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Aug
20

Fans Who Gave Up Are Missing Mullins' Magical Season

As the Baltimore Orioles continue to lose an unholy number of baseball games, I find it more and more difficult to follow the team.

I gave up on watching the team on a nightly basis a while ago. I simply can’t handle the constant losing. And it’s a shame really, because those who are watching on a regular basis are witnessing one of the greatest seasons in Orioles history by Cedric Mullins.

The numbers don’t tell the entire story, but they sure do provide a lot of useful information. Mullins currently leads the American League in hits and leads the O’s in doubles, triples, home runs, stolen bases, batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. Mullins’ fWAR is 4.7, which is fifth-best in the entirety of Major League Baseball.

Mullins’ ability to produce like this while being stuck in the middle of one of the worst baseball teams in this century make his feat more impressive. Mullins has played in 117 of the Orioles’ 120 games so far and has stayed as steady as possible while the team limps to the finish line in September.

Consider this — after his incredible start to the season in April, Mullins slumped mightily in May. He rebounded with an OPS of 1.172 in June and over the last two months, his OPS has remained over .800. Despite the team floundering around him on a nightly basis, Mullins continues to perform.

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Aug
19

This Is The Season For Dax Hollifield To Realize His Potential

Readers of DullesDistrict.com will remember the end of the 2018 recruiting cycle, when Dax Hollifield was on the fence about where he was going to play football.

Despite his affection for Stanford and affinity for North Carolina and South Carolina, nothing outweighed Hollifield’s love for Bud Foster and Virginia Tech. As a four-star prospect, I was thrilled to see him signing up to play in the maroon and orange.

But as Hollifield enters his fourth season in the program, we haven’t quite seen that caliber of player just yet.

If it’s ever going to happen, this is the season.

Hollifield was the victim of the hype that surrounded him, as well as poor depth at both linebacker positions. He and Rayshard Ashby were in their first and second seasons respectively, and were already the best linebackers on the roster.

While Hollifield has always been better suited to play mike, or middle linebacker, he was a better option as an outside linebacker than Ashby. And so started Hollifield’s career of playing out of position.

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Aug
12

Thank you, Chris Davis, For All Of The Memories...

As an Orioles fan, you would think that Chris Davis’ retirement would bring me eternal joy.

You’d think that Davis’ decision, which the Orioles announced on Thursday, would be reason to celebrate. I mean, Davis’ seven-year, $161 million contract has largely been a disaster, and for an organization in full rebuild mode, getting that money off the books will go a long way.

You’d think that I’d be happy. But in reality, Davis’ retirement makes me quite sad.

I’m sad because from 2012 to 2016, Davis was a linchpin in the Buck Showalter run of success. After floundering in Texas for a few seasons, Davis emerged in Baltimore as one of the best power bats in all of baseball. Over those five seasons, Davis slugged 197 home runs and led the American League in bombs on two separate occasions.

His 53 homers in 2013 and 47 homers in 2015 not only led the junior circuit but enshrined Davis as one of the best power hitters to ever wear an Orioles uniform. His 53 homers in 2013 are also the most in Orioles’ history for a single season.

Davis was reliable and productive. His glove improved too in Baltimore, making him one of the best first baseman in baseball during that time span.

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Aug
11

Barno Heads Up A Defense That Could Be Surprisingly Good

The 2020 college football season was full of things most fans are still trying to forget.

Chiefly among them was limited to zero fans in the stands.

Experiencing a player’s performance while in the stadium is entirely different than watching it on television or streaming it on your smartphone or computer. So when it comes to this season, I’m excited for people to have the opportunity to watch Virginia Tech’s players in person.

Amare Barno is one of those players, and Virginia Tech fans came close to never witnessing him play in person, which would have been an outright shame.

Barno is probably the most talented edge rusher to wear a Virginia Tech uniform since the mid-to-late 2000s. The Hokies have had some good ones since then — James Gayle, Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem come to mind — but none of them had the ceiling that Barno does.

That potential almost landed Barno in the NFL Draft this spring, but Barno ultimately decided to return to Virginia Tech and try and improve his draft stock. Barno’s return is a godsend for the Hokies, who have enough talent on the defensive front to make a difference on gamedays.

Barno plays a large role in that — the JUCO transfer registered 6.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in 11 games in 2020, leading the Tech pass rush. His speed and length off the edge makes him someone that opposing coordinators will have to scheme heavily against each week.

But alongside Barno are some talented players with a chance to break out. Norell Pollard and Mario Kendricks both return at defensive tackle, as does Josh Fuga. Clemson transfer Jordan Williams is in the mix there as well, giving Tech a solid two-deep that allows defensive line coaches Bill Teerlinck and JC Price to keep their interior players fresh.

