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One of the greatest topics of discussion on the TSL message boards during the first half of the 2004 season has been the play of the Virginia Tech offensive line. The low point was the week following the N.C. State game, in which the front 5 for the Hokies gave up 10 sacks to a very athletic Wolfpack defense.
Since that game, Mike Imoh has registered two 100 yard games for Tech, but he averaged less than 4 yards per carry in each game (3.8 and 3.4 respectively). With the struggles that the offensive line has had this year, it’s useful to take a look at the current depth chart and recent recruiting classes to try and determine what this offensive line might look like in the next few years.
Right Tackle: Let’s take a look at Dunn’s position first, right tackle. Dunn’s backup in 2004 is r-So. Brandon Frye. The Hokies have done very little substituting along the offensive front in 2004, and that includes Frye. 2005 should be very interesting for Bryan Stinespring. Despite being in the 2 deep, you never hear any of the coaches mention Frye at all, and generally the Tech coaches mention guys on a regular basis if they think they have potential. So this is the make or break point in Brandon Frye’s career. He needs to start turning it up a notch in practice for the rest of the season and go into Spring Practice as the #1 man at right tackle, because there will be other players that he will be battling for the position.
Reggie Butler, who has started every game in 2004 at guard for Tech, has experience at tackle and is a viable candidate. Butler is currently 2nd string at left tackle. R-So. Brandon Gore was one of the most highly recruited offensive linemen to ever come to Tech, but thus far in his career he has seen very little playing time. If he begins to catch on in the off-season, he could be another candidate for right tackle. Freshman Nick Marshman, who is currently redshirting during 2004, is another candidate. He has drawn some nice compliments from the Tech coaching staff, and he has an opportunity to break into the lineup in 2004. Marshman is also currently listed at left tackle on the depth chart.
Left Tackle: Jimmy Martin will have another year of eligibility left after the 2004 season. A starter since the halfway point of his true freshman season, Martin will be another big loss for the Hokies. It will be extremely tough to plug in a player and expect him to be as good as Martin from the very beginning. Marshman and Gore are candidates for Martin’s position after he exhausts his eligibility. Butler, like Martin, is a junior, so he will not be an option.
One option that the Hokies have after the 2004 season is moving Martin to right tackle and bumping one of his current backups up to the starting left tackle spots. Martin has experience at left tackle; as a true freshman he started the second half of the season at that spot, and then moved to left tackle in 2003 due to the departure of Anthony Davis. In fact, if I had to put money on what Tech will do at the tackle position in 2005, I would bet on Jimmy Martin moving to right tackle and either Reggie Butler or Nick Marshman taking over the left tackle spot.
Before we get into the future of the offensive guard position, let’s take a look at what the position looks like now because there have been some changes this week on the Beamerball.com depth chart. Reggie Butler, who has started every game at left guard as noted above, has slid down to 3rd string left guard. He remains 2nd string left tackle.
Left Guard: Into Butler's place in the starting lineup comes r-Jr. Jason Murphy. Murphy has seen his playing time increase a lot lately, as Butler has been struggling. Even though he is a junior, Murphy is still learning the position. He spent the 2002 season as a defensive tackle, and was moved to guard in the Spring of 2003.
Listed behind Murphy at left guard is r-So. Mike Parham. Parham is probably the Hokies' best offensive lineman in a technical sense, meaning he knows the game really well and has his fundamentals down. His drawback is his size, as he only stands 6’0” and weighs 275. It is really sobering to realize that Reggie Butler must still need a lot of work when the coaching staff has to move an undersized walk on from right guard to serve as Jason Murphy’s backup.
With Murphy still having another year left after 2004, it is almost certain that he will be the starter in 2005. As of right now, the 2006 starter is up in the air. Mike Parham will be a senior in 2005, and current freshman Matt Welsh (who is redshirting) will be a r-So. Welsh was another highly recruited offensive lineman out of high school, but we aren’t hearing a lot of comments about him from the coaching staff. How he develops in the spring of 2005 will be critical to the future of Tech’s offensive line.
