Spring Football: New Faces at Tight End

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Depth at tight end and fullback will decide what formations the Virginia Tech offense can use effectively during the 2012 season.  Through the years, we’ve seen Tech’s depth and talent at fullback drop off, and as a result the Hokies employed more Ace (two tight end) formations.  For the last few years, they’ve done something that we never would have imagined 10-15 years ago…used a lot of spread formations to make up for a lack of depth at fullback and tight end.

The advent of zone blocking has rendered the traditional fullback irrelevant in many ways.  These days, an H-back is more useful because he is capable of lining up at fullback, H-back or even an in-line tight end.  He’s a more versatile player, and he can be used in a variety of formations.

Out of 995 offensive plays this past year, Tech fullbacks didn’t get a lot of time.  Joey Phillips got 173 snaps, Martin Scales had 35 and Riley Beiro added five.  Gone of the days of traditional I-formation ISO plays with the fullback leading up the middle.  These days, a fullback’s top role is arguably blocking the backside defensive end on an inside zone, or leading the way on a handful outside zone plays.

Meanwhile, Tech has used more tight ends recently, and though Chris Drager is gone, I would expect that trend to continue in 2012.

Tight Ends

The Hokies have a lot of bodies at tight end, but not a lot of experience.  Some younger players will be asked to step up this season, and it’s tough to get a read on how the depth chart will shake out.

Eric Martin (6-2, 269, r-Jr.) is the only tight end with a decent amount of game experience.  He has played in 20 games in his career, and got 135 snaps on offense last season.  However, Martin’s 2010 season was hampered by a quad injury, while he injured both of his shoulders in 2011.  He’s never been able to stay healthy.  He is regarded as a solid in-line blocker when healthy, but having bad shoulders makes it tough to block.  He’ll play in 2012, but will he be healthy enough to be the full-time starter?

Ryan Malleck (6-4, 233, So.) played special teams as a true freshman last season, and he also got 40 offense snaps over the course of the season.  It will be interesting to see how much weight he has added in the offseason,