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Who I Would Play In The Pinstripe Bowl For The Hokies...

The Hokies have released their depth chart ahead of Wednesday’s Pinstripe Bowl against Maryland, and with the amount of roster attrition that has taken place since the end of the regular season, it seems a difficult task in trying to put a particularly inspiring team on the field.

Despite all of that, however, I think there are some alternatives that should be considered.

As always, depth charts are unofficial. What you see above may not be reflected in the players’ on-field usage during Wednesday’s game. In some cases, maybe we should be hoping that the pecking order at some positions changes on game day.

Amidst the bevy of announcements we’ve seen over the last month, it’s easy to forget that J.C. Price and the remaining 2021 coaching staff will be leading the Hokies in this game.

Price will certainly have the best interest of the players in mind, though, despite the fact that he won’t be deciding who gets on the field next year. In my opinion, there should be a happy medium between wanting to win this game and making personnel decisions entering 2022.

Here’s where I think the current depth chart is correct, and where some changes could be made:

Positions Groups That I Agree With

We’ll revisit the offensive line later, because I agree with some of it, but not all of it.

There certainly aren’t any surprises at tight end. Drake Deiuliis and Nick Gallo have been used pretty equally all season. With James Mitchell out of the picture – he’s entered the NFL Draft, although he’d presumably be unavailable due to injury anyway – Deiuliis and Gallo are the Hokies’ only two reliable options at the position. Although the ball will sparingly be thrown in their direction, we’ll see plenty of both of them against Maryland.

The two linebackers are equally obvious. It might not be a bad idea to get Keshon Artis onto the field a bit more frequently than normal, but Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale should and will dominate the workload at MIKE and BACKER, respectively.

The defensive line admittedly looks uninspiring, but everything looks correct to me. Eli Adams and Josh Fuga seem like the most qualified players to fill the voids of Amare Barno and Jordan Williams, who have each entered the Draft. I don’t have enough access to the team to have a strong opinion about who the second-string players should be, but the players who are listed there align with my expectations.

Where I Slightly Disagree

I’d probably configure the secondary a little differently. Unless J.R. Walker has impressed more in practices than I’d expect (based on his in-game usage), either Tae Daley or Jalen Stroman should probably be listed as the backup boundary safety – although I’d also understand pairing Stroman and Walker in that spot with an “or” designation.

There’s probably also a case to be made that Daley and Keonta Jenkins should be listed as co-starters, although I generally prefer Jenkins – by a narrow margin.

I’m in favor of Brion Murray, as opposed to Armani Chatman, filling in for Jermaine Waller. I’m moderately surprised that D.J. Harvey cracked the two-deep, though.

Given Tre Turner (draft) and Tayvion Robinson (transfer portal) are both gone, I think the starting wide receivers are correct. Still, I would’ve liked to see Jaden Payoute as an unopposed No. 2 at one of the positions. The plan had been for him to be a starter by now. Asking for him to be the No. 4 receiver doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Malachi Thomas should receive the majority of the work on first down/second down/non-obvious passing situations. Raheem Blackshear should be the third down/receiving/change of pace running back. They should dominate the snaps, with a handful saved for Keshawn King, and possibly a couple for Jalen Holston on third/fourth and short. Thomas and Blackshear should be the clear co-starters, though.

Where I’d Make Changes

In case you missed it, left guard Lecitus Smith has also opted out of the game to prepare for the draft. In his absence, the best six linemen the Hokies have are Luke Tenuta, Brock Hoffman, Kaden Moore, Silas Dzansi, Parker Clements and Johnny Jordan.

I think the starting five as listed appears to be optimal, but there needs to be a strong contingency plan in place.

Jordan is clearly the top option off the bench at center or either guard position. In my opinion, Dzansi should be the top backup at both tackle spots, in addition to being the starting left guard. I haven’t been enamored with Clements yet and would prefer to leave him solely at right tackle – the position I think he should stay at long-term.

My biggest disagreement, however, is at quarterback. Although Connor Blumrick should be used in some capacity, I think a significant amount – possibly the heavy majority – of snaps should be given to true freshman Tahj Bullock.

This is where my opinion on low-stakes bowl games comes into play. There’s significantly less on the line in the Pinstripe Bowl than a November game in ACC play. Unless it’s very clear to the coaching staff that he isn’t ready to enter a game at the collegiate level, he shouldn’t be left on the bench all game.

I’d feel differently if Braxton Burmeister, and to a lesser extent Knox Kadum, wasn’t in the transfer portal. However, it’s very apparent that Blumrick would be a below-average Power Five starter.

If nothing else, putting Bullock in the game would help the Hokies decide how vital it is for them to add a high-caliber quarterback from the transfer portal. They’ll need to add a capable body or two regardless to fill Burmeister and Kadum’s vacancies. If Bullock is capable of competing with a veteran for the starting job – or even to help him become a trustworthy QB2 – it would be wise to give him some exposure to game action.

The Transition

Quite frankly, the results from this game might not matter a ton to Brent Pry and his staff. They’ll make their own decisions regarding who will play the most in 2022 and beyond, and that could include some diamonds in the rough and/or transfer players.

Still, Pry isn’t blind. He’s been around the team to some degree, and he’ll be watching the game. He’ll keep players who perform in key roles, whereas position groups that struggle will be reevaluated.

It’s not entirely an audition for the players, but it’s even more important than normal for them to play to the best of their ability. After all, this is the first time Pry will be paying more attention to a Virginia Tech game than Penn State’s.

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Dave Fulton on Saturday, 25 December 2021 11:07
Here's a link to a Christmas morning story in the Richmond paper that Hokie fans should appreciate: https://richmond.com/sports/college/teel-approaching-semi-retirement-tom-gabbard-still-inspiring-hokies-colleagues/article_2cdba9b1-5f1f-54b8-b919-0444d6130bce.html#tracking-source=home-trending
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