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Aug
09

Virginia Tech Extends Babcock's Contract Through 2029

True to its historical modus operandi, Virginia Tech once again valued continuity and stability in the athletic department when the university extended director of athletics Whit Babcock Monday.

The extension, which inks Babcock until June 2029, heightens the probability that Babcock will select Virginia Tech’s next head football coach.

Whether that is a good or bad thing is yet to be determined. Excluding football for a moment, Babcock has mostly made excellent coaching hires since arriving in Blacksburg in 2014. The list is actually quite extensive.

We can start with the men’s basketball program, where Babcock has made two hires already. Buzz Williams elevated the basketball program in true mercenary fashion, coaching the Hokies to consecutive NCAA Tournament bids (including a Sweet 16 appearance) before bolting for more money in a bigger conference. Babcock then hired NRV native Mike Young, who pushed the Hokies back into the NCAA Tournament in just his second season.

Then there’s Kenny Brooks, who’s headed the women’s basketball program since March 2016 and won 63 percent of games he’s coached. Brooks’ team made their first NCAA Tournament appearance this past season.

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Aug
06

With Darrisaw Now Gone, Where Do Hokies Go From Here?

For the last three seasons, Christian Darrisaw has been a godsend for Virginia Tech football.

The former prep recruit turned first-round pick anchored Virginia Tech’s offensive line during that span of time, and played a critical role in the Hokies’ offense when on the field. But with Darrisaw now playing for money, the question for Virginia Tech is this:

Where do the Hokies go from here?

It’s not like the cupboard is bare. Virginia Tech has returning offensive linemen ready to go this season. Guys like Lecitus Smith (No. 54 at right), Brock Hoffman and Luke Tenuta are back in the starting lineup, and some offensive linemen who’ve been in the program are ready to fight for a spot.

But can any of them pick up the mantle that Darrisaw left behind?

Rather than one man doing it all, it needs to be a collaborative effort from the aforementioned returning linemen. Together, they can provide enough stability in production to maintain the offensive line’s position as an asset instead of a liability.

Smith has the best chance of catching on to an NFL roster out of anyone in that group. The 6-foot-3 tight end-turned guard has started each of the last two seasons, and in 2020, Smith was a Third Team All-ACC player per Pro Football Focus (PFF). ACC Network’s Eric Mac Lain put Smith on his second team.

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Aug
02

This Year's VT Corps Of Receivers Could Surprise Everyone

As I’ve written before, I have some concern about Justin Fuente’s public confidence in Virginia Tech’s passing attack, with much of it residing at the quarterback position.

But when it comes to Virginia Tech’s receivers and tight ends, there’s a much different story.

(Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics)
Tre Turner

As Fuente said at ACC Kickoff, this year’s version of receivers aren’t the kind that you can just throw 50-50 balls to consistently and expect them to come down with it. This isn’t 2016.

That's true, but in 2021, Virginia Tech does have pass catching talent that should be able to lighten the load on Braxton Burmeister.

The Hokies’ receiving corps starts with Tre Turner, who is entering his fourth year at Virginia Tech. Turner has been remarkably consistent since enrolling in 2018, as you can see in his receiving stat line since his freshman season…

  • 2018: 12 games, 26 receptions, 535 yards (20.6 yards per catch), four touchdowns
  • 2019: 11 games, 34 receptions, 553 yards (16.3 yards per catch), four touchdowns
  • 2020: 10 games, 34 receptions, 529 yards (15.6 yards per catch), three touchdowns

Essentially, Turner is the same player now as he was when he started. His production has remained steady, regardless of who is playing quarterback. Heck, Turner may be older and wiser, but he’s still listed at 187 pounds on the roster, just the same as he was in 2018.

Turner’s value comes as a big-play threat as he’s shown the ability to make some of those combat catches that I referred to earlier.

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Jul
30

Best Move For Orioles At Trade Deadline Was No Move At All

I hate the phrase “do something,” as it’s often used shortsightedly, when the people involved are much more concerned with optics than they are actually solving problems.

Sometimes, the best option is to do nothing.

Orioles general manager Mike Elias effectively did nothing at the Trade Deadline, moving a couple of fringe pieces that have little value towards the theoretical competitive core of players that are currently in the organization. All the O’s best players — Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, John Means and Ryan Mountcastle — are still Orioles.

