One negative yet consistent theme for Hokie football throughout the 2000's has been weak early season offensive line play. That theme has stayed true regardless of changes from the I formation gap concepts of the 90's and early 2000's to the zone blocking schematic used today, and we have seen inconsistency early in seasons from both veteran groups and newcomers. I think most Hokie fans have come to expect early season offensive struggles, no matter how promising the outlook for the season.
Appy state posed an interesting challenge for the largely veteran group off Hokie hawgbodies. Their DL featured players accustomed to winning as perhaps the most successful DIAA program of the last decade, some of whom also have beaten storied BCS programs on the road. Also, they had switched to a 3-4 scheme, which both Georgia Tech and UVA had exhibited some degrees of success against the Hokie passing game in years past. I anticipated some struggles where the Hokies would win because of superior depth and talent, but we as fans would again be frustrated with some lapses in offensive line play,
Then, the veteran group surprises us and dominates the line of scrimmage as a key part of a 66-13 thrashing of the Mountaineers. There were holes! The quarterback wasn't scrambling before routes developed. Stunts seemed to be getting picked up. Were my eyes deceiving me?
Yesterday, I went back and watched the video again, focusing on the offensive line play to see if perhaps the Hokies superior athleticism in the backfield hid some of the flaws we are accustomed to up front. I was suprised to learn that, while there is room for improvement, the OL looked much more like the well oiled machine we are accustomed to in October and November.
TE Chris Drager- Yes folks, the tight end is an offensive lineman, and the TE position is key in running the Hokie's unique zone blocking scheme which requires seal blocks on defensive ends in order to get the running back into the 8 gap. I was not pleased with Drager being moved back to offense, but the move looks like a stroke of brilliance by the Hokie coaching staff now. Drager delivered numerous effective seal blocks on Appy defensive ends and outside linebackers. He also proved to be a powerful drive blocker and won several head to head battles on the goal line. After one game, he appears to be a big upgrade blocking wise over Andre Smith and Greg Boone.
*it is worth noting that George George also did a very good job blocking during his snaps later in the game.
RT Blake DeChristopher- The second team preseason All ACC pick performed about how you expected him to perform. Blake plays with his pads a little high, which makes him less effective as a drive blocker than he should be. He is excellent on seal blocks to the outside and used his strength to turn guys when his feet don't get there (which could result in some holding calls against picky officials, and he didn't always get his scoop block on the backside, especially on the second level. He has excellent technique in pass pro but his weight (no chance in hell he is 315) makes him suspect against stunts and quick defensive ends. Reviewing the film, I thought he was solid picking up assignments, but I didn't see him dominate a much weaker Appy DL.
RG Jaymes Brooks- For those of you who know me or have read anything I have written before, I think Jaymes Brooks is the star of the offensive line, and except for one bad bust on the only sack Appy had on Logan Thomas, Brooks had an outstanding game. He had NUMEROUS outstanding drive blocks and is by far the best Hokie OL in space and pulling. Go back and watch the Logan Thomas steamroller run over the Appy safety. Brooks gets to the middle linebacker, turns him, and drives him to the outside. That is a tough block for any OL, and Brooks made it easy. Again, A performance from Jaymes Brooks.
C-Andrew Miller- Just watch Andrew Miller engage the Appy nose tackle and squash him on the second David Wilson TD run. The kid has the meaness, attitude, and athleticism to be the best Hokie center since Jake Grove. If he can be accurate making line calls and getting his colleagues into the right blocking scheme, he will be outstanding.
LG- Greg Nosal- I know Nosal can play, but too may times he doesn't get push off the ball. Many plays you see him getting pushed back into the backfield. He is mobile, and has good positioning, but he doesn't get low enough. Also, there were too many plays where he runs to the second level and just keeps running without engaging a defender. Of all the starters, I thought Nosal had the poorest performance on opening day.
LT-Andrew Lainer I like Andrew Lainer's game. He is a solid technician, and is more mobile than most left tackles. However. like Nosal he doesn't get enough push in short yardage situation. He often is at his best when running plays go away from him, as he is excellent at cutting off backside pursuit and has a quick first step. He had an excellent scoop block on the Wilson TD up the middle in the second quarter that turned a 10 yard run into a touchdown. Ultimately, I think we can expect to see Nick Becton get more playing time. Becton had an excellent game and is better at the point of attack than Lainer. He has to stay committed when plays move away from him. If he gets to the point where he can be counted to deliver on scoop blocks, I think he may supplant Lainer as the starter. (Although I would love to see Lainer and Drager as the tight ends on short yardage situations.