Last season Virginia Tech had to deal with turnover at the offensive line position, replacing four starters from the 2011 squad.
The offensive line never gelled and inconsistency helped lead to one of the worst running games in Tech history.
This season there is more turnover, as last year’s starting tackles have graduated. But the bigger news is within the coaching staff where Jeff Grimes, formerly of Auburn, took over as offensive line coach when former coach Curt Newsome was let go at the end of last season.
Grimes brings a wealth of experience, having been an offensive line coach with Auburn, Colorado, BYU and Arizona State. He has also helped send 12 former players to the NFL, including the 10th overall pick of the 2002 draft, Levi Jones.
The scheme Grimes primarily uses for run blocking is a zone blocking technique, similar to what the Washington Redskins do in the NFL. Grimes also puts an emphasis on fundamentals, making sure lineman have a good first step, head position and body lean.
At his introductory press conference Grimes stated that, “What I’m worried about is developing the toughest line in the ACC,” re-instilling an identity for Hokie football that seems to have been lost recently.
He has his work cut out for him though, with the current crop of lineman. During spring practice the unsettled state of the offensive line has shown, as Grimes has moved linemen freely from position to position.
Entering the spring, the favorites to start seemed to be: Laurence Gibson at right tackle, Brent Benedict at right guard, Andrew Miller at center, David Wang at left guard and Mark Shuman at left tackle.
However, an injury to Wang has kept him out for most of spring. To fill in, Miller and backup center/guard Caleb Farris have moved fluidly between center and right guard, with Benedict taking over at left guard.
Another surprise has been freshman tackle Jonathan McLaughlin, from prep school Fork Union Military Academy, who has impressed the coaches this spring.
With Grimes’ preference to let competition play out, McLaughlin has found himself in a battle with Shuman at left tackle and has taken over the top spot on the depth chart heading into the Spring Game.
The standout of the spring so far has been Benedict, though. Benedict, a transfer from Georgia, has taken reps at both guard spots and has some of the hardest blocks of the spring, opening up big holes for the running backs.
Behind the starters is where the offensive line becomes concerning. Top backup guard Nick Acree has struggled to return from a torn ACL suffered last season. Outside of him there is Adam Taraschke, Matt Arkema and Augie Conte, who have all had some struggles this spring.
After the disappointment of last season, the offensive line needs to improve if the Hokies want to avoid another 7-6 season.
The Spring Game will give a first look at how much work still needs to be done.