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.
Who will play opposite of Barno is a mystery. Tyjuan Garbutt is back with the program on a full-time basis and will play a factor for sure. Jaylen Griffin is back for his fifth season and if he’s ever going to break out, this will be the year. Emmanuel Belmar’s status is up in the air, but he’s the most experienced end in the program.
Virginia Tech’s defensive line is by no means a settled group, but I have more confidence in this set of players than most of their counterparts. Some of that resides in Barno and Williams, but a lot of it also comes from the trust I have in Teerlinck and Price as coaches.
Teerlinck’s resume as a coach is extensive and legitimate. His arrival undoubtedly helped Barno acclimate himself to the scheme as quickly as he did in a COVID-affected year. Tech’s defensive line was far more productive last season than they were in 2019.
And while Teerlinck may not have Darryl Tapp at his side anymore, he does have Price, a respected coaching veteran with an emotional connection to the program he’s working for. The two should make a formidable duo.
Virginia Tech’s defensive line has a very good chance of being the best unit on that side of the ball. We’ll be seeing plenty of plays made from this group in 2021, a welcome sight for those who will be able to witness it in person for the first time in nearly two years.