Right Guard: Senior Jimmy Miller anchors the right guard position for the Hokies in 2004. Who will anchor the position in 2005 is another question. Right now, it looks to be current r-freshman Tripp Carroll. As highly recruited as Brandon Gore and Matt Welsh were out of high school, they can’t compare to Carroll, who had over 80 written offers from colleges throughout the country. Enrolling at Tech in the spring of 2003, his career has thus far been injury plagued. Spending most of the spring of 2003 in the training room with compartment syndrome, he redshirted in the fall of 2003. He was in a battle for the starting center spot in the fall of 2004, briefly reaching the top of the depth chart before succumbing to an injury yet again (concussion). Since that time he has been moved to right guard. Like Matt Welsh, Carroll needs a breakout spring in 2005. He will be starting his 3rd year in the program, which is when things should start to click for most players. Basically, if a player doesn’t have it by his 3rd year, he never will have it. Carroll needs to have “it” for the future of the offensive line.
R-Jr. Will Montgomery has the center position locked down for the Hokies for 2004. He might even have it for 2005. Unfortunately. That last comment is not made to bash Montgomery; rather, it is made to compliment him. The fact is that Will Montgomery is Virginia Tech’s best offensive guard. Unfortunately, he is being pressed into service at center because no one else was ready to take over for Jake Grove after the Unanimous All-American exhausted his eligibility after the 2003 season.
Introducing Danny McGrath, the man who could make (almost) everything right with the offensive line for the 2005 season. McGrath is a r-So. who, despite being a backup center for the Hokies in 2004, could be the most important member of Tech’s offensive line. If McGrath can develop in the off-season and show the coaches enough at the center position during the spring that they feel comfortable with him starting, that would allow Montgomery to move back to his natural position at guard. It would drastically improve the play of the offensive line at the same time. If you don’t hold very much confidence in McGrath at the moment, wait and see how the spring of 2005 plays out. I sat in the west stands of Lane Stadium for a J.V. football game in 2002 and watched McGrath dominate current UVA All-American Ahmad Brooks, so the kid has some ability. But ability doesn’t necessarily translate into being named the starting center, as we have seen with McGrath. Hopefully in 2005, it will.
Another guy you can’t rule out as the starting center for 2005 is freshman Ryan Shuman, who is currently redshirting. Shuman was a lightly recruited player coming out of Fork Union. Virginia Tech beat out programs such as Kent St., Toledo and Western Michigan for his services. Shuman was a late bloomer in high school who was undersized and has good footwork. He has increased his size (he reported to Tech at 276 in August) and apparently kept his footwork. Shuman is the type of lineman that many teams covet: a little light coming out of high school, but quick with good footwork. Schools then put weight on the player during the off-season, making a big, quick lineman. That is likely what is going to happen to Shuman this offseason. Look for him to make a push for the starting center position in the spring of 2005.
So far, Virginia Tech has 3 commitments from offensive linemen for the 2005 recruiting class. Let’s take a look one by one:
Robert Norris - Norris stands 6’4 and weighs 300. He is out of DeMatha High School in Maryland. He plays offensive tackle in high school, and is likely to play that position at Tech. He chose the Hokies over offers from Maryland and Syracuse.
Antonio North - A top 15 player in the state of Virginia, on paper North is the most likely of the 3 committs to play early at Tech. He plays offensive guard in high school for a team that runs a lot of sweeps which requires him to pull often. He is noted for his ability to move in space as well.
Ed Wang - Wang is a tall player (6’5” 260) who will need to add weight before he can play at Tech. But because he is a great athlete (4.8 in the 40), he is exactly the type of offensive line recruit discussed previously: an undersized guy with good footwork that will grow into the position. Right now it looks as if Wang will play offensive tackle for the Hokies. He comes from an athletic family, as both of his parents were on the 1984 Chinese Olympic team.
So as you can see, things are getting a little thin along the offensive front for the Hokies. The anchors of the 2004 line, Will Montgomery, Jon Dunn and Jimmy Martin, will all be gone after the 2005 season (Dunn after the 2004 season). Their backups are not getting a lot of work now, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of discussion from the Tech coaches about their progress. But one thing is for sure…somebody needs to step up.
When you look around the Hokies’ roster, it seems stacked with a lot of young talent at every position. With some guys, you can just tell when you first see them on the field that they are going to be big time football players, and we are seeing that this year with guys like Roland Minor, Vince Hall, Carlton Powell, Chris Ellis, Eddie Royal, Duane Brown, etc. The coaches have been raving about them all season, along with guys who are redshirting like Brandon Ore and George Bell.
It really looks like Tech is going
to be loaded at almost every position in a couple of years. But you almost never
hear a peep from the coaches about the development of the young offensive
linemen. With the apparent talent that the Hokies will have in the coming years,
it would be a shame to see what could potentially be a great season end in
relative disappointment because one unit wasn’t up to snuff. Here’s hoping
the Hokies’ young offensive line develops so that they don’t become that one
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