Let’s start this analysis by first looking at the current linebackers that are in the Virginia Tech program.
Mike: Dax Hollfield (Sr.), Keshon Artis (r-Jr.), Dean Ferguson (r-So.)
Will: Alan Tisdale (r-Jr.), Jaden Keller (r-Fr.), Jayden McDonald (r-Fr.), Will Johnson (r-Fr.)
Sam: Keonta Jenkins (So.), J.R. Walker (r-So.), Keli Lawson (r-Fr.)
At Mike, Dax Hollifield is done after this season, and we don’t know for a fact that Keshon Artis will decide to use his COVID year and play for a sixth season. Behind those two, Dean Ferguson is a relative unknown.
At Will, Alan Tisdale returns as a starter with a lot of snaps under his belt. However, his career has sort of gone in the wrong direction, and like Artis, there’s no guarantee that he will choose to play a sixth season. The coaches are very impressed with Jaden Keller, and I think he’ll be on the field a lot this season. Unfortunately, Will Johnson keeps having shoulder issues, which is a tough thing to overcome, particularly when it happens early in your career.
At Sam, none of those guys have the weight that Brent Pry normally looks for, though Jenkins and Lawson certainly have the room to add pounds. We still don’t know exactly how the depth chart will shake out at this position.
Remember, Pry was a long-time linebackers coach before taking the Virginia Tech head coaching job. We don’t know exactly how he feels about each of those players or whether or not he would have recruited them, and he’s not going to say publicly, either. For example, we’ve heard that he loves Hollifield’s leadership, work ethic and toughness, but doesn’t think he’s athletic enough, and my guess is that he’d say similar things about Artis at the Mike spot. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be solid players this year, but it does mean that Pry will have to adjust his scheme, and they probably can’t be asked to drop as deep in coverage as much as Pry usually requires of his Mikes. Of course, that would have a knock on effect in the secondary as well.
Obviously, Pry is going to have very strong views on what the linebacker room should look like. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to start shaping it in the 2022 class. Reid Pulliam, a Fuente recruit, signed with Virginia Tech last December. He enrolled in January but was promptly off the team by the end of the month, and now he’s in the transfer portal.
Pulliam’s departure means that Tech’s 2022 class is completely devoid of linebackers. That’s not a good thing for any program, and it’s particularly bad for a Brent Pry scheme that likes to put three linebackers on the field rather than the two we were used to under Bud Foster and Justin Hamilton.
I’m expecting Virginia Tech to try and sign a big linebacker class in 2023 for the following reasons…
1: Tech will put three linebackers on the field on most downs.
2: The 2022 class doesn’t feature any linebackers.
3: The unknown quality of the linebackers currently in the program.
We know that Virginia Tech’s scheme will feature three linebackers, so let’s give a brief synopsis of each position…
1: Mike. A traditional downhill middle linebacker, though Pry’s scheme will likely require more athletic Mikes who are able to do more in coverage.
2: Will. The linebacker on the short side of the field, most similar to the Backer position used in Hamilton’s system. Again, a more traditional linebacker position. Some Mikes will be able to play as Wills, as will some Sams, but not all.
3: Sam. The most physically demanding linebacker position....
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