Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Recruiting Smacktacular 2012

The Year of - We Got Some Horses But Where's the Beef

Contrary to the last minute whiffs on most of the big names that Virginia Tech was in on last year, this year the Hokies closed on 2 out of 3 of the biggest names on their board on Signing Day. There is talent and physical ability up and down this Class of 2012 and there was much rejoicing around Hokie Nation when all of the Letters of Intent were received in VT's recruiting office. We here at TSF are obviously pleased with the skill player talent that the Hokies landed in this class but there are a few factors that keep us from being delirious with the same joy that many of our fellow Hokie fans seem to be experiencing. Before we get into that, please feel free as always to check size, weight and 40 times of the entire class with our friends over at Rivals. Our thoughts on star ratings are well known, but Rivals seems to do a better job than most.

The 3 biggest "names" the Hokies landed were Joel Caleb, Drew Harris and Ken Ekanem. Is it a coincidence that all 3 are coming off of knee injuries in their senior year? Now granted, Caleb's isn't as serious as the other two and Harris doesn't rely on a lot of elusive cuts in his game (Darren Evans' was successful in recovery from his knee injury because of a similar style) but the Ekanem injury was bad enough to have Notre Dame back out from their offer. Now granted, in today's sports medicine, a knee injury isn't what it once was, but the gap between good and elite isn't that big, so whether this class lives up to the hopes of many fans will depend on all 3 players fully recovering from their surgeries.

For us, that's just a minor factor. Of "larger" concern (see what I did there?) is the lack of Hokie success in landing top offensive line and defensive tackle prospects. Yet again, the Class of 2012 is loaded with talent all over the field, but at offensive line, three prospects were added, and the one who looks closest to ready to play also looks to have the lowest ceiling. At defensive tackle, the Hokies sole miss on Signing Day was defensive tackle Korren Kirven to Alabama. I would have traded Ken Ekanem and Joel Caleb for Korren Kirven, and how much I REALLY like both of those players should indicate how important Kirven was. The Hokies need the pipeline full of top talent at offensive line and defensive tackle. We're certainly more than pleased with many of the players signed this year, and we'll break this O-line/D-tackle issue down more after the player profiles, but the lack of that pipeline is what keeps our response to the 2012 Class from sharing in the same jubilation the rest of Hokie Nation seems to be feeling. Where's the Beef?


Joel Caleb (WR) - recruited by Shane Beamer

Hmmm, a big, elite athlete who played QB in high school but was recruited to Tech at a different position - where have we (cough, LT, cough) heard that before? OK, ok, so Caleb doesn't appear to have the type of arm to play QB at the Division I-A level, like Thomas did. The fact is, when Caleb pulled the ball down in high school big things happened on the field. He was tough to tackle, and fast. In fact he really looks the part of a bigger, stronger (slightly slower) version of Dyrell Roberts, who you'll recall was a RB in high school instead of a receiver. And just like Roberts, Caleb is going to have learn all of the nuances of playing receiver from the ground up. Learning the plays shouldn't be an issue as he's intelligent by all accounts, but route-running, how to use that big frame of his, blocking, ball skills and very importantly what type of hands does he have? These are all issues that have to be addressed and so I don't share the optimism of many of my colleagues who look at him as an automatic home run. Right now, Caleb is a poor man's Robert Lockhart in that he's at that level of athletic ability, but much less polished at the receiver position. That said, I'd rather have a kid of his ability who truly wants to be at Tech as opposed to Lockhart who didn't want to be there. But I'm still frustrated about losing out on Lockhart who we had pegged as the most underrated recruit in the 2011 class, especially now that the Hokies are going to have face him the next few years.

