Hokies Football Preview: Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem Lead the Defensive Ends

We continue our 2015 Virginia Tech football preview by kicking off our defensive position-by-position preview with a look at the Hokies’ talented defensive ends. Charley Wiles may have the best starting duo of defensive ends in college football with Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem while the depth is improving with Seth Dooley and Vincent Mihota.

One player that will not be included on our depth chart is Trevon Hill who tore his ACL this past spring, and will be redshirting this fall. Hill would have been a contender to make the two-deep at the defensive end spot, but will have to wait a year to get playing time.

For our depth chart, we will also not do to separate defensive end spots, but instead have one list so each duo will be a different string (top 2 are first string, next 2 are second string, etc), since there isn’t much of a difference between the left and right side defensive end.

Early Fall DE Depth Chart

  1. Dadi Nicolas
  2. Ken Ekanem
  3. Seth Dooley
  4. Vincent Mihota
  5. Darius Fullwood
  6. Houshun Gaines
  7. Jeremy Haynes
  8. Laird Gardner

When talking about defensive ends, it all starts with the the best defensive end in the ACC, and one of the top eight to ten in college football, Dadi Nicolas. Nicolas became a full-time starter for the first time last season, and had an impressive, breakout season.

In 2014, Nicolas had 72 tackles, 18.5 total tackles for loss, 9 sacks, and 2 blocked kicks on his way to earning All-ACC Second Team honors. Nicolas continued to be a dominant force even as opposing offensive coordinators put more attention and focus on trying to slow down the speedy defensive end.

Nicolas is a tremendous edge rusher with great speed and impressive explosiveness along with very good timing that allows him to beat an offensive tackle around the edge very quickly. Nicolas also has proven to be a quality run defender that is great at keeping containment while also having some good moves to quickly shed opposing blockers.

Most importantly, Nicolas is a hard working leader that plays with a chip on his shoulder, but also plays with a high level of discipline. Nicolas has the potential to be a late first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft if he has another strong season though he seems pretty certain to go no worse than the first half of the third round.

Dadi Nicolas is a star on what is the best defensive line in college football that may also have the best defensive end duo with Nicolas and Ken Ekanem.

2014 was the first season that Ekanem received significant playing time after playing on seven defensive snaps in his first non-redshirt season in 2013. Ekanem took advantage of the opportunity and proved to be a great counterpart to Nicolas on the other end of the defensive line.

Ekanem was very impressive in 2014, and definitely improved as the season went along as he finished with 53 tackles, 14.5 total tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. Ekanem’s impressive season was recognized by many and led to him being named to the All-ACC Third Team.

Ekanem has shown a lot of speed this fall, and is continue to play with a high motor and a lot of aggressiveness, which was critical in him having his breakout season last year. Ekanem is not as complete of a defensive end as Nicolas, but Ekanem is effective as a pass rusher and as a run defender.

Ekanem started to peak at the end of last season with three sacks in the final two games against Virginia and Cincinnati. With Ekanem being the only starter this isn’t a senior, the redshirt junior will be the future showcase player on the Hokies’ defensive end, but Ekanem will definitely be ready for that role as he is already one of the top four defensive ends in the ACC.

Ken Ekanem may not be as well known as Dadi Nicolas, but Ekanem is a bonafide defensive end that will have another great season while forming a great defensive end duo with Nicolas.

The concern for the Hokies has been the depth behind the elite duo of Nicolas and Ekanem, but Charley Wiles has seen that depth improve.

It starts with Seth Dooley who had a very good spring, and played with a high level of aggressiveness that Wiles had been looking for in Dooley. Dooley has tremendous size at 6’6” and 240 pounds and after his strong spring, Dooley now is in line to replace Nicolas in 2016 after the senior defensive end graduates.

For now, Dooley will be the top backup defensive end for the Hokies as someone with very good size and a solid combination of speed and strength. Dooley also has the frame to add some more muscle while not losing much of the athleticism that he brings to the table.

Dooley has a lot of upside, and is ready to provide some quality depth behind Nicolas and Ekanem this fall.

Vincent Mihota is set to be the other backup defensive end after making the transition this spring back to the outside of the defensive line from defensive tackle. Mihota doesn’t have great speed, but he does have good strength while also being a tough interior rusher that is making the shift back to the outside.

Mihota is still a work in progress on his return to the edge of the defensive line, but the former four-star recruit has shown a lot of potential to be a future starter for the Hokies.

Darius Fullwood brings very good size to the table at 6’4” and 251 pounds, and could be the one freshman defensive end that ends up not being redshirted. However, the Hokies will likely try to redshirt Fullwood, which could be made easier if the Hokies can also use Woody Baron some at defensive end in emergency cases.

Hoshun Gaines is already up to 231 pounds, but has some room to add some more size. Gaines definitely has some potential, but most people should expect that the freshman from North Carolina will be redshirted this fall. Gaines will make a push, and the fact that he has bulked up some already is a good sign about his future.

Jeremy Haynes and Laird Gardner are the two walk-ons on the depth chart that will look to show that they can provide some emergency playing time at defensive end. Haynes might be the one that can make a push to be an emergency backup as a fifth defensive end depending on how things play out.

Projected DE Depth Chart vs. OSU

  1. Dadi Nicolas
  2. Ken Ekanem
  3. Seth Dooley
  4. Vincent Mihota
  5. Darius Fullwood
  6. Houshun Gaines
  7. Jeremy Haynes
  8. Laird Gardner

We don’t expect to see any changes on this depth chart with Fullwood and Gaines both likely headed for redshirts along with the injured Trevon Hill. However, the Hokies do have the best defensive end duo in the ACC and possibly in the country with Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem.

Check out more of our 2015 Virginia Tech Football Preview right here.

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