This spring, the Virginia Tech Hokies are without their to three returning defensive ends with starters Vinny Mihota and Trevon Hill out due to injury and top backup Houshun Gaines out to academic issues. This means that the Hokies top defensive ends include two guys who just moved from linebacker to DE, another who moved from TE to DE, and a fourth who was supposed to move to DT.
If this was the beginning of fall practice, it would definitely be panic mode but instead, it’s spring practice and this could prove beneficial for the Hokies next fall.
Virginia Tech has three defensive ends coming over the summer but it’s not necessarily ideal to have a true freshman who has only been in the program for a couple of months be in your two-deep defensive end rotation. Now, the Hokies have the chance to develop some more experience DE depth that could prove very beneficial and allow the Hokies to redshirt all three of their defensive end signees.
The most obvious benefit of not having those top three guys is the fact that the four DEs who are healthy and able to practice this spring: Emmanuel Belmar, Xavier Burke, Jimmie Taylor, and Raymon Minor; will all get more reps than they would normally get and for these four guys, that should be only beneficial for their development.
When Virginia Tech opened a portion of one of their practices to the media, we saw how Emmanuel Belmar and Xavier Burke were the top two defensive ends on the spring depth chart followed by Raymon Minor and Jimmie Taylor with only those four getting reps. If Hill, Mihota, and Gaines were all there; Taylor would likely be at DT while the other three would likely not be getting nearly the same number of reps as they are right now.
While you would rather not have both of your starting DEs injured, having them recovering now creates an opportunity for Virginia Tech to get valuable reps to guys who are making the position change to DE whether that be from the linebacker spot or changing sides of the ball from TE to DE.
Emmanuel Belmar is particularly intriguing on the defensive line as Bud Foster compared him to former Hokie Nekos Brown who started out at linebacker before moving to DE and had a solid career with 11.5 career sacks including 6.5 in 2009, his senior season. Belmar played a lot with his hand in the dirt in high school so this should not be a hard transition and his high school tape suggested that he would be a better fit at defensive end rather than linebacker.
With Virginia Tech also bringing in a large linebacker class along with having more depth at the spot now, Belmar’s best chance of gaining playing time seems to be at defensive end rather than linebacker and Belmar definitely has the potential to push for a spot in the two-deep. Belmar will need to add some more weight as a part of his transition, but the Georgia native will benefit greatly from getting an increased number of reps this season and getting to go consistently against the Hokies’ top offensive linemen.
Xavier Burke’s move to DE was a surprise but Burke now has a tremendous opportunity in front of him with Burke getting first team reps after making a significant position change going across the line of scrimmage from TE to DE. Burke definitely has the size for the position, but seems fairly raw as a defensive lineman. However, Burke has a prime opportunity now with the former TE getting plenty of first team reps that could help him make a push to break into the two-deep in the fall.
Meanwhile, Raymon Minor has made a position change as he looks to find a way to make an impact on the Hokies with this being a great opportunity to get plenty of reps and push to position himself to compete for a spot in the two-deep. Jimmie Taylor couldn’t move up the spring DE depth chart despite playing DE in the fall and while his future may be at DT, you also have to wonder if Taylor will be able to find a role on this defense.
For the Hokies, they have a chance to get guys like Emmanuel Belmar and Xavier Burke lots of reps in practice and give them the high amount of attention that could pay significant dividends in the fall if Belmar or Burke can break into the Hokies’ two-deep at DE and allow VT to redshirt all three of their incoming DEs.