Virginia Tech fall camp first practice

Virginia Tech offensive lineman T.J. Jackson runs drills at practice on Aug. 2, 2019. 

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech is sorting through plenty of combinations on the offensive line this fall.

The Hokies need to replace three longtime fixtures up front (Kyle Chung, Braxton Pfaff and Yosuah Nijman), but even the team's returning starters (Christian Darrisaw and Zachariah Hoyt) have to reestablish themselves. 

Tech’s first-team offensive line in the spring was Silas Dzansi at right tackle, Austin Cannon at right guard, Hoyt at center, Lecitus Smith at left guard and Tyrell Smith at left tackle. Darrisaw missed spring with an injury.

There is a hungry group of true freshmen pushing for playing time with Doug Nester, the Hokies highest rated offensive line signee in program history, anchoring the class. 

According to Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente, there’s also some more experienced players with the size and athleticism to compete against defensive lines in the ACC making their case.

“You can never have enough,” Fuente said, of offensive line talent. “We always want more.”

Last week, Fuente offered strong praise for a pair of veteran linemen, Tyrell Smith and T.J. Jackson. Smith is only one of four scholarship seniors on the roster. The 6-foot-3, 308-pounder has played in 40 career games.

“Tyrell has been a leader for us,” Fuente said, of the veteran tackle. “Not just in that room but on the entire team. Incredible worker. Great strength numbers. And he knows this is his last go ’round.”

Jackson is working at right guard this spring. At 6-foot-6, 359 pounds, he might seem like a more natural fit at tackle, but Jackson has impressed coaches with his athleticism. 

“T.J. is maybe the most unique athlete I’ve seen out there in terms of his size and his athletic ability,” Fuente said. “And every day he continues to take steps forward to being a good player, not just a big, special athlete.”

He’s worked alongside Smith to help fill the leadership void on the offensive line.

“I don’t say this about a lot of people, but you’re talking about someone who brightens up the room when you’re in there, that’s T.J. Jackson,” Fuetne said. “Great smile. Always in a good mood. Always kind of giving a positive spin to other people.”

One other name that’s caught Fuente’s eye is redshirt freshman Luke Tenuta. Tenuta’s physical transformation this offseason going from 285 to 315 pounds would be hard not to notice.

Fuente acknowledged that Dzansi and Darrisaw have a slight edge thanks to their experience, but Virginia Tech had seven different linemen make at least three starts in 2018.

“We’ve got a couple tackles with some experience that didn’t have much experience last yea and Luke Tenuta is a guy that is pushing for playing time,” Fuente said. “He is well over 300 pounds now and has really been impressive and is pushing at the tackle spot as well.”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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