This year’s Trade Deadline in no way resembled the fire sale of 2018, when the O’s punted on their collection of productive players in favor of a long-term approach. Manny Machado, Zach (also known as Zack) Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman and others were all traded away, mostly bringing back prospects that have yet to break out at the major league level.

It also looks nothing like what the Nationals did this week, which was turn the roster upside down and see what falls out. Like the Orioles in 2018, the Nats moved critical pieces of their organization, though their return looks to be far greater than that of the Orioles’ haul three years ago.

At the time, most of those moves were prudent. Perhaps trying to re-sign Machado might have been a better solution, but there’s no guarantee that the O’s front office hadn’t let that relationship deteriorate enough already. By and large, however, it made sense for the Orioles to unload their top-tier talent because the franchise was so far away from being able to compete at a high level.

Things have changed.

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Jul
28

With Herbert Gone, Who Fills The Void At Running Back?

Watching Khalil Herbert regularly run roughshod over much of Virginia Tech’s competition last season was a lot of fun, as the Hokies hadn’t seen a runner like Herbert since David Wilson, which marked the end of a string of exceptional Hokie running backs.

But watching Herbert last season gave me a sad feeling in the pit of my stomach. For one, I was disappointed that neither Herbert nor the Virginia Tech fanbase ever got to connect with each other in person. Hokies will never be able to physically watch Herbert play football inside Lane Stadium, and that pains me.

Secondly, I knew that Herbert was headed to the pros after 2020. Everyone knew — graduate transfers usually don’t stick around.

Herbert’s departure leaves Virginia Tech with a large void at running back, a vacancy that has many options but none that stand out.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that fifth-year back Jalen Holston is the favorite to assume most of the carries. The former Wing-T fullback has played in a lot of games over his previous four seasons — 35 to be exact — but while showing flashes of brilliance, his production hasn't been consistent. Holston averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season, just above his career average of 4.1.

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Jul
26

Hokie Hopes In 2021 May Once Again Rest On QB Position

To be honest, I'm worried about Virginia Tech’s quarterback position heading into the 2021 season.

Justin Fuente, however, does not share the same concern.

“I feel better about us throwing the ball right now since I’ve been here,” Fuente said at ACC Kickoff last week. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to throw the ball 60 times a game. I feel better about it.”

It is important to note that Fuente excluded his 2016 team from that assessment. Still, while I appreciate Fuente’s confidence in Braxton Burmeister, I am curious as to where the confidence in the team’s starting quarterback comes from.

It could be from Burmeister’s end of the 2020 season, which was a marked improvement from his previous track record. In limited snaps, Burmeister completed 10-of-12 throws vs. Clemson for 127 yards, and the following week, Burmeister went 15-of-22 for 212 yards and a touchdown.

Or it could be from the cadre of weapons surrounding Burmeister in the passing game. While none of Virginia Tech’s pass catchers could be considered among the nation’s best, there are potent weapons in the war chest. Tre Turner returns as the No. 1 receiver alongside slot receiver Tayvion Robinson, while tight end James Mitchell represents Tech’s best chance at another high draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

Again, I appreciate the confidence, but it may not be all that justified. At least yet.

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Jul
14

Forget The Record; Mullins and Mancini Make O's Fans Smile

The Baltimore Orioles are bad. I know this, you know this, heck, even Maggie The WonderBeagle knows this.

But for just two days, the Orioles’ struggles were outdone by their excellence. More specifically, the excellence of Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins.

At 28-61, the Orioles’ ineptitude has somewhat covered up the individual greatness that we’re seeing from Mancini and Mullins. But that all changed in Denver at the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game.

Let’s start with Mullins, the former 13th-round draft pick who was demoted to Double-A in 2019. All Mullins has done is turn himself into one of the best center fielders in baseball, hitting 16 home runs, totaling a first-half OPS of .921 and playing elite defense in center field.

Mullins wasn’t voted in as a starter, but with Mike Trout still on the mend, Mullins got the nod in center. And nobody deserved it more.

Seeing an Orioles’ All-Star there because he earned it, not because Major League Baseball requires that all 30 teams be represented, was a beautiful sight for sore eyes. Mullins would reach on a hit later ruled as an error, and score a run in the American League’s 5-2 victory.

As great as it was seeing Mullins be recognized for his stellar first half, Mancini stole the weekend.

Mancini kicked off the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion, knocking off well-known slugger Matt Olson in the opening round before beating hometown favorite Trevor Story in the semifinals. Mancini ultimately fell to Derby animal Pete Alonso, but not before Mancini slugged another 22 home runs.

In all, Mancini deposited 59 baseballs over the Coors Field fences. He outpaced everyone’s expectations, maybe even his own.

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