The Keys To Success: Two Days Until The Virginia Tech Football Season

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Yesterday we took a look at Virginia Tech’s offensive line.  Today we will take a look at the other group of big uglies, the defensive line.

James Gayle, Luther Maddy, Derrick Hopkins, J.R. Collins/Corey Marshall – The Starters

We should note that James Gayle won’t be starting against Georgia Tech on Monday.  In his place will be Tyrel Wilson, who played very well against Georgia Tech last season.  Don’t be alarmed everybody, it’s still just a health thing for Gayle with his ankle still a bit gimpy.  Gayle will still see the field plenty against the Yellow Jackets. Having Gayle in a diminished role against Georgia Tech can never be a good thing though, seeing as Gayle is the most talented defensive lineman the Hokies have.

When healthy, Gayle has earned the reputation as one of the most feared defensive ends in the ACC.  On the other side of the defensive line, you’ll either see J.R. Collins or Corey Marshall starting at end.  J.R. Collins was late to a team meeting, and as a punishment the coaching staff moved Corey Marshall up to the first team.  Since getting that opportunity though, Marshall has played exceptionally well and might have legitimately earned a spot on the starting line.  We should see a good rotation between Collins and Marshall regardless of who starts against Georgia Tech.

In the interior of the offensive line, Luther Maddy and Derrick Hopkins will be holding down the fort.  Maddy, who was thrust into a starting role last season after Antoine Hopkins went down with an injury, has proven himself to be a legitimate player on the interior who can hold his own against talented offensive linemen.  After Antoine Hopkins returned from injury in the spring, Maddy was able to retain his starting spot.

Derrick Hopkins should continue to be a space-eater beside Maddy.  At 306 pounds, Hopkins is one of those players that moves better than his weight and size would indicate.  Hopkins is surprisingly athletic for a man his size, and combined with the other general athleticism of the Hokies’ d-line, should prove worrisome for offensive coordinators.

Tyrel Wilson, Antoine Hopkins, Zack McCray – The Reserves

As we mentioned above, Tyrel Wilson will be starting in place of James Gayle against Georgia Tech, which isn’t necessarily as dire a situation as it may sound.  Wilson was very effective against Georgia Tech’s triple option last season due to his size, which is usually a hindrance.  At only 228 pounds, Wilson is wildly undersized for a defensive end.  However, Wilson is so much quicker off the line than other, larger players that he can really disrupt Georgia Tech’s run game in the backfield.

Hopkins, who is coming off an ACL tear last season, will have to prove that he can still be very effective after a substantial injury.  Had he not torn his ACL, Hopkins would be a clear starter for the Hokies this season.  Hopkins will have to start coming off the bench for the Hokies, but should still see plenty of significant playing time if he proves himself to still be effective against opposing offenses.

Zack McCray is a hybrid player that has the ability to line up on the inside or outside of the defensive line.  He is strong enough to hold his own against centers and guards, but he is quick enough to disrupt offenses coming off the edge at defensive end.  Bud Foster is looking for more players like McCray to fill out his defensive line in the future, so expect McCray to get a ton of different looks this season from both the interior and exterior of the line.

If this defensive line as a whole wants to see success this season, they will have to use their athleticism to blow up opposing offenses early at the point of attack.  With so much speed on the edges combined with huge bodies in the middle, this could truly be one of Virginia Tech’s best defensive lines as a whole.  If this group can exert their physical dominance, they should have no trouble shutting down other offenses.

Tomorrow with the last “Keys To Success” article, we will look at the centerpiece of the Virginia Tech football team – Logan Thomas.