— Tech Sideline (@TechSideline) September 21, 2020
The Hokies released their first depth chart of 2020 Monday as they work towards the opener against NC State on Saturday, but with so much up in the air in Blacksburg, it must be taken with a grain of salt.
“We’re taking it one day at a time here to try and get our guys ready to go,” Head Coach Justin Fuente said. “I’ve just been really pleased with our kids’ resiliency and their ability to stay focused on what we’re trying to get accomplished.”
It’s still unclear who will be available each weekend when Tech takes the field due to COVID-19 protocols, but this initial depth chart leads to many questions about the Hokies’ lineup just five days from kickoff.
The Offensive Line Gets Shaken Up
Throughout last season, no one could guess who would be lining up on the offensive line on any given play.
The Hokies had nine different players start up front in 2019, and all of them return for this season. Add in Brock Hoffman, who is now eligible after transferring from Coastal Carolina last offseason, and the Hokies have a full line-change of offensive linemen ready to go.
Tech’s starters on the depth chart are not too surprising. Junior Christian Darrisaw will start at left tackle with redshirt sophomore Luke Tenuta at the other bookend. Hoffman gets the nod at center with Lecitus Smith on his left at guard.
However, the right side of the line looks a little different than last season. Sophomore Bryan Hudson is listed as the starter at right guard, but Silas Dzansi, not Doug Nester, is listed as his backup.
Nester and Dzansi seem to have flipped positions during camp, as Nester bumps out to tackle after playing almost exclusively at guard last fall.
“I’m thankful that we have as many guys as we do that have played and played well,” Fuente said. “I think those are their natural spots in a perfect world, but I expect that they’ll be mixed around a little bit.”
The two-deep shows how much depth the Hokies have up front as the coaching staff should feel comfortable with all ten players listed getting significant playing time.
Who’s Replacing Devon Hunter?
After the surprise announcement last week that Devon Hunter was suspended from the program, the question became, who takes over at rover?
This depth chart seems to have answered this question with true freshman Keonta Jenkins being listed as the starter.
Jenkins, a three-star recruit out of Jacksonville, FL, will have to step up in Hunter’s absence. The hole left at rover is multiplied with Nasir Peoples missing the season with an injury as well.
“Losing Nasir hurt us. He had really made huge strides and was just really, heady and smart. I thought he was on his way to becoming a really good football player,” Fuente said. “He was also one of those guys that was very versatile and could slide in at several different spots. That created a little bit of urgency with those young guys.”
Hunter being suspended is now the third major hit to the Hokies’ secondary before playing the opening game. Now, without Peoples, Hunter and star cornerback Caleb Farley, the secondary will need to be flexible, with a lot of young players getting thrown into the fire.
“We do have some other guys on that depth chart that can play multiple positions,” Fuente said. “We’ll have to do a good job as we go through the season hopefully being able to cross train guys in those five defensive back positions to be able to play a couple different spots.”
Just like the offensive line, the Hokies return their three most important contributors in the linebacker room.
Rayshard Ashby is on the watchlist for the Lombardi Award after putting up 120 tackles last season and will lead the group during his senior year.
Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale also return and will play a large role next to, or in place of, Ashby. Hollifield and Tisdale are listed with an “OR” between them at the outside linebacker position, but you could see both on the field at the same time.
“Dax has been able to move to Mike, too and has provided some flexibility,” Fuente said. “Could they be playing at the same time? Yes, but I don’t know as it stands right now that we would be adding another linebacker onto the field as much as it would be Dax showing his versatility and moving over to the Mike position.”
With plenty of questions mounting in the secondary, it will be important for this linebacking corps to continue to have success like they did last season. All three players look to make major strides in 2020.
With everything going on in the Hokies’ program, mistakes can happen. There were some worries with Tayvion Robinson not being listed at the punt returner position. However, the breakout star on special teams was left off of the chart unintentionally.
“We’ve been shuttling guys around a lot. If we played right now, Tayvion would be back there,” Fuente said. “Those other guys have been back there and have been really good. I’m excited about them, but that’s just a mistake.”
Robinson was listed as First-Team All-ACC at punt returner in the preseason and should be a huge factor for Tech on special teams.
In the quarterback room, the plan is still to have Hendon Hooker start, but Braxton Burmeister is expected to play as well on Saturday.
“That’s an ongoing process on how that will exactly work. It’s going to be all hands on deck,” Fuente said. “We’re going to need everybody to find a way to have a chance to have success. I would say how that looks may change from day to day based on the information we have.”
Five days away from another scheduled kickoff in Blacksburg, there still doesn’t appear to be clarity on how COVID-19 will affect the Hokies’ lineup, but there is now an outline of what Tech football could look like in 2020.