JC Coleman (RB) - recruited by Curt Newsome

Now, you want to talk about automatic home runs let's talk about JC Coleman. The kid is just a natural. He's one of what I like to call Popcorn Players: get the ball in his hands and bust out the popcorn because it's going to be a great show. By entering school in time for spring practice, Coleman could factor in the return game (potentially as early as this upcoming season), in the slot and in the backfield. Some people knock his size and while he doesn't have blinding speed, he is as quick as any of the other elite backs I saw in the entire country. The kid can stop and start in the blink of an eye and get to top speed extremely quickly. And I LOVE his fundamentals. Coleman has been well-coached. He is patient on blocks, he switches the ball to the correct arm after he changes direction to keep it away from defenders, and he takes advantage of his already low center of gravity by playing with low pad level, making him even harder to find and then tackle. Reminds me of a really great small back from the 70's and early 80's named Joe Washington who played for Oklahoma and went on to have a great NFL career. (highlights here) Coleman has to the potential to be a spark plug for the Hokies.

Augie Conte (OL) - recruited by Shane Beamer

Where the heck did this kid come from, you might ask. The answer is - left field. He was homeschooled and so no one on the football scene knew anything about him until 18 months ago. He is incredibly raw and needs a ton of coaching, but he has a huge frame, extremely nice feet and the coaches are in love with his toughness. I think after two seasons in the weight room he'll be physical enough to be a star, but with how little football he's played, how he takes to coaching in developing his fundamentals will probably determine whether Conte ends up being a starter or a perennial backup. I don't see any middle ground here.

Drew Harris (RB) - recruited by Shane Beamer

11 years ago, the Hokies went into Pennsylvania and took one of the top players in the country right out from under Penn State's nose (among many other suitors). RB Kevin Jones went on to have a monster career at Tech and was on his way in the pros until injuries cut that career short. This year, the Hokies were re-living the past by landing Drew Harris out of eastern PA. The list of schools that DIDN'T offer Drew Harris is shorter than the list that did. He was one of those type of kids who could have gone anywhere in the country and he chose Tech which speaks volumes about Coach Shane (it's what the kids call him) as a recruiter and about VT's well-earned reputation for sending RB's to the League. Unlike most folks, I don't see the comparison to Jones ON the field. Harris is a very different type of runner and frankly his footage is nearly identical to another Hokie great - Darren Evans. Evans wasn't the flashiest runner and neither is Harris, but by gosh they get tough yards, they have a nose for the end zone and they are COMPLETE running backs. They can run through a tackle, or outrun the linebacker to the edge and with their size, they're very effective as blockers. I know people love the highlight type of players but I was a HUGE Darren Evans fan, and I think Harris, assuming he recovers from his knee injury, will be hand-delivering a 220 lb load of pain to ACC defenders for the next few years.

Mark Irick (WR) - recruited by Mike O'Cain

Whether or not Mark Irick has a successful career at Tech will come down to a simple question - can he develop enough speed to be effective? Irick was recruited by Kentucky.....and that's it. A 6'3" kid who has big, great hands, instinctive ball skills and the potential to carry 215 lbs on his frame and no one else wanted him??? The reason is simple - a dramatic lack of speed. Irick's success in high school revolved almost exclusively around jump ball plays. And while that may have worked in high school when Irick was just taller and stronger than most of his opponents, the defenders at this level of college football are much better at denying those catches. If he takes a redshirt year and finds a way to shave two tenths off his 40 time he could become a starter during his career. If he can shave three tenths he will become a star. If he doesn't get any faster at all, he'll be the second coming of EL Smiling who has all the talent and size but is yet to see the field at Tech due to a lack of speed. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Getting that much faster is incredibly difficult and so Irick is a reach by any account. While the Hokie coaches built the program on "reaches" that panned out, I think the level of the other recruits in this class indicates they didn't need to make this one.

Dakota Jackson (TE/H-back) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring

Oh man, all the stars seemingly aligned on this one. A semi-talented kid, no other Division I-A schools offered, recruited by Bryan Stinespring, for a position the Hokies are already loaded at with studs from the past few classes (tight end). I had this entire part practically written in my head as I would get to bash Stiney yet again. And then I put on the footage. And suddenly I paused. Because what I was watching was the personification of Virginia Tech football. This Jackson guy was all over the field. He's making tackles from defensive end, he's making tough catches at tight end, he's pancaking defenders with his blocks. And he's bigger than you think and full speed on every snap. You can almost see how much he loves football and how naturally the game comes to him. I realized that you need players like this in your football program. Quiet leaders like John Engelberger, Jim Davis and more recently Chris Drager. They don't say much but they live and breathe football and earn the respect of their teammates. While they often aren't highly recruited and they don't always get all the media attention, they 're recognized inside the locker room as leaders and became captains of their teams. Jackson is a football player and a good one. Who cares what kind of stats he puts up during his career, he's going to be on the field, doing the dirty work and loving every minute of it. Damn you Stiney, for making me scrap my witty (if I do say so myself) cut piece, but kudos to you for bringing Jackson into the Hokie program.

