Offensive linemen typically don’t garner much attention. They do the dirty work in the trenches and often only get noticed when things are going awry. However, Virginia Tech’s offensive line, The Vice Squad, is an exception to this rule.
With a team averaging 312 yards on the ground and a running back, Khalil Herbert, leading the nation with 148 rushing yards per game, it’s hard not to notice the work the Hokies’ offensive linemen are doing to open holes for those star players.
It’s the quiet superstar Christian Darrisaw who headlines the unit at left tackle and is generating some serious NFL Draft buzz. Center Brock Hoffman has brought the edge and nastiness that has been missing in previous years and has directed comparisons to the 1996 Virginia Tech offensive line.
However, the most unheralded player of the group might just be left guard Lecitus Smith. The 6-foot-3, 320-pounder came to Blacksburg in 2017 as a 255-pound tight end from Georgia. Since then, he’s started 20 games and become a dominant force alongside his brothers on the line, earning a selection this year to the Week 6 PFF Team of the Week.
“We’re happy with the results that we’re getting,” Smith said. “We’re not satisfied at all though. We can’t find ourselves getting satisfied. That’s why we continue to come to work every day to make sure we get better as an offensive line and as an offensive unit and as a team, as a whole.
“Job is not finished. We’re not satisfied. We’re happy with the progression we’re having, but we still want to take a step each and every week.”
Another thing about Smith? The left guard might just be the biggest personality on the team. He’s entertaining, amusing, jolly, and quick-witted. Anytime he’s scheduled for an interview opportunity, the media knows they’re in for a treat, and that was certainly the case on Tuesday.
Take for example his retelling of The Vice Squad’s recent trip to Kabuki Japanese Steak House in Christiansburg.
“I could have sworn we walked in last week and all the chefs started sweating like, ‘Oh my God, I thought I was about to get off [work],’” Smith said with a grin. “We were a bunch of 300 pounders, and everybody got an app for themselves, and we had Christian Darrisaw ordering extra rice and shrimp and steak. Same for Tyrell Smith. You’ve got guys ordering a lot of food, so I could imagine they started panicking in that kitchen.”
The way Smith and the rest of the offensive line have been playing there may be more trips to Kabuki in the future.
“When we have big games, we usually get taken out to eat,” Smith said. “You want a free meal? Do your job. You’ll get paid if you do your job.”
Quarterback Hendon Hooker was the beneficiary of the offensive line’s prowess recently. It led him to pick up the tab on that most recent visit that Smith spoke of.
“Hendon actually took us last week, and we were sitting there eating and he finished up and I went to grab my wallet,” Smith said. “He was like, ‘Nah, nah, I got y’all.’ Like, ‘Oh, OK, sounds good.’”
Later in Tuesday’s media session, Smith was asked about Khalil Herbert being an offensive lineman in middle school and if that gives him a greater appreciation for the work the big nasties are doing in the trenches. Here’s his lighthearted response.
“Yes, I definitely do. I’m sorry, I’m going to cut my own self off,” Smith said with a chuckle. “I did not know he was an offensive lineman in middle school. I did not know that. I’m going to be on him about that.”
You can be sure Herbert will now hear about that in the coming days.
Even beyond his animated and enthusiastic nature, Smith possesses a deep and thoughtful intelligence about the game. It’s been hard to explain in the recent weeks why Herbert has been so successful, but Smith may have encapsulated it best.
“We get him to the safety and we can pretty much count on him every time making the safety miss or the corner or even a linebacker sometimes, whether that’s a stiff arm or a juke or whatever the case is,” Smith said. “So what I love is that we block the first or second level, and we have one guy that we can’t account for, an unblocked hat, we leave him for Khalil and nine times out of 10 he’s going to run around him or he’s going to make him miss. I really like that about him. His vision. If a play doesn’t look exactly like it should or how it’s drawn up, he knows whether to bounce it or just wait a millisecond more and the hole is there and he just bursts through it. He’s a tough runner. He’s not easy to take down. Very few times do you see one guy or even the first guy take him down.”
Vance Vice’s squad is getting praise that is hardly reaped on an offensive line. It’s seemingly someone different who stands out each week. In fact, that’s just the way they like it.
“It feels good to get some of the light shined on us and stuff like that, but we also understand,” Smith said. “It’s like we know we signed up for it. To be an offensive lineman you have to be very unselfish, and I feel like that’s what we have here.”