Struggling to find a starter along the defensive line can be a pain for some teams if there’s a lack of talent at that position. For the Hokies, however, their struggle to find a starting tackle along the defensive line is a good problem to have. As fate would have it, the two candidates for the starting role just happen to be extremely talented. But who should the Hokies start at tackle – Antoine Hopkins or Luther Maddy?
A case could be made for either Hopkins or Maddy starting for the Hokies this season. For Hopkins, he has experience on his side. As a redshirt-senior, Hopkins has had time to learn Bud Foster’s defense and get plenty of in-game experience. At 6’1, 318 pounds – Hopkins is a beast of a man and has the ability to control any gap he’s asked to fill. The downside to Hopkins is his health at this point. In the Hokies’ regular season game against Clemson last year, Hopkins suffered a torn ACL that kept him sidelined for the remainder of the 2011-12 season.
Hopkins’ injury gave way to his potential replacement, Luther Maddy. Maddy is only a sophomore, but was thrust into starting action as a freshman after Hopkins went down. Being a freshman, he stepped into the role pretty well and amassed 19 tackles and a sack on the season. Maddy’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but keep in mind that he wasn’t expected to have to contribute as much as he did last season. Moreover, Maddy will only get better as time goes on. The downside to Maddy’s game is his strength. At 288 pounds, he could stand to gain a little bit of weight to help stabilize himself within the trenches.
So what does this all mean? The entire situation hinges upon Hopkins’ health. While he has been cleared for full participation by head trainer Mike Goforth, he still has to prove on the field that he can get back to the level of play he was before his ACL injury. If Hopkins can get back to that performance level, you have to think that the starting role is his. However, if Hopkins can’t return to full strength in time, Maddy should prove to be a solid starter along the defensive line. Maddy should have improved strength by the time Georgia Tech comes to town and I see no reason why he shouldn’t get the start over Hopkins if he isn’t completely healthy.
Whatever the situation ends up being, expect a dominant 2-deep at the tackle position that should impose it’s will against opposing offensive lines. Combine that 2-deep with a well-rounded defensive line at every position and you should see some inflated tackle and sack numbers for the group as a whole.
Whether the starter at tackle is Hopkins or Maddy, both will see significant playing time this season because of a deep rotation along the defensive front. I expect both to put up impressive numbers, and I especially hope that Hopkins can return to form to bolster his chances of getting drafted to an NFL roster. Both Hopkins and Maddy will prove to be valuable pieces in Foster’s defensive system this season, and I look forward to the chaos that the tandem brings.