Hokies Must Rebuild the O-Line

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.

Player POS 2011 Career ASU ECU ASU MU CU UM WF BC DU GT UNC VA CU
A. Lanier LT 503 1259 S/33 S/38 S/35 S/29 S/35 S/35 S/41 S/44 S/34 S/32 S/44 S/38 S/65
N. Becton LT 441 723 P/42 P/33 P/40 P/44 P/35 P/31 P/31 P/32 P/39 P/35 P/33 P/23 P/23
M. Shuman LT 14 14 INJ DND DNP P/3 DNP DNP DNP INJ INJ INJ DND P/11 DNP
G. Nosal LG 862 1992 S/41 S/71 S/75 S/72 S/70 S/66 S/69 S/78 S/60 S/67 S/74 S/61 S/78
M. Arkema LG 28 28 P/9 DNP DNP P/3 DNP DNP DNP P/5 DNP DNP DNP P/11 DNP
C. Prince LG 33 33 P/30 DNP DNP P/3 DNP DEF DEF DEF DEF DEF DEF DEF DEF
A. Miller C 844 980 S/45 S/71 S/75 S/72 S/71 S/66 S/72 S/71 S/71 S/68 S/23 S/61 S/78
C. Farris C 29 29 P/17 DNP DNP P/3 DNP DNP DNP P/4 DNP DNP DNP P/5 DNP
B. Gentry C 20 43 P/13 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP P/1 DNP DNP DNP P/6 DNP
J. Brooks RG 667 2022 S/41 S/63 S/46 S/45 S/56 S/47 S/53 S/44 S/64 S/51 S/74 S/39 S/44
M. Via RG/C 292 607 INJ DNP P/29 P/27 P/13 P/19 P/22 P/30 P/18 P/16 P/51 P/33 P/34
L. Gibson RG 5 5 DND DND DND DND DND DND DNP P/5 DNP DNP DNP DND DND
D. Wang RG 37 98 P/29 P/8 INJ INJ INJ INJ INJ INJ INJ INJ INJ INJ INJ
B. DeChristopher RT 893 3103 S/45 S/71 S/75 S/72 S/70 S/66 S/72 S/71 S/71 S/67 S/74 S/61 S/78
V. Painter RT 49 92 P/30 DNP DNP P/3 DNP DNP DNP P/5 DNP DNP DNP P/11 DNP

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.
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Comments

Hopeful

All have some experience. Spring and early Fall games will give time to develop. Should be okay for the season.

This will be a major focus of my spring game analysis, as the potential is there for the offensive line to be upgraded talent-wise at every position besides right tackle. Here are my focus points for the spring.

1) Newsome talked about Becton's pad level. I agree, but it isn't the only area of concern. Becton has more ability than Andrew Lainer did, but, we have to remember he was not a highly recruited left tackle prospect. While pad level has been a problem, he also needs improvement with his compete level, leg drive, explosion off the snap count (how many times was he late off the ball in short yardage?) and upper body strength. He does have the one skill set that is the most difficult to find in a left tackle, and that is the footwork to be a good pass protector. Unlike Lainer, who was beaten by simple physics on most pass rushes, Becton was beaten because he was overpowered to the outside shoulder or because he gave up on the play too soon. Those are correctable problems. Light feet can't be taught. I have not heard enough about the progress of Shuman and Acree to feel comfortable with their options if Becton can't produce. He needs to be pushed, and they are not good enough to do that.

2) Perhaps I missed a meeting, but why is Michael Via not playing spring football? Is there an injury that I am not aware of? Newsome minimized his importance, but I think Via is critical to the lines success. He is a known quantity, and good enough to start at 3 positions. Until I see a vastly improved Painter, Via has to be the starting right tackle.

3) Laurence Gibson, Laurence Gibson, Laurence Gibson. I'd still love to see him battling Becton for the LT spot. He has the feet, he has the strength, and he has the attitude. However, I am sure he didn't endear himself to the coaching staff by being late to travel to New Orleans, and there has to be other reasons why he has not received more opportunities for snaps. The Hokies have made a living recruiting top OL recruits and then they don't pan out (with the exception being Blake DeChristopher.) I hope Gibson doesn't get added to the list.

4) Andrew Miller was great early last year, but in the last 2 games of the season, he was consistently being pushed into the backfield. As the only returning starter on the interior, he will have the added presure of making all line calls to go with the challenge of blocking nose tackles and eagle weak tackles in the ACC as an undersized center.

5) With the new running backs, will the Hokies go almost exclusively with the zone read? If so, can Wang and Benedict get the push in the interior gaps? Almost all the Hokie rushing offense last year involved either misdirection or down blocking with guards pulling. Benedict is a lifelong tackle playing guard, and Wang is a drive-blocker and a plugger. Neither have the body type or the athleticism to pull around the tackle and find corners on the edge. Also, who is the suprise guy who steps up?

Regardless, I anticipate that the Hokie offense will struggle in the spring game. Focus on the one on one matchup along the line to get a feel for each guy head to head, as there will be numerous busts against what should be an elite DL.

Viva El Guapo

Thought last year was a make-or-break year for Newsome and the line blocked pretty well, unless your name was Andre Branch. Have to give them some credit for DW breaking the single-season rushing record. Really hoping that the extra reps for Via and Becton this year pay off.

The o-line is my #1 focus this spring. Obviously the new running backs and backup wide receivers are critical, but none of that matters if the o-line doesn't play up to the level they're expected. Replacing 4 guys, even if there are quality backups is always a concern and until I see solid production, I'll be a bit pessimistic.

I'm hoping these guys play at the level we saw last year. Granted that's tough to expect after what we lost, but I think we go as far as this o-line takes us.

It's a Miracle in Blacksburg...TYROD DID IT MIKEY!!! TYROD DID IT!!!

i've never really kept up much with vt's practice regiments, drills, etc -- but if the o-line takes on the great d-line in drills, scrimmaging, etc -- i can only see that as a plus. our d-line is athletic and strong -- if our o-line can stand up/learn/be pushed by them (the dline), it may help prepare them for typically "lesser" defensive lines ...

i know it's a lot more complicated than that -- but we won't go against a better dline than our own (with fsu possibly being the one exception) .. jmo

Nice post, Joe.

Lots of questions, but lots of promise.

There's still time for Painter to get the job done. If the light comes on this spring, I'm going to feel better about this group's chances.

Row Z forever.
@AdamAbramson

What's this Benedict at LT business? Newsome seems to want him at guard. Is that more of wishful thinking?

Newsome: “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."

http://hamptonroads.com/2012/03/curt-newsome-qa-new-faces-aplenty-loads-...

Chatter

He was recruited as a tackle, one of the top in the country. It's unknown how well he'll be able to move on his repaired ACL (torn + damaged nerves). Bumping him inside limits him from working on an island one-on-one with a defender. Playing guard won't require him to be as rangy and to move around as much.