Last year, Virginia Tech offensive line coach Vance Vice enjoyed the luxury of depth within his group. There were 10 players he felt comfortable putting on the field at any moment.
That increased depth from last year has been reduced to slim pickings so far this spring. Vice admitted there’s only about six or seven players on the offensive line right now that he would trust out there. Much of the spring will be used to coach up some of the younger players and get them to a place where they can be counted upon.
“We’ve got a small number in the spring right now,” Vice said. “The number one thing is the room, they’re very, very open to do whatever we need to do to get the job done. A lot of times that’s going to mean some guys knowing multiple spots to create some depth. I started this week to put guys in spots maybe where they’re not comfortable because it’s going to take all of us.
“I’ve got some older guys that have been through a bunch of wars together and have played multiple spots, and I’ve got some younger guys just trying to figure out where chow hall is right now, so it makes day-to-day life pretty exciting.”
Virginia Tech does return four offensive linemen who saw regular action last year in Lecitus Smith, Brock Hoffman, Silas Dzansi and Luke Tenuta. Those four have a combined 92 collegiate starts.
Vice is using those guys as an extension of himself on the practice field to train up those newer to the program and demonstrate how the Vice Squad is supposed to operate.
“That first group is really taking some ownership because a lot of those guys are the exact same guys,” Vice said. “To watch them work to master their craft and help guys behind them, that is invaluable to me.
“Those guys who have been playing together a long time, it’s fun to watch right now. It’s fun to watch because there is some pride, they are accountable to each other, they are challengeable. Yesterday it didn’t look exactly like we wanted it to, so we communicated about it today and it will look better tomorrow.”
Part of the sudden lack of depth on the line comes due to the sudden transfers of Doug Nester and Bryan Hudson following the season. Especially in Nester’s case, the transfer sparked some questions in the program considering he was a major recruit and key starter on the line.
“I don’t know if ‘off guard’ is the word anymore in the times of the portal,” Vice said. “We’ve also been great benefactors of the portal, not just in my room, but on offense and on this team. I wish those guys the best of luck. Every fit is not a fit. They’re good people and good players and we’ll wish them well.”
The Hokies did add Johnny Jordan, a transfer from Maryland, this offseason. Jordan will arrive in Blacksburg in May and is expected to step into a starting role at center. In the meantime, the Hokies are still trying to connect all the pieces together.
One of the toughest tasks will be replacing Christian Darrisaw at left tackle. Over the last three years, the Hokies have been blessed with some of the best offensive line play in the country from Darrisaw.
It’s often said the best test of a good offensive lineman is that you hardly notice him during the game. That was the case time and time again with Darrisaw. Now, Tenuta intends to move over from his starting spot last year at right tackle and fill the void that Darrisaw is leaving.
“I definitely believe that Luke Tenuta can handle the challenge,” Lecitus Smith said. “We all know Christian Darrisaw is a great player. He left, and now it’s time for that next guy to step up which is Luke Tenuta. I definitely believe that Luke Tenuta can get the job done. There won’t be a dip in play. I feel like we can get the job done and we will.”
To the right of Tenuta, Smith will return to his left guard spot. It was welcomed news for the Hokies when the 6-foot-3, 320-pound guard announced he was returning for his (second) redshirt junior season.
“I did get some feedback from the NFLPA,” Smith said. “It was some OK feedback. I feel like I got some OK news as far as where my stock was. I also wanted to better that stock. I want to be a first three rounds type of guy, first two rounds or even first round if I can do that. I feel like I can do that. Film don’t lie.”
Part of that feedback from scouts pointed to a lack of lower body flexibility. This summer, Smith says he intends to work on some lower body stretches, particularly with yoga, that didn’t go so well the first time he tried it.
“I tried yoga once with my girlfriend and it didn’t go well. It didn’t go well at all,” Smith said with a laugh. “I was in the class at McComas and she wanted me to take this yoga class with her. I’m doing the class and I look around and I’m like, ‘I am the biggest person in here.’ I immediately felt uncomfortable. I couldn’t do a lot of the stretches they had us doing. I didn’t have the mindset I have now. After hearing it from scouts and hearing that football players do yoga to really stretch themselves, I know that’s what I’ll need, so I’ll go in with that mindset and embrace it.”
With the players on campus now, Hoffman has stayed working at center and right guard, while Dzansi often rotates between right guard and right tackle. It’s opened the door for true freshman Parker Clements to get some reps at right tackle with the ones.
“Last year at this time he was about 260,” Vice said. “He’s 304 right now, so he looks completely different. Super, super work ethic, great off the field, unbelievable potential, which is defined as hadn’t done anything yet, but he’s a guy that’s going to have an opportunity. He’s done a great job so far in winter conditioning and spring. Super excited about him.”
From 2011 to 2019, Virginia Tech never finished a game with 300+ net rushing yards. In 2020, the Hokies had three such games. If Vice’s unit can reproduce even a fraction of that 2021, it would certainly be a positive development for Virginia Tech.