Chris Mangus (RB) - recruited by Mike O'Cain

Welcome to the #1 underrated recruit in the 2012 class. Chris Mangus has got star quality written all over him and I couldn't get enough of his footage, rewinding runs over and over again. Now first, let me get this off my chest about David Wilson. Yes, the guy was probably one of the top 5 athletes in all of college football last season and his speed and strength will hopefully lead him to a great NFL career. But Wilson was just not an instinctive runner. I never got the sense that he had the vision, moves or patience to turn all that ability into an unstoppable force. He was simply faster than most everyone, and was extremely hard to tackle because of how hard he ran. Chris Mangus brings lightning bolt speed to the RB position but he also has a great feel for the game. He sets up his blockers and he seems to know just when to plant his foot and kick in the hyperdrive. One little secret you might not know is that coaches love evaluating running backs in bad weather conditions because of the balance it requires and how much harder it is on one's stamina. I watched the footage of Mangus playing a game in the mud and slop and he looked like he was on a different surface than the rest of the guys. I really enjoy his combination of being slippery and shifty in traffic, and then when he sees an opening he is GONE. All the talk at RB in this class is about Coleman and Harris, don't be shocked if Mangus ends up being the best one of the bunch by the time their careers are over.

Brendan Motley (QB) - recruited by Kevin Sherman

The Hokies had the luxury in 2012 of ignoring the QB position as a need. Next year QB will be a huge push for the Hokies but this season they were able to take a chance on a kid in their own backyard with Motley. Out of the several prospects in this, and recent classes, where great athletes played QB for their high school but weren't actually QB prospects at the next level (Chris Hall, Der'woun Greene and Joel Caleb spring to mind), Motley is the most developed as a QB. He is extremely athletic, so basically the Hokies can give him a shot at QB - he does appear to have the arm for it, if lacking in the fundamentals - and if that doesn't work out, he'll have options at receiver or safety. I like his moxie and playmaking ability and I look at this as a low risk/high reward move. The Hokies protect their backyard and bring in a player who could develop into an exciting QB, or if he doesn't, they can put his good size and speed to use elsewhere on the team. Think Kam Chancellor here.

Thomas Smith (WR) - recruited by Curt Newsome

Thomas Smith is a man-child. He JUST turned 17 years old and he's already 6'4", 205 lbs. The Hokies are going to grayshirt him and bring him in in 2013. If his physical development continues, who knows what position he may end up playing? If he gets bigger he could be a TE or DE, or if he gets faster he could become a monster prospect at WR. Exciting prospect considering how young he is. I hope the Hokies can hold on to him next year because their recent track record at that is pretty piss poor.

Josh Stanford (WR) - recruited by Torrian Gray

Stanford is the main reason I was able to get over the Robert Lockhart defection. He may not be quite as elusive or physical as Joel Caleb, but Stanford is faster and is vastly more developed as a receiver. Like most receivers coming out of high school he needs a lot of work on route running, but his ball skills and hands are top notch. The Hokies grabbed him away from Arkansas State (don't laugh, I really think that's a program on the rise in recruiting) and TCU. Stanford will almost certainly redshirt this year but he looks so talented, I'd expect him to compete for playing time and maybe even a starting spot his redshirt freshman season.

