2022 Virginia Tech Defensive Line Preview

TyJuan Garbutt and the other defensive linemen at Virginia Tech are amped for the season. (Ivan Morozov)

Speaking with Virginia Tech redshirt senior defensive end TyJuan Garbutt at media day, one thing was immediately made clear: the players are big fans of Brent Pry’s defensive scheme.

“I feel like this is what we’ve all been waiting on,” Garbutt told Tech Sideline in an interview at Tech’s media day. “Everyone has been here since our last great coordinator, which was Bud [Foster]. I think we’ve all been waiting on an attacking scheme so we don’t have to think, so we can go play, so we can take chances, take risks and go play on their side of the line of scrimmage.”

An attack-minded style, Pry’s system is similar to that of the legendary Foster, who recruited a majority of the current Tech defensive linemen. Garbutt and Jaylen Griffin were part of the 2017 class. Eli Adams was a 2018 signee, while the trio of tackles – Josh Fuga, Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard – joined the Hokies in 2019.

Foster retired soon after and the torch was passed to Justin Hamilton. The scheme changed slightly; instead of players with smaller frames (5-11 to 6-2) with a good “twitch,” Hamilton preferred athletes (6-4 and 6-6) with more size. That 2020 defensive line group was a bit of everything. Some players were around 6-0, 290; others were 6-5, 230.

With Pry at the helm, it’s back to a more familiar look. And for the aforementioned core group of players, it’s a nice change of pace.

“Being here since [2017], you’ve seen three different defenses,” Garbutt said. “So it’s like, you understand that one might suit you better compared to another. So I say, with having all of the experience right there… I think it’ll benefit us. I think we all have the same mentality that we want to come out here and be as dominant as we know we can be.”

Comfortable At Defensive End

Here’s the list of the 11 defensive ends on scholarship for Virginia Tech, sorted by class:

TyJuan Garbutt (6-1, 255, r-Sr.*)
Jaylen Griffin (6-1, 256, r-Sr.*)
Pheldarius Payne (6-3, 260, r-Sr.*)
Eli Adams (5-11, 230, r-Sr.*)
C.J. McCray (6-3, 237, r-So.*)
Lakeem Rudolph (6-4, 234, r-So.*)
Cole Nelson (6-3, 241, So.)
Mattheus Carroll (6-5, 244, r-Fr.)
Jorden McDonald (6-4, 237, r-Fr.)
Keyshawn Burgos (6-5, 239, Fr.)
Kyree Moyston (6-4, 239, Fr.)

*Garbutt, Griffin and Payne are all using their COVID years in 2022. Payne, who transferred from Nebraska, is out for the season with an Achilles injury, but would likely be able to apply for a medical hardship waiver. Adams, McCray, and Rudolph each have a COVID year they could use in their future.

Garbutt has 41 appearances (27 starts) and 1,347 snaps in his career to go along with 92 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. The most experienced player in the room, he goes to the beat of his own drum.

Across from him is where the question marks lie. However, it’s a unit that Pry is very comfortable with halfway through fall camp.

J.C. Price described Virginia Tech defensive end C.J. McCray as a “freak.” (Jon Fleming)

“I still feel really good about that group,” Pry said at Tech’s media day. “Griffin and Ty, Cole Nelson, C.J. McCray, those four guys have really done a nice job. Maybe that’s the greatest depth we have in any unit right now. Just those four guys, I feel by the end of camp we should feel really good about the group we can put out there.

“We’ve got a couple of young guys, Eli Adams is still in the loop there, and I like our young defensive ends that we signed. Those guys have shown flashes already.”

Griffin also has 41 appearances, while Adams has 32. Together, the two have 1,340 career snaps, seven shy of Garbutt. Despite unproven depth behind them, though, Garbutt is optimistic about the room.

“I’ve seen a lot of good things, especially from the guys that are directly behind me like Nelson and McCray,” Garbutt said. “Carroll is obviously getting a lot better. I think McDonald, he has a chance to be scary because of the type of athlete he is.

“I feel like with Kyree [Moyston] and Keyshawn [Burgos], you know they’re young, but at the same time, you can tell why they’re here. Keyshawn has one of the best motors I’ve ever seen from a younger guy, and Kyree is already a smart enough football player to where he’s already catching on to all the different techniques.”

Who emerges and solidifies himself in that second defensive end spot opposite of Garbutt will be interesting to watch. Griffin has the experience, but Nelson and McCray are coming along quickly, and defensive coordinator Chris Marve said those three have “flashed” this fall.

Despite having just over 100 defensive snaps, Garbutt referred to Nelson as “a veteran” and called McCray “one of the best athletes I think I’ve ever seen.” Defensive line coach J.C. Price described McCray as a “freak.”

“The good news is CJ has picked up where he left off in the spring,” Price said of McCray. “So he’s taken a step towards becoming a much better player. The summer walkthroughs and those things really helped him. Like I said, defensive line, you’ve just gotta be available when it’s your turn, as long as you take your reps. That’s how you become a good player.”

Built For The Future At Defensive Tackle

Here’s a list of the seven defensive tackles on scholarship, sorted by class:

Mario Kendricks (6-0, 290, Sr.*)
Norell Pollard (6-0, 285, Sr.*)
Josh Fuga (6-2, 302, r-Jr.*)
Wilfried Pene (6-3, 290, r-So.*)
Desmond Mamudi (6-3, 305, r-Fr.)
Gunner Givens (6-5, 287, Fr.)
Lemar Law (6-5, 320, Fr.)
Malachi Madison (6-3, 288, Fr.)*

*Kendricks, Pollard, Fuga and Pene each have a COVID year to use over the next few seasons. Madison is technically not on scholarship because his family’s military service is covering college.

Josh Fuga (6) is one part of the experienced trio Virginia Tech has at tackle. (Jon Fleming)

That veteran trio of defensive tackles for Virginia Tech is experienced. Jordan Williams gave the group a boost in 2021, though Kendricks missed time due to injury. Here’s a breakdown of the group’s career snaps and stats:

Pollard: 37 app., 24 starts, 1,292 snaps; 79 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks
Kendricks: 32 app., 6 starts, 834 snaps; 32 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks
Fuga: 25 app., 3 starts, 640 snaps; 31 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks
Pene: 10 app., 124 snaps; 18 tackles

That’s almost 2,800 snaps between the trio of veterans; 2,900 when Pene is thrown in the mix. It’s a competitive group that pushes each other every day.

“They want to be good,” Price said. “They’re competitive. And they want to come out here and win every period, they want to win every rep. It’s great competition having the three of them because only two of them can start.”

Pollard said having that much knowledge in the room is exciting, especially because you can’t teach game experience.

“Knowing we’ve been in a lot of situations as far as football, so we’ve seen a lot,” Pollard said, “[we] know what to expect with certain things, certain calls, certain movements or how to do certain things. Just having that veteran experience and then being able to give that to the young guys, that leadership part of it [is exciting].”

Pene is the middle man in the group, having played in some games, but only for a season. But Price said he continues to learn something new every day.

“He had a good spring, he’s picked up where he left off,” Price said. “D-line is a position where as long as you take your reps, you’re going to develop. It’s a developmental position. So he’s on the right track to becoming a really good player.”

Givens, Law and Madison are the three young guys in the room, and Pollard said they’re all eager to learn. As for whether they’ll see the field or not this year, that remains to be seen, but if the Hokies are healthy and guys like Pene and Desmond Mamudi continue to improve, they should be able to redshirt.

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  1. What does this mean? “Madison is technically not on scholarship because his family’s military service is covering college.”

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