BLACKSBURG — Much of Virginia Tech’s starting offensive line from last season is participating in the program’s pro day on Friday.
Kyle Chung, Braxton Pfaff and Yosuah Nijman graduated with 82 starts between them. The Hokies head into the 2019 season with 29 combined starts on the offensive line. It’s made for a much different spring camp for the group and offensive line coach Vance Vice.
“It has changed the dynamic,” Vice said. “Some days we’re learning left and right.”
Vice has only 12 healthy offensive linemen this spring with as many seniors (Tyrell Smith) as early enrollees (Jesse Hanson). The returning offensive lineman with the most experience, Christian Darrisaw, is sidelined this spring with an injury. Darrisaw is only a sophomore, but he started 12 games in 2018 as a true freshman. Walker Culver and Joe Kane are also injured.
“We look at it as an opportunity to get guys in there and get them all on the same page, and this group does an unbelievable job of doing the extra stuff,” Vice said. “There’s not a day they’re not up here on their own doing something, whether it’s film or whether it’s footwork.
Vice went a step further calling the group’s work ethic “the best I’ve been since I’ve been here.” Their attitude is just as encouraging.
“I’ve got competition at every spot and legitimate competition,” Vice said. “And they’re all pulling for each other. I’ve seen more in four practices of guys helping each other than I have in four years. I mean, young guys, old guys, some young guys helping old guys. Old guys helping young guys.”
Vice thinks it will stay that way too.
Virginia Tech has more linemen enrolling this summer as part of a talented 2019 signing class that includes former Ohio State verbal commit Doug Nester. Coastal Carolina transfer Brock Hoffman, who has submitted a waiver to gain eligibility in 2019, will also join the team. Vice’s plan is to keep the competition for playing time open going into fall camp to keep everyone engaged.
“The day after spring ball is over, there’ll be five open spots,” Vice said.
Early in Vice’s career, the assistant's decision to name a starting line coming out of spring backfired.
“Two of those five, I thought, took the summer off,” Vice said. “So I want to keep that thing open. Obviously we’ve got new guys coming in, and these guys understand that. They know we’re batting with about 12 guys right now with injuries and different things, and they know we’ll have more. We’ll have 20 when we get here in the fall. So it’ll be open again and let’s go.”
That doesn’t mean players can’t gain a leg up in the spring. Redshirt-sophomore Silas Dzansi also wants the group to use these 15 practices to develop some chemistry.
“I think once we get to work together as a youngish group, we have some guys that played a little bit last year and some that didn’t, once we get to work together a little more we will be able to come together,” Dzansi said.
During the open portion of the first two spring practice, Virginia Tech had Dzansi repping at first team right tackle alongside John Harris at right guard, Zachariah Hoyt at center, Lecitus Smith at left guard and T.J. Jackson at left tackle. The second team offensive line was Luke Tenuta at right tackle, Jesse Hanson at right guard, Louis Mihota at center, Austin Cannon at right guard and Tyrell Smith at right tackle.
“This is a fun, fun group to coach, because they all want to be good,” Vice said.