Adam Taraschke (OL) - recruited by Bud Foster

All you need to know about whether Taraschke has the mean streak needed on the offensive line is to know that Coach Foster recruited him. Foster was actually going on a visit to watch a defensive tackle for recruiting and this Taraschke kid just mauled the tackle throughout the game. Augie Conte has a higher ceiling as a lineman, but Taraschke is the closest of the 3 linemen in this class to being a sure thing to play on offensive line during his time at Tech because of how much farther he is in development at this point. He is athletic but he needs some major Gentrification in the weight room. I'm sure he'll get that starting this summer.

Jack Willenbrock (OL) - recruited by Shane Beamer

It's easy to assume that Willenbrock was recruited by Tech because they wanted RB Drew Harris and Willenbrock blocked for Harris. And while nothing is particularly impressive in Willenbrock's footage from a talent, size or strength standpoint, he does fit the mold of an offensive lineman from a mentality standpoint. He is extremely aggressive and seems to be one of those "play to the echo of the whistle" kinds of guys. Perhaps he will grow into a contributor. But to be honest, this is a perfect example of Where's the Beef. The Hokies need to be landing better players than Willenbrock especially on offensive line where there have been definite gaps in talent or depth over the past few years. I love what Coach Shane brought to the table in recruiting this season, but I am underwhelmed with this signing and the one below.

Jerome Wright (RB) - recruited by Shane Beamer

I am even more bewildered by this signing than I was about Jack Willenbrock. This could only have been an insurance signing in case Drew Harris went a different way on Signing Day. I understand that Wright has played very little football and so could get better, but I just didn't see any sort of burst or tackle breaking ability from the running back position to match a man of his size (6'2", 225 lbs). He is going to grayshirt which makes a ton of sense, and maybe he becomes a defensive player or a fullback/tight end, who knows? We can only cross our fingers and hope to be wrong on this one.


DeWayne Alford (DE) - recruited by Curt Newsome

We weren't high on this young man last year and nothing has changed to alter our opinion. Alford is still a project and considering the eye-popping talent the Hokies have landed at defensive end last year and this year, it's doubtful that Alford will get significant minutes at defensive end until much later in his career. Not much else to add on this one.

Woody Baron (DE/DT) - recruited by Charley Wiles

Baron is an interesting piece in the Hokie recruiting puzzle. His uncle Jim Baron was a superstud defensive tackle for the Hokies back in the Middle Ages when I was at school there. It looks as if the younger Baron has the motor of his uncle, and he has a very big frame, but he isn't very fast. All signs point to him moving inside to defensive tackle where he could be disruptive IF (capital letters isn't big enough, this is a HUGE "if") he keeps growing and gets strong enough. Based on the theme of the class, we would obviously much prefer to see more Alston Smith-type of defensive tackles that look ready to contribute earlier in their career, but Baron at least has the potential to grow into that role and like Smith, his bloodlines are good.

Deon Clarke (LB) - recruited by Shane Beamer

After whiffing completely on LB prospects last year, the Hokies made up for it this year by landing some of the best players at the position along the Eastern seaboard. Deon Clarke looks like a ready-made star. He is blazing fast, he gets through the "trash" at the line of scrimmage very instinctively and he looks like he has pretty solid technique already in his tackling which is a rarity at the high school level. He projects to either whip or backer and I believe he'd excel at either position. He is one that Director of Recruiting, Jim Cavanaugh had his eye on from early in Clarke's career and we all know that Cavanaugh is as good a talent evaluator as there is in the business.

Seth Dooley (DE) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring

One position the Hokies have some depth and can afford to let some projects develop is at defensive end. Seth Dooley is one of those projects. He is undersized for his frame, but considering that at 6'5" he played WR and RB for his team last year out of necessity and looked very fluid in his movement, he certainly has the athleticism to be an impact player. He needs to get a lot stronger and I wonder if he suffers from McCray Syndrome whose symptoms include a less-than-hoped-for level of violence and toughness on the football field. Time will certainly tell on Dooley who looks to be a coin-flip between major contributor and major flop.

