Spring Football 2001:
The Offensive Line
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 4/20/01

Note: this is the last of a series of pre-Spring-Game articles covering the Virginia Tech offense. After the conclusion of spring practice, we'll cover the defense and special teams in a series of articles.

Though much of the talk this spring has centered around the quarterback position, there is another area of the Tech football team that also suffered heavy losses due to graduation: the offensive line.

In 1997 and 1998, the Hokie football team suffered through arguably its two weakest offensive lines in Frank Beamer's tenure. A 1995 recruiting class that included zero offensive linemen was largely responsible for this dip in talent, forcing the Hokie coaches to take such measures as moving defensive linemen over to offense (most notably Brad Baylor) and to pass up redshirt years for some 1996 and 1997 freshmen who desperately needed them.

By 1999, Tech had rebuilt their offensive line into a force to be reckoned with, and they set a Big East team rushing record with 2,793 yards rushing. They also posted team records for rushing touchdowns in a season (35) and yards per carry average in a season (5.0).

In the 2000 season, they topped those marks, running for 2,975 yards, a 5.2 average, and a remarkable 46 rushing touchdowns (over 4 rushing touchdowns per game).

In 2000, offensive line coach Bryan Stinespring enjoyed a luxury usually reserved for defensive line coach Charlie Wiles: namely, Stinepring's line was so deep and talented that he could rotate two complete sets of linemen in and out.

As documented in TSL's 2000 O-Line Depth Chart, Stinespring's five starters from last season took anywhere from 62 percent to 81 percent of the snaps at their respective positions, meaning that the backups got roughly 20 to 40 percent of the snaps, depending upon which position you were talking about:


2000 Starter

Percentage of Snaps


Anthony Lambo



Matt Lehr



Steve DeMasi



Josh Redding



Dave Kadela


Painting with broad strokes, the five starters rotated in and out as a unit and were on the field for 81 percent of the plays, except for a certain percentage of plays that saw Anthony Davis replacing Lambo at tackle, or Jake Grove replacing DeMasi at center. Davis drew 28 percent of the snaps at left tackle, and Grove was in for 34 percent at center, tops among the backups.

The 2000 starters averaged 75% of the snaps. Compare this with the 1997 season, in which the five starters (Derek Smith, Brad Baylor, Dwight Vick, Gennaro DiNapoli, and Todd Washington) averaged 90% of the snaps (source: the Dec. 12, 1997 Hokie Huddler depth chart, page 7).

That extra 15% may not sound like much, but in terms of saving wear and tear on the starters and developing the backups, it is an order of magnitude different.

It would seem that in 2001, Stinespring is back to ground zero. He can put together a starting line of five players with significant experience under their belts, but beyond that, the offensive linemen are very green.

So the focus this spring has been not just putting together a starting line, but figuring out who the second-team unit will be. Four of the starting five will be first-time starters (DeMasi is the exception), but they're not exactly inexperienced, thanks to last year.

Most of the second team, however, will be stepping on the field for the first time this fall.

Here's the latest two-deep for the OL from BeamerBall.com, and I've included the number of plays that each player was on the field for the 2000 season. All height/weight numbers are from the spring roster on hokiesportsinfo.com, and the player's class is what class they will be in the 2001 season.

Spring 2001 First Team OL




# of snaps in 2000


Anthony Davis

6-4, 314, Jr.



Luke Owens

6-3, 310, r-Jr.



Steve DeMasi

6-3, 278, r-Sr.



Jake Grove*

6-3, 272, r-So.



M. Wincek

6-5, 284, Sr.


Spring 2001 Second Team OL


Tim Selmon

6-5, 287, r-Jr.



Anthony Nelson,
Jacob Gibson

6-3, 313, r-So.
6-4, 293, r-So.



Robert Ramsey

6-2, 305, r-Fr.



Charles Hattan,
James Miller

6-1, 298, r-Fr.
6-5, 291, Fr.



Jon Dunn

6-7, 320, r-Fr.


*Note: Grove played center in 2000.

