An inconsistent player throughout his first
two seasons, Lewis finally turned it on in 2004 and showed why he was such a
highly touted player coming out of high school. He doesn’t get the credit he
deserves because he plays on the same defensive line as Darryl Tapp, but Lewis
is a future NFL draft pick and his health is critical if the Hokies want to
repeat as ACC Champions.

Barry Booker, r-So., 6-4, 294

There is a major battle going on behind Lewis between
Barry Booker and Kory Robertson. Booker appears to be slightly winning the
battle at this point. Booker only appeared in one game in 2004 but showed
gradual improvement throughout the spring. He gained 15 pounds in the offseason
and has demonstrated better strength and much improved technique since fall
practice opened. He missed Saturday’s scrimmage due to an injury, and it is
important for him to get healthy so he can continue to challenge for playing
time.

Kory Robertson, r-So., 6-2, 331

The most physically gifted of Tech’s defensive tackles,
Robertson hasn’t shown the ability to be mentally tough. He also struggles
with his technique, playing too upright when engaging with offensive linemen.
However, his three sack performance is this past Saturday’s scrimmage, plus
Booker’s injury, gives Robertson hope that he can win the backup job this
season.

Overall Rating

I think the starting unit is outstanding, but I’m
concerned about the depth, so I give this group a B+ overall. They have
the potential to be higher, if they can find some capable backups at defensive
tackle. I think Tim Sandidge will be fine, but either Booker or Robertson, or
preferably both, need to step up. Playing Tapp at defensive tackle would
seriously negate the problems that an offense would face when trying to block
both Tapp and Ellis off the edge. But if someone doesn’t step up, that’s the
direction Charley Wiles will go.

Previews/Grades Thus Far

Quarterbacks
(8/2/05)

B

Running
Backs
(8/4/05)

B+

Wide
Receivers and Tight Ends
(8/9/05)

A-

Offensive
Line
(8/11/05)

C+

Defensive Line (8/16/05)

B+

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