Trey Edmunds (LB) - recruited by Bryan Stinespring

One player who is not going to be a flop is Trey Edmunds. My goodness, this kid is a beast. The Hokies are saying all the right platitudes about having him be a dual threat player at RB and LB, but considering the number of tailbacks brought in with this class, and the fact that he's a little tall and probably runs too upright to be a star at RB at the collegiate level, I'm pretty sure he'll end up on defense. And with Edmunds' unbelievable physical ability, it makes sense to put him in a position where he can get to the field as soon as possible. The kid always seemed to be making plays on defense, causing fumbles, intercepting passes and making great hits. He could probably put on 10 lbs and play backer or maybe even maintain his weight and just get faster and be an amazing rover or whip. He gets his natural football instincts from his dad, the great Ferrell Edmunds, who played TE for Maryland and then went on to a solid NFL career with the Dolphins. His son Trey could end up being even better.

Ken Ekanem (DE) - recruited by Bud Foster

This is going to sound strange but despite being a defensive end, Ken Ekanem's situation is nearly identical to former Hokie safety Eddie Whitley. Whitley hurt his knee at the end of his senior year in high school and at the time we said if he recovered from the knee injury he would be a star, if he didn't, he probably would end up just barely making the two-deep. Ekanem's footage clearly shows that he has the ability to be a starter by the time he's a redshirt sophomore and maybe even get playing time prior to that. His first step and balance/body bend are absolutely outstanding. However, that knee injury in the state championship game means that his success at the next level will be based on how close he can regain that form through rehab. Whitley was able to make the recovery and though he lost a half-step and was unable to play corner, he still had a good career starting at safety. We are hoping Ekanem can bounce back, and have similar success.

Desmond Frye (DB) - recruited by Shane Beamer

It takes a unique player to come out of high school and be ready to play free safety successfully in college. Usually they're just playing center field in high school and are typically one of the best athletes on the team. But Frye looks to really have some ball skills having played some wide receiver and he also brings a very violent temperament to the position with some big hits and a little swagger. That confidence and leadership is exactly what the free safety position needs in the Hokie's defense. They are making play calls and getting the defense in the right look but they are also setting the tone with their style of play. Frye needs to put on some weight and get stronger, but he has the range already and just looks like a perfect fit at free safety.

Der'woun Greene (DB but maybe WR) - recruited by Curt Newsome

Greene belonged in the Year of the Hybrid class a few year's back. He's a freakishly athletic kid from the 757 who has the aggressive mentality of a defensive player but also, due to playing QB his senior year of high school, he shows some danger with the ball in his hands in the open field. The coaches are going to give him a shot at both receiver and defensive back and see which position his skills adapt to, though I think Greene would prefer defense. If he can cover and develop tackling skills he could be a big-hitting rover, or if he looks to be better at blocking and catching he'll end up as a receiver, though he probably wouldn't see the field on offense until later in his career. Either way, it's always a great feeling to go into the 757 and take a prospect away from the Cavaliers who also had an offer in on Greene.

Jarontay Jones (DE) - recruited Torrian Gray

Despite the Hokies inexplicable problem at landing many highly rated defensive tackles, they have not had a problem at defensive end. They've gotten guys in who were ready to produce early in their career, and they've also landed a few "project" players with very high ceilings. But at defensive end for the Class of 2012, you want to know where the beef is? Here it is. Jarontay Jones is already 6'2", 240lbs and just plays absolutely awesome football for this point in his career. He's not quite as athletic as fellow DE Ken Ekanem in this class, but he is stronger, more instinctive and certainly more fundamentally sound which tells me the Hokies need to be pipelining into Stephenson High School in Georgia where Jones is from. Most kids who are that much bigger and more powerful than their opponents rely on that throughout their high school years. Jones has already been "coached up" and shows good punch with his hands, he gets low and has a major motor. Credit to his high school coaching for getting him ready to play. Jones' mission at Tech is to take in even more coaching and get stronger and faster, but he is going to be bigtime during his career. In fact, with the announcement of Duan Perez-Means moving to tight end and Ekanem needing his first year just to get back to full strength, Jones is in a fantastic position to compete for the 2-deep by the time his redshirt freshman year rolls around.

