Although Virginia Tech’s offense lost some key pieces to the NFL and the transfer portal over the last few months, the Hokies were able to hang onto a couple of big names for 2021.
Tight end James Mitchell and center Brock Hoffman both had major questions to answer about their future during the offseason as they were eligible to enter the NFL Draft. Despite taking a look at moving to the next level, both Mitchell and Hoffman decided to don the maroon and orange for another season.
Mitchell, the former four-star recruit, led the Hokies with four receiving touchdowns in 2020 while posting over 400 yards through the air. There was sure to be some interest in Mitchell from NFL teams in April’s draft, but one more year in Blacksburg could push him into a more lucrative spot in 2022.
“I submitted my name obviously to get feedback from the NFL and sat down with Coach Fuente a couple of times and talked to Coach Shibest a couple of times, even Coach Teerlinck a couple of times because he has buddies in the NFL,” Mitchell said. “From there, it was just having talks with my family about what we thought was best. Through those talks, we decided it was best for me to come back, have another year and get my degree.”
Now back with the program, Mitchell should continue to expand his role in the Hokies’ offense. He only had 26 catches a season ago in his first season as the team’s top option at tight end. Last season, he improved exponentially as a blocker, but now it will be key for Mitchell to have a break-out year in the running game and the passing game.
“It wasn’t just getting the ball that was part of my feedback, so I know there’s a lot more that I need to do than come back and get more touches,” Mitchell said. “That’s not the reason that I came back. We had talks about it, but they know that I’ll do whatever it takes to help this team win.”
Hoffman will see a second season in a Hokies’ uniform after transferring from Coastal Carolina in 2019. After sitting out for a year, Hoffman started at center in 2020 and brought a new nastiness to Tech’s offensive line that, while helpful, sometimes hurt the team with unnecessary penalties.
“I think there’s definitely a balance. I’m not going to think about those penalties during a game because that will make me play soft,” Hoffman said. “I think there is a line and I think I found that balance in the last game because I didn’t have any unsportsmanlike penalties, but I still played nasty and aggressive.”
Similarly to Mitchell, Hoffman explored his options at the next level before making the decision to return to the Hokies. He found that his best opportunity was back in Blacksburg for one more season.
“I was definitely torn, but I want to thank Coach Fuente, Coach Vice and my family for giving me good insight on what I should do. I think for me, I just had to be patient and know that eventually, I can get to that next level,” Hoffman said. “Coming back for one more year has helped a lot of guys in the past. I think coming back another year could really help me develop as a player on and off of the field.”
In his first season at Tech, Hoffman was a steady force in the middle of the line, but he may not be handling snapping duties in the fall. After Johnny Jordan transferred from Maryland, the Hokies have plenty of options on the interior of the offensive front.
“I think bringing in Johnny adds a lot of good depth to the offensive line. We have a couple of spots that we need to fill, so whatever is best for the team, whether that’s me at center or guard,” Hoffman said. “I’d be more than willing to do it. I don’t care as long as I’m out there playing and doing what I can for the team.”
Tech will have other questions on the outside of the line as Vance Vice will have to find a replacement for likely first-round pick Christian Darrisaw.
“It’ll be a big hole to fill and big shoes to step into, but Luke [Tenuta] is working both sides right now, so he could potentially step in and move over there,” Hoffman said. “I think he would do just fine either way. It’s definitely a big hole to fill, so I’m just trying to push every guy and push myself to be the best players that we can be to fill any spot needed.”
Outside of Tenuta, another option at tackle is freshman Parker Clements, who seems to have developed into a starting level player for the Hokies. The three-star recruit in the 2020 class could step up into a huge role for Tech in just his second year on campus.
“Parker is a young guy, but he’s coming along,” Hoffman said. “He works really hard, and right now he’s just trying to be a sponge and learn throughout the drills that Luke and I are teaching him.”
The line looks primed to protect former Oregon Duck Braxton Burmeister in the fall. After Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson transferred, Burmeister is the heavy favorite to start when the Hokies open the season against North Carolina in September.
“I think he’s definitely growing as a leader. Especially after coming in against Clemson and playing against UVA, the offense played pretty well. I think he’s growing and developing as a leader,” Mitchell said. “We have guys out there throwing three or four times a week. That’s been him getting those guys together, so I think he’s definitely excited and ready to become the full-time starter.”
With Burmeister entrenched as the starter, Tech will look to establish more consistency on the offensive side after a year of ups and downs. Mitchell and Hoffman coming back retains leadership that could push the Hokies’ offense to a new level in 2021.
“I think right now as an offense, we’re doing a really good job twice a week of getting together and running around,” Hoffman said. “The players are running it and we’re getting into the indoor and Braxton is in there throwing with the receivers and I’m with the offensive line, just trying to gel and get that continuity before spring ball. Throughout spring and summer and into fall camp, we want to build that identity and hopefully we can the ground running in the season.”