You can see that the first team linemen have a decent amount of experience, given that most of them will be first-time starters. Behind returning starter DeMasi, two-year letterman Anthony Davis will probably bring the most to the table. Jake Grove got a lot of snaps last year, which is valuable, but in moving to guard, he must learn a new position.

After Grove, Luke Owens and Matt Wincek didn't get as much playing time last year, but that is balanced by the fact that both players have been in the program three years already. The 2001 season will be the fourth year in the program for each player, so they know how things work and what is expected of them.

But when you start talking second-team OL, the experience factor disappears. Those guys have none, except for a handful of snaps taken here and there by Anthony Nelson and Jacob Gibson that don't really amount to much.

Last year, the Tech coaches were able to get the backup OL some experience against Akron, ECU, Rutgers, Temple, Central Florida, and Virginia. And ironically, against Miami, since the Hokies were blown out. Against BC, WVU, Syracuse, and Pitt, the reserves played relatively little.

This year's schedule will presumably give the backup offensive line a chance to see some action early in the year, against Connecticut, Rutgers, and Central Florida, and perhaps even against Western Michigan. Those four teams comprise Tech's September schedule, and after that, the games get tougher. From game 5 onward, there are no gross mismatches on Tech's schedule, not even Temple.

The Tech defense will maul some of the teams the Hokies play from October onward, but the offense may not be as overpowering, and the starters on the OL may have to play more. Only time will tell.

That's all future talk, though, and this is a spring practice report. In addition to the depth chart shown above, there are some things worth noting (items gleaned from various sources):

Anthony Nelson is progressing. The big man from Tennessee is a bit of a legend among Hokie fans, despite having hardly ever played. He is a monster who came in with quite a bit of hype, and many fans expected him to play early. That has not happened, for a variety of reasons.

Speaking with my sources reveals that Nelson is progressing nicely, he's just not ready yet. His strengths are his sheer size and strength (insiders report that if Anthony gets his hands on a defensive lineman, the play is over for the DL). Also to his credit is a positive attitude and a willingness to work hard.

But Anthony Nelson simply had a longer way to go than most thought when he first signed with Tech. Job one was resculpting his body, which he has done. I saw big Anthony very early in his career at Tech, and the player we see today, after a couple of years of Gentry-fication, bears little resemblance to the blocky, almost fat freshman who came to Tech in the fall of 1999.

The next task for Anthony is two-fold: footwork and technique. The two are tied together, and he is likely to get them both down at the same time, at some point in the future. Footwork is the key, because if Nelson can make contact and get inside a defensive lineman, he can already handle the rest. He just needs to learn to get himself in position.

In any event, the summary on Nelson is this: hard worker, good attitude, has progressed a long way, and simply needs more time to get where he needs to be.

Jon Dunn is the wave of the future. Big Jon was ranked the #7 recruit in the state coming out of Tallwood High School in 2000, which is extremely high for a non-skill player. So far, he has not been a disappointment. The Tech coaches speak brightly of his future, and Stinespring notes that he thinks Dunn is still growing. Since he's already 6-7, 320, that's pretty frightening.

Injuries have slowed down progress this spring. Among the units on the Tech team, the offensive line has been hit hard with injuries. Luke Owens has been out all spring, and at various times, Jake Grove, Jacob Gibson, and Anthony Nelson have all been out or limited.

At one point, this necessitated Anthony Davis moving from tackle to guard for a while, and it has generally disrupted Stinespring's ability to put together a consistent starting rotation. As a result, he has at times been happy and unhappy with his linemen.

The line has not had a lot of success in the open field, but they have had some good days in the goal-line scrimmages -- and some bad days.

Expect some nastiness on Saturday. Defense always dominates offense during spring practice and the Spring Game, and it could get pretty ugly on Saturday. With players cycling in and out quickly during the game, it's very difficult for the offenses to generate any continuity, and continuity is the key.

The Tech offensive line will be facing one of the top defensive lines in the country during the Spring Game, and the results will be predictable and low-scoring. The good news (in a way) is that both quarterbacks, Grant Noel and Jason Davis, will be going full-contact, so the OL won't be giving up any of those pseudo-sacks where all a DL does is touch the quarterback as they run by. This will allow you to more fairly evaluate the OL's performance.

See you there!


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