Donaldven Manning (CB) - recruited by Torrian Gray

Confidence, great closing speed, extremely fluid hips. Every elite cornerback who has come through Virginia Tech has had these traits and Manning has each one in spades. Manning chose the Hokies over offers from 30+ schools such as Nebraska and Auburn even withstanding a late charge from Notre Dame. And if that wasn't enough, when you see Coach Gray is the lead recruiter for a defensive back, you know he's the exact kind of player the Hokies want in the defensive backfield. Manning reminds me a lot of Hosley in his ability to change direction quickly with balance and while he's not big enough for run support in college yet, he's got the right mindset for it. If he can add that strength and weight and keep his burst, Manning will have a chance to see his name up among the greats that have come through the program.

Dahman McKinnon (LB) - recruited by Charley Wiles

I think McKinnon's offer was a function of the fact that the Hokies completely whiffed at LB in the 2011 class and they needed to land some players at that position for this class. He verballed extremely early, and when playing against other top competition in the Shrine Bowl this season he looked outmatched and too small at LB. He is pretty quick so his best shot for making the field at Tech may be whip or rover at some point in his career, but the list of extremely talented players for those two positions is a mile long. Just like James Hopper several years ago, this is the type of prospect that appears to be offered just to make sure you get some players at certain positions of need. McKinnon is the type of hard-nosed and quick but undersized recruit of yesteryear. I understand why the Hokies offered him at the time, but he doesn't seem to stack up to the other three guys coming in at LB (Deon Clarke, Trey Edmunds and Devin VanDyke).

Donovan Riley (DB) - recruited by Kevin Sherman

Donovan Riley is probably going to be the reason fellow recruit Der'woun Greene ends up on offense instead of in the Hokie secondary. This guy is ferocious. He is a ball hawk, and an excellent tackler. May not have enough top end speed for corner, but showed great quickness and agility on punt returns and punt coverage. But the most impressive aspect of Riley's footage was his instinctive play. There's one play in particular that leapt off the screen at me. He was playing corner and dropped into his zone after the snap. The QB broke contain and was running towards the sideline. How many high school players would give up their coverage responsibility and rush up to try and make a sack? Answer: 95% of them. Riley recognized that his linebacker teammate had the angle and would likely prevent the QB from running for much yardage. So instead, Riley felt the receiver coming across the field, stayed in his lane and read the QB's eyes, leaping to make an interception which he proceeded to return for a touchdown. His trust in his teammate and then keeping his own responsibility led to a huge play for his team. Not that Riley's afraid to stick his nose in and make a big hit, because he does and it seems he does at the right time. Players like that - whom the game just seems to come naturally to - always seem to find their way onto the field at Virginia Tech. As a low 3 star recruit, Donovan Riley is the third most underrated recruit in this 2012 class.

Alston Smith (DT) - recruited by Curt Newsome

Thankfully for this recruiting class, Alston Smith looks like he could be the one bright spot at defensive tackle. It's obvious from his footage that while he isn't the physical specimen that his dad, Bruce Smith, was, he has definitely been guided in the finer points of defensive line play. He scrapes along the line of scrimmage naturally, he stacks up blockers at the point of attack and he is very good with his hands. The coaches are already saying that he has put on 20 lbs of good weight which means after his previous weigh-in at 260 lbs, he is tipping the scales around 280 lbs right now. With the rash of injuries at defensive tackle (along with guys who didn't "get" the position like Nick Acree) the Hokies need as many playmakers as they can get at tackle. Corey Marshall wants to get back outside to end and that opens up a spot in the two deep behind the Hopkins brothers. I don't think Smith is strong enough yet, but who knows what's going to happen. Unlike most kids, he has a dad who can provide the training regimen he needs to get ready between now and then. Smith will play in a large shadow at Tech but he does appear to have the ability to make his own name.

