Our position-by-position preview of the first season of the Justin Fuente era continues with a look at Woody Baron and Virginia Tech's defensive tackles.
There aren't many programs who have the depth at a particular position like defensive tackle to lose their two starters from the previous season and have absolutely no concerns about the talent of the starters or depth at that position. That is the strong position that the Hokies are in with five quality defensive tackles returning despite the departures of Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall.
This group is led by Woody Baron who broke through last season as he became the top backup defensive tackle and started five games when Corey Marshall was injured. Baron put up some quite impressive numbers for a backup DT that started only five games as he had 28 tackles, 8 total tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery.
The concern with Baron has been with his size and while he was effective at around 265 last season, Baron has gone up to 280 ahead of this fall and is looking like a big threat. Baron is not a power, run-through type of defensive tackle but that extra muscle will help along with his above-average athleticism for a defensive tackle. Baron also is fairly nimble for a DT and can find ways to quickly move into gaps or shed opposing blockers.
As the nimble DT, Baron has the talent to be quite effective as a speed-rushing interior lineman and now, he has added needed muscle to hold up as a full-season starter. There has been a lot of talk about Baron having a big breakout season and it wouldn't be surprising to see the senior have another strong year.
Next to Baron will be Nigel Williams who surprisingly lost playing time to Baron after being an All-ACC Honorable Mention DT in 2014. However, Williams seems ready to be the powerful, Luther Maddy replacement as the nose tackle-like player in Bud Foster's defense that can plow through defensive linemen while also having the athleticism to fill holes quickly or shed a blocker to get to the QB.
After starting 10 games in 2014 with 34 tackles, 9.5 total tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks; Williams only had 8 tackles and 1.5 total tackles for loss last season but that was largely due to the emergence of Baron taking much of his playing time as the primary backup in addition to taking five starts that would've gone to Williams if he would've still been the top backup.
Williams has had plenty of time to grow and mature and looked quite good this spring on a defensive line that seemed ready to be a force up the middle in blowing up runs and getting to the QB. No one should be surprised if Williams has a strong season and at least earns All-ACC Honorable Mention honors this year.
The battle for backup playing time will be between Ricky Walker, Steve Sobczak, and Tim Settle.
Back in 2014, Ricky Walker came onto the season quite impressively and seemed like he could end up being a starter by 2016 before Baron's breakthrough last season. However, Walker redshirted in 2015 after showing limited but promising signs in 2014 with 9 tackles and 1 tackle for loss after Sobczak getting healthy plus four healthy DTs at the top of the DT rotation allowed the Hokies to redshirt Walker.
That redshirt has paid off and Walker seems ready to earn the top backup DT spot even with the talented competition surrounding him as he has shown he can be effective as a run stuffer and pass rusher. Walker came out of Bethel High School as a four-star recruit and his ceiling has always been seen as quite high. After being pushed to redshirt last season, Walker seems to be pushing himself even more to get in his best athletic shape.
Steve Sobczak proved to be a reliable backup DT after getting in shape throughout his redshirt year in 2014. Sobczak didn't have big of a 2015 as Walker had in 2014 in part because of how Sobczak was fifth on the depth chart as he closed the gap on Walker. Sobczak has been in able to stay in shapes and showed this spring that he also could be a starting DT down the road.
The key for Sobczak will be staying in shape and not letting his weight get out of control as he did back in 2014 but indications seem that he is committed to doing that as Sobczak weighed in at a very good 287. Sobczak has the athleticism to make some plays when he is at a healthy weight like this and it will be interesting to see if he can be the surprise and beat out Walker and Settle to be the third DT.
Meanwhile, the man that many Hokies are excited to see is former ESPN five-star DT Tim Settle who headlined Virginia Tech's 2015 recruiting class. Most five-star DTs would probably not redshirt but with the Hokies tremendous depth and Settle needing to slim down from around 350-360 pounds, Settle redshirted and has gotten himself down to 328.
Settle has huge upside as someone who has very good athleticism while being over 320 pounds. Coaches have talked about how Settle had fairly good athleticism for a guy that was 350 pounds and how getting down under 330 could make a big difference. Settle has shown off his athleticism in multiple ways including a video in which Settle is seen chasing down a VT RB over a long distance which is still impressive even though Settle went a slightly shorter distance to chase him down.
Settle is a man that Hokie fans and coaches are very excited about, and is ready to breakthrough and earn himself some playing time even against some tough competition for those backup spots.
Behind these five is new freshman DT Jarrod Hewitt who is headed for a redshirt because of the Hokies' impressive depth at the position. Hewitt was an under-the-radar, low three-star like Sobczak but Hewitt's high school numbers are extremely impressive and look even better given that he did this at a high level in Florida. Hewitt also has good size already at 6'1'' and 299 pounds but a redshirt year should only benefit Hewitt and make sure all that weight on his frame is good weight.
Farther down the depth chart will be two walk-ons in new arrival Clay Dean and redshirt junior Dalton Roe. Roe was under 230 but the walk-on has got himself over 260 which is a good sign and could make him think about transferring to a FCS program where he could potentially start. Meanwhile, Dean may move to offensive guard if he can bulk up to around 290 and if things don't work out as DT.
DT Depth Chart Prediction
- Woody Baron
- Nigel Williams
- Ricky Walker
- Tim Settle
- Steve Sobczak
- Jarrod Hewitt (Redshirt)
- Clay Dean
- Dalton Roe
The Hokies have tons of depth once again at DT with Woody Baron and Nigel Williams ready to be the DT starters. The battle between 3-5 on the depth chart will likely go throughout the season but the two men who redshirted last season have the greater upside and have shown great work ethic.
Right now, Ricky Walker seems like the on-paper threat to earn the top backup DT spot followed by Tim Settle and Steve Sobczak but