Last time I was writing in this space, I complained about how little news had come out of spring practice recently — only rarely has karma responded so swiftly to something I've put down in print.
My concerns about the spring presser format remain the same, but hoo boy was there some news to come out of Tuesday's media availability.
No, nothing on the quarterback front (which, of course, would've been the ultimate irony after I spent a few hundred words whining about it).
But between a major potential shake-up on the offensive line and some much-needed insight on the defensive line, there is plenty to chew on this week.
It comes not a moment too soon, mind you — the spring game is Saturday, if you can somehow believe it's here already. Let's get to it.
When I read Saturday that ever-observant TKP contributor French noticed some footage of Silas Dzansi working at left tackle with the first team offense, I was intrigued, but generally didn't think too much of it.
After all, it's generally hard to take too much away from the small snippets of practice the team releases on social media each week. Several coaches have openly praised Dzansi the last few weeks, but I had absolutely zero expectation that would translate into the redshirt freshman starting on the blind side.
Welp, shows you what I know.
Ok, so plainly Justin Fuente meant it when he said last week that Dzansi "turned some heads this season."
By all accounts, I figured Dzansi could, at best, be a surprise contributor at right tackle this year. Vance Vice has hinted that Tyrell Smith had a good shot at the job, but Dzansi could always rotate in as a swing tackle of some sort.
Plainly, the Hokies saw things differently, moving longtime LT starter Yosh Nijman to the right side with this change.
It always seems like a good idea to take spring depth chart changes with a grain of salt, particularly with Vice's tendency to shuffle players along the line. But I don't think we should discount the significance of the team signalling a willingness to move Nijman out of his established spot at left tackle.
At 6'7" and 322 pounds, he always had the size to earn comparisons to NFL-caliber LTs, but Dzansi has clearly impressed enough to overcome that physical advantage.
These days, Dzansi is no shrinking violet either. He was lightly recruited coming out of Woodbridge HS, but plainly the time he spent at Fork Union Military Academy and with Ben Hilgart did him a world of good — he's now listed at 6"5 and 312 pounds, after what seems like quite the year's worth of work.
#Hokies offensive lineman Silas Dzansi talking about going from 242 pounds to 304 pounds in 12 months: "A lot of peanut butter and jelly...maybe not working out as much as I should have."— Norm Wood (@normwood) April 10, 2018
Even if this may be a bit of a surprise, it seems like very good news indeed for Vice if he can afford to move Nijman to the right side — as French himself put it, "if Dzansi is playing at a high level, Nijman on the right side really makes this line promising."
For an offense with plenty of questions to answer elsewhere, that may be quite meaningful down the road.
Wiles Dishes on DL Depth...or Lack Thereof
In all his many years at Tech, DL coach Charley Wiles has never been afraid of being honest about how his depth chart is shaping up, and Tuesday was no exception.
Chiefly, he confirmed what Fuente and Bud Foster have hinted at (and what most close observers would expect) about how things stand at defensive tackle: Ricky Walker and Vinny Mihota will hold down the top spots, with redshirt sophomore Jarrod Hewitt and redshirt junior Xavier Burke filling out the two-deep.
Hewitt rotated in some last year, and Wiles praised him for getting stronger in the offseason — Burke is a bit more of an unknown quantity. He was recruited as a tight end, then spent some time at Fork Union, and only moved over to DT after the 2016 season. In all, he only played in seven games last year.
Even more of an unknown is just who might step in should Burke not work out, or the team suffer some injuries. In that department, Wiles suggested the answer might not be on campus yet.
The loquacious Goode will arrive this summer, and he's long given interviews hinting that the coaches see a role for him early. But playing defensive tackle in Foster's scheme is a tall order for a true freshman, so we'll have to wait and see if that materializes.
At end, Wiles says the situation is even murkier.
Wiles said if #Hokies played tomorrow his defensive end pecking order would be Trevon Hill and Houshun Gaines as starters, Emmanuel Belmar as No. 3 end and No. 4 end TBD.— Norm Wood (@normwood) April 10, 2018
Yikes. Such is the downside of losing Tim Settle to the draft and needing to move Mihota inside.
Luckily, Wiles heaped praise on Belmar's development as of now, but it would certainly be nice to know more about the two-deep at a key position on defense with the spring game a few days away. Fuente and Foster have spoken before about the need for someone among the Zion Debose-Tyjuan Garbutt-Nathan Proctor trio to step up, and clearly this is an indication from Wiles that he hasn't seen that happen just yet.
The team doesn't really have the sort of player arriving this summer who fits the same bill as Goode with the potential to step in right away. This definitely something to monitor in the fall (and the spring game itself, of course.)
New Blood on the Return Team
I've written plenty in the past about how the Hokies will replace Greg Stroman at corner, but I confess I haven't given much thought about who will take over his punt return duties.
Certainly the position gets an outsized amount of attention thanks to the constant invocations of "Beamer Ball," and Stroman leaves some big shoes to fill — he had four career punt return touchdowns, and he's behind only Eddie Royal in career return yardage.
Special teams coordinator James Shibest says he hasn't settled on anyone to take Stroman's place just yet, but he's weighing a few youngsters as options.
Some possible guys at punt return this year, per James Shibest: Hezekiah Grimsley, Sean Savoy, Bryce Watts, Caleb Farley. Says guy may not be on campus yet. #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) April 10, 2018
Of the guys who haven't arrived yet, Shibest said that Cole Beck (a running back who doubled as a track star) and CB Nadir Thompson were the contenders to watch this fall.
Certainly, Farley will get all the attention, given what he showed last spring. I'd imagine his recovery process has hampered what he's been able to do this year to stand out from the crowd.
Yet I wouldn't sleep on Savoy or Grimsley either, considering the shiftiness they've showed in the open field. Savoy stands to be such an integral part of the offense that it would surprise me if he also saw meaningful time as the punt returner, but it's not as if the team hasn't done that in the past if the player is explosive enough.
I'll conclude the final Tidbits of spring practice by reminding you that DeIuliis has three I's.
#Hokies TE Drake DeIuliis said high school coaches couldn't pronounce his name so they called him "delicious." Said Tech's strength coach now calls him that sometimes.— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) April 10, 2018