Davion Tookes (DB) - recruited by Torrian Gray

Both cornerbacks in this class were recruited by Coach Gray and that certainly bodes well. But I must be missing something - how is Tookes only a 3 star recruit according to the recruiting services? Hello 2nd most underrated recruit in the 2012 class. Tookes was offered by 7 different SEC schools, has fantastic ball skills, he is physical in coverage and in run support and he can absolutely FLY. Even before getting Gentrified he has run a 4.42 40 yd-dash electronically timed which means he will probably be in the 4.35-4.37 range after working on his form at Tech. Consider this - Calvin Johnson ran an electronically timed 4.35 in the 40 at the NFL Combine. Ignore all the garbage you see about most recruits' 40 times recorded on a stopwatch. Electronic timing is the number you can believe. And 4.42 electronic coming out of high school, is FAAAAAAAAST. If you're stil doubting, Tookes was the third leg of his high school's 4x100 meter relay time which ran the 8th fastest time in the entire country this year. And best of all, he's not just a speed guy, he's a football player who can catch the ball and tackle at the line of scrimmage. Fellow recruit Donaldven Manning looks to be more fundamentally skilled at this point in their careers, but Tookes is bigger and faster. Between the two, the Hokies continue to strengthen their national reputation as "DB" U.

Devin VanDyke (LB) - recruited by Bud Foster

Devin's brother Ronnie joined the Hokies last year as a safety and whatever they're serving for dinner in the VanDyke house, they ought to package it and sell it around the country to aspiring football players, because Devin shares his brother's instincts, but he has a larger frame and a fantastic burst. He also always arrives at the ball in a very foul mood and he knocked six (SIX!?!) kids out of football games with big hits this past season. The bottom line is Devin is exactly what Coach Foster is looking for at whip or maybe backer if he fills out the way it seems he should be able to. My favorite clip of VanDyke is him screaming in off the edge to block a FG attempt (he nearly catches the damn ball). The ball tips into the air and as soon as VanDyke sees that one of his teammates has secured the ball and is taking off for the end zone, he turns and immediately looks for somebody to LAY OUT with a block and ends up pulverizing the kicker. I mean just burying the poor kid. His highlights just make you want to jump up, put in a mouthpiece and start hitting the blocking sled. It should be really neat to see in 2014 or so, both VanDyke brothers on the field at the same time making plays on defense.

Nigel Williams (DT) - recruited by Shane Beamer

Nigel Williams seems to be the opposite of Alston Smith in that instead of getting bigger every time the coaches see him, he seems to be staying the same or maybe even losing a little weight. In none of the footage that I watched was he at defensive tackle and if ends up playing that position at Tech it will be out of necessity (a la Corey Marshall this season) because Williams looks more natural at end and is really pretty athletic, like Marshall. But at tackle, you're typically looking for a guy who can hold up against the blocks of the guards and centers and as athletic as Williams is (he played some TE as well), he just doesn't demonstrate any of the strength or gap-eating ability that one is typically looking for in a defensive tackle. Just like Woody Baron, if he can add 30 lbs and get a ton stronger and somehow maintain that athleticism, he could become a force at defensive tackle. But all that's a whole lot easier said than done. He is another defensive tackle prospect that leaves us asking Where's the Beef. Williams' athletic ability does give him a higher ceiling than some others the Hokies have signed recently, but he likely won't see the field until his junior year at the soonest.


Looking over the past several recruiting classes on defense, and seeing the remarkable talent at each of the "skill" positions that the Hokies landed, it is beyond frustrating to see mostly projects being signed at defensive tackle. Kris Harley last year looked every bit the real deal and by all accounts he is coming on strong this off-season but he was the only highly rated tackle the Hokies signed. Luther Maddy turned out to be a stud (though you wouldn't have known it reading my idiotic assessment of that young man in the class last year) but he looked every bit a project player at the time. In this class, Alston Smith looks like he is close to being what Tech is looking for, but he's one of three tackles the Hokies signed and the other two are really more like converted defensive ends. It was extremely maddening to lose out on DT Korren Kirven this year from right in VT's backyard (Lynchburg, VA where Zack McCray and Logan Thomas came from) at such a position of need.

And then the same can be said for the offensive line in this year's class. Yes, Augie Conte shows flashes that he could possibly develop into a starter on the offensive line but the other two are reaches to be blunt and the Hokies should be able to land 2-3 top offensive line recruits every year along with a project or two. Considering the dedication to a power running game at Tech, linemen get to showcase their complete package to the NFL and should be flocking to play at VT. What NFL connections are the Hokies missing? They've sent very few linemen to the NFL so maybe that's where the breakdown is occurring, with no "ins" with offensive line coaching at the next level. Whatever the reason, this year's offensive line class is disappointing, particularly when one remembers that gaps in offensive line recruiting so badly hurt the offense from 2006 to 2008. Where's the Beef?

