The offensive line played pretty damn well last season. Protecting Logan Thomas was crucial, and the first-year quarterback's jersey was kept clean. He was sacked just 17.0 times in 14 games (T-22nd nationally) and flourished. They made it possible for David Wilson to do his thing. Tech rushed for 186.86 yards per game (28 nationally), Wilson netted just over 1,700 yards and was ACC Player of the Year. Above all else, they were the most consistent unit fielded by coach Curt Newsome since coming to Tech (2006-present). A group featuring four senior starters with talented depth behind them should be good, but not taken for granted. Now Tech must rebuild the o-line. Unlike during the beginning of Newsome's tenure, the cupboard isn't bare and the players Tech is depending on to step up have been in Newsome's system.
The following table is a summary of the 2011 offensive line snaps (not including the Sugar Bowl) by player, position and game. Linemen highlighted in red won't be back in 2012. Those in orange are projected starters. And Andrew Miller, the Hokies only returning starter on the o-line, is marked in green.
Despite Miller being the only returning starter, other experienced linemen are back. Nick Becton played almost as many snaps at left tackle as Andrew Lanier. Lanier and Becton rotated series in 2011, and there were times when Becton looked like the more dominant player. Michael Via played as much as a reseve could expect, filling in at tackle, guard and center. His versatility afforded him early playing time and experience. The coaches planned for David Wang to play, probably as much as Via, but a broken right foot sidelined him for most of the season. Georgia transfer and former blue chip recruit Brent Benedict is the favorite to fill the final spot at guard. It still remains to be seen if Benedict can overcome inexperience/injury and pickup the Hokies athletic blocking scheme. A quick recap from Newsome on the development of linemen.
Listen, in my opinion, if you've signed a great offensive lineman, a great one, he starts his redshirt sophomore year. That's his third year. That's the situation you want to get into. Usually, if they have to step in and start before that, it's because you're not good enough. Of course, in a rare occasion you could have signed a mega-star who's ready to play in a year, but they are few and far between. Usually, if you're rushing a guy to the field, it's more to do with filling holes than it is his talent. If you can get three years out of those guys, you've done a good job recruiting.
Filling that last guard spot is what worries me the most. Benedict, Laurence Gibson, Matt Arkema and Caleb Farris were all highly sought after recruits, but lack game experience.
So heading into spring the starting five from left to right are: Becton, Wang, Miller, Benedict and Via. According to Curt Newsome, here's how the rest of the depth might pan out.
"We've moved some guys inside. We've moved Brent Benedict from an outside position to inside. So he's at the guard position. He and Laurence Gibson will be battling over there. We'll see where that goes. And there's a possibility, Caleb Farris is our backup center but we really like what he's all about. And he'll get some reps at center and also at guard. Then we've got David Wang and Matt Arkema battling, so you've got a couple of battles going on there, with Farris in that mix, so you've got five guys that you want to come out with a minimum of three that you feel good about. And then at the tackle position, it's Vinston Painter's time to get after it. he's had a great winter program in the weight room. And I think he seems like a more confident young man, even starting with yesterday's AM workouts. He's working at tackle. Michael Via we'll also work at tackle. Played guard this season. He won't be with us this spring, which is a positive in that Jake Goins, a young guy can get reps at tackle. And also Mark Shuman, working over there on the left side with Nick Becton. And Becton needs to play with better pad level. And there are some things that all of them need to improve on. And then with Shuman also Nick Acree will be in the mix and get an opportunity at the tackle position."
All in all I think this group has as much potential as any since Tech's been in the ACC. There are a lot of capable bodies. If the following happens, I'll consider it a very successful spring for them.
- No injuries
- Lil' Wang plays as well as he did last spring, before he got hurt.
- Painter asserts himself and challenges Via for playing time. Even if he doesn't start, but has a "Cris Hill like" senior season, that'd go a long way to shoring up the depth.
- Becton shows mental toughness, takes it one play at a time and embraces being the man at left tackle. He's an extremely talented kid that needs to anchor this line. I remember being irate watching how uninterested he seemed while getting beat up towards the end of the October Clemson game.
- We find the answer at right guard.