Last week, Jeff Grimes landed New Jersey offensive lineman Tyrell Smith. Previously, the Hokies received a commitment from Eric Gallo from Holland, Pennsylvania. There has also been significant buzz around the Hokies possibly landing Billy Ray Mitchell from Paramus, New Jersey. Hokie fans might be a bit salty that Grimes has not been able to land any high profile offensive line recruits, but these under the radar prospects fit the profile of what Grimes needs to execute his system.
As we have discussed several times since Frank Beamer turned over his offensive staff, Grimes' system is a zone blocking scheme, which requires athleticism, lateral movement, leg drive, motor to stay engaged as a primary blocker, and a natural instinct for timing to engage and then release double team blocks on down linemen to get to the second level. Big and nasty isn't enough, but being quick, nasty, with tremendous reach is the ideal prototype for a Jeff Grimes offensive lineman.
So, why has Grimes not landed a high profile offensive lineman that fits this mold in 2013? A quick examination of his last recruiting class at Auburn demonstrates how bright the future could be for the position. Auburn signed SEVEN offensive linemen in the 2012 class (and a tight end projected to move to tackle, but isn't included in these numbers) with the following measurables:
- Average Height: Six-five-and-a-half
- Average Weight: 278 pounds
- Average rating by Rivals.com: 3.56 (Four of the seven commits were four stars.)
- Home states: Florida (2), Alabama, Colorado (2), Illinois, Georgia
This is what the future holds, but year one presents unique challenges. Grimes arrived at Virginia Tech facing several disadvantages for this recruiting season. First, his prior relationships were built with attracting students to Auburn. Second, while Virginia has a banner recruiting crop, there are limited options on the offensive line. Stephen Moss has a terrific nasty attitude reminiscent of Jake Grove, but has limited mobility and would not be a good fit in Grimes system. Coleman Thomas has impressive stature and a film full of pancake blocks, but he committed to Tennessee before Grimes got started and plays a very low level of competition (his highlight film features plays against John Battle. As a former Abingdon player, I laughed loudly.) Thomas Coleman is an intriguing prospect who blocks very well in space, but also is an under the radar recruit. The only big name offensive line prospect in the traditional Hokie recruiting area is Damien Prince. Prince would be a perfect fit for the Grimes system as a big, athletic tackle with huge reach, but he is perhaps the best tackle prospect on the East Coast and isn't considering the Hokies.
So, Coach Grimes must build a foundation, and that means looking for developmental players who have the body type, athleticism, intelligence, and attitude to grow into potential contributors up front. Based on his recruiting at Auburn, Grimes is willing to travel out of state, and targets a specific body type: 6-5 and up at tackle, 6-4 at guard, and smart spark plug centers with good pad level who can get to the second level and neutralize nose tackles. At the same time, even if Grimes has limited resources to utilize, he must target guys who can be depth players and perform within the framework of his system.
Tyrell Smith is a very promising example of how this recruiting template can yield results. Smith is a 6-3, 255 pound tackle from Don Bosco Prep, that will slide over to guard at Tech. Don Bosco is a state power in New Jersey, and runs a zone blocking scheme that also features some interior power running. Smith plays at the left tackle position, which requires him to move laterally, get head position outside of a 4-3 defensive end, and seal him inside without being driven deep into the backfield. Here, Smith executes the zone stretch to perfection, sealing the defensive end and turning to drive him up field.
Smith also has the ability to adjust in space and move on to block at the second level. Here, Don Bosco runs a zone stretch, and the defensive end stunts hard to the inside.
Instead of blocking the man, and diving inside (which would free up the linebacker for a one on one tackle in space), Smith lets him go, alters his route, and locks up the linebacker at the second level. The back handles the rest. Another good thing about Smith is that he has tremendous reach, and when he engages linebackers and defensive backs, they stay blocked. His highlights demonstrate that he has a good motor, and keeps a body on a body. He is adept at pulling and blocking at the second level, which isn't critical on the play side of the zone stretch, but on the backside a tackle essentially pulls to scoop block the pursuit defensive tackle.
If you apply that block on the back side of a zone stretch right, the back should have a very nice cutback lane.
Is Smith a project? Of course he is! Most offensive line recruits are developmental projects. Smith is undersized for the tackle position, and may not have the leg drive to move big nose tackles and one techniques to play every down. At the same time, he helps to establish Grimes as a NATIONAL rather than a regional recruiter. He fits the profile that Grimes looks for in several categories (reach, athleticism, ability to get to the second level.) And, he has the skillset to be a solid depth player at multiple positions.
In the coming weeks and months, I anticipate several surprises as far as offensive line recruiting. I still think Grimes will land one or two out of state kids that are three-plus star players, especially at the tackle position. And, I think we will also see Grimes take a couple of fliers on lengthy athletic linemen who are under the radar regionally to help improve depth. When August rolls around, the Hokies will barely field a two-deep without playing freshmen. The cupboard has to be restocked.