To top off this frustration sundae with a cherry of nonsense, it's not as if the Hokies aren't able to recruit top talent. It bears repeating that - just as this year's class is titled - we're getting the "horses" at the skill positions on offense along with defensive end and the back seven on defense. The Hokies have clearly elevated their recruiting to be able to compete with any and all top schools everywhere in the country. Ryan Williams, Jayron Hosley, Jarrett Boykin, Bruce Taylor, David Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, I mean these guys were All-ACC, player of the year candidates and even looking at this year's and the past two classes, the pipeline is filled with the same caliber of player at those positions (minus QB for now). But when playing the other top schools, the difference has been in the level of play at defensive tackle and offensive line. Look at the national title game this year- Blake DeChristopher and Derrick Hopkins are the only two linemen who could have competed for a spot in the two-deep at offensive line or defensive tackle at Alabama or a LSU and neither would have been a starter. The other schools who compete for national championships field entire offensive lines and defensive tackles of that caliber.

It makes little to no sense to us that the Hokies could land players in this class like Chris Mangus, Donaldven Manning, Joel Caleb, JC Coleman and Ken Ekanem, but not a single ESPN150 or Rivals Top 200 player along the offensive line or at defensive tackle. Now we're not ignoring the fact that the class two years ago was called the Year of the Trenches. Laurence Gibson and Mark Shuman were in that class and so was Nick Acree and despite the fact that Acree didn't work out at defensive tackle he was certainly highly rated. But the thing about those two position groups is that you can't take a season off. Injuries happen in the trenches all the time, or maybe a player doesn't "get it" - like Acree - and you have to have quality depth to do battle against the other top schools who not only land elite skill position players who get all the headlines, but also the best of the interior linemen on both sides of the ball. Bud Foster is a magician, who shuffled players around on defense this season and made it work well, but when talking about taking the next step, give Foster the tools to work with and I think we all know what he can do.

The Hokies obviously have solved the riddle on landing great players elsewhere on the team, it's time Coach Beamer figured out what the issue is on landing top talent on the offensive line and defensive tackle and addressed it.



Illinois Hokie said...

Out highest rated DT recruit in the past decade is fighting to make the three deep on the OL. We don't land elite DTs because Wiles doesn't project the appearance that he knows what to do with them.

MadJay said...

You think it's because of Wiles? That's an interesting theory. I certainly think part of our struggles on O-line could be due to Coach Newsome and the thought that he doesn't develop NFL caliber linemen. But the Hokies have had success at defensive end and that's Wiles, too. Since I can't think of any other reason why the Hokies have trouble getting top shelf DT's in-house, that theory is as good as any for now.

Illinois Hokie said...

It's perception, and it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. We haven't had a game changing DT in forever, which makes elite DT prospects look elsewhere. Foster's scheme is built on speed off the edge, not power on the inside. Other programs point this out to their DT targets, and now they can point to Nick Acree's career at Tech to further their claim.

I'm not saying Wiles isn't a great coach. But in every system there's a weak link. At VT it's at the DT spot. The cause of that is schematic. There's not much you can do about it except hope for "good enough."

Brad said...

A great read as always. Nice work.

As far as the DT thing goes, it's also worth mentioning that really good DT prospects are more rare than good DEs. Maybe this is just my perception, but I'd bet over the last decade you could count a lot more DEs in the top ten in-state recruits than DTs. I think this is a big part of why smaller programs gravitate towards running 3-4 schemes.

MadJay said...

If only I knew an economist who could put together a look at data like that......

I will add that while I agree with your point about the fewer number of DT's that are that highly rated, I stand by the fact that there are highly rated DT's out there and the Hokies don't get their fair share. And they CERTAINLY aren't landing the type of players on the offensive line that they need.