Competition at Center for Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Has Competition at Center After Early Season Struggles for Zachariah Hoyt

In the lead up to Virginia Tech’s season opener at Florida State, the Hokies surprised many when their first depth chart named Zachariah Hoyt the starter at center. Previously, most expected Kyle Chung to take over at center this season after the Hokies moved him back inside during the spring to replace Eric Gallo.

In his first career start, Hoyt was okay but had a couple of bad moments including a snap that went over Josh Jackson’s head and pushed the Hokies out of field goal range. Hoyt’s struggles increased tenfold against William & Mary with multiple bad snaps that led to Hoyt being pulled multiple times throughout the game for Kyle Chung.

The most notable moment came on the Hokies’ opening possession of the third quarter when Hoyt had a bad snap and as soon as the play ended, Kyle Chung was running on the field to take Hoyt’s spot at center like a basketball substitution for a player in foul trouble early who returns and picks up a foul within 30 seconds.

Given Hoyt’s struggles and the Hokies’ willingness to bring in Kyle Chung relatively quickly, center has become a spot of concern with OL coach Vance Vice sharing those concerns earlier this week when VT was still scheduled to play in wet conditions against East Carolina.

““It is a concern always, but I am fortunate to have some guys that all they know how to do is work. Especially, with [Zachariah] Hoyt, [Kyle] Chung, John Harris and [Braxton] Pfaff. All of them take snaps every day and it’s something we will work on,” Vice said.

Of course, the Hokies won’t have to worry about playing in poor conditions with the cancellation of Saturday’s game, but it’s clear that the Hokies do have some question marks under center.

Unsurprisingly, the struggles of Hoyt have led to competition at center between him and Kyle Chung according to Vice.

“They’ve been taking equal reps throughout the fall and it’s a day to day competition. Hoyt has played guard too and probably no one else has seen that but me. Anytime I can find a guy that can snap the ball I’m going to let him snap every day because those guys are valuable. Especially someone like Chung who I think in the first quarter played center, guard and tackle,” Vice said.

Even before the cancellation, this competition was likely to continue on for the next couple of weeks as the Hokies go through the weakest portion of their schedule with a trip to Old Dominion up next. However, it’s clear that Vance Vice is more than comfortable with making a change to the versatile Chung.

Of course, Chung has started everywhere on the offensive line during his Virginia Tech career from starting some at center in 2016 to earning the starting right tackle job in 2017 to starting this season at left guard. Chung’s versatility was on greater display Saturday as the sixth-year senior played at all three unique offensive line positions, something that Vice has never seen done that way.

““Not with one of them being center. I have had a guy play tackle, guard and then the other
tackle position, but never at center,” Vice said.

Chung’s versatility is a big reason why his position for now is uncertain though what is clear is that he’ll be somewhere in the Hokies’ starting lineup. Part of Chung’s future starting position may depend on whether Hoyt can get out of some of the yips that he seemed to have against William & Mary with his struggles appearing to pile on top of each other. Though some may have doubts about Hoyt, he has proven to be a solid blocker while he was more than serviceable at center outside of his bad snap against Florida State.

If Hoyt’s struggles continue, the door is open for Chung to move back to center and take over the starting job there with D’Andre Plantin likely moving into the starting lineup in that scenario.

However, true freshman John Harris has come in and fought his way in to the Hokies’ offensive line rotation off the bench with Harris proving to not be a typical true freshman and showing the versatility to play guard and center.

“Harris is a guy that came in, he came from a great program, first of all, in high school. They have a great program at Mill Creek in Atlanta. He had a great summer and he is a cerebral person who figures everything out. He needs as many reps as I can give him right now. He got to center a little bit faster than I wanted him to, but he is a competitor and a prideful guy. I asked him if he could do it and he had been snapping every day, it’s not like he had never touched the ball before and he said yeah I’m good. Obviously, he has been doing well at guard also. He has a bright future for us,” Vice said.

Of course, most offensive linemen redshirt as a true freshman with that being a preference for Vance Vice. However, Vice won’t be afraid to play a true freshman if that player can prove to be productive as Harris and Christian Darrisaw have shown.

“I would like to redshirt all of them, but I want my best five out there. If he’s in one of the top
two groups he’s going to play and he can help us. As long as he’s helping us to do what we’re
trying to do. I kind of forget their age when they’ve proven to me that they can do it,” Vice said.

Virginia Tech has a competition on their hands at center between Zachariah Hoyt and Kyle Chung with John Harris pushing his way into the offensive line rotation and closer to being in the competition at center as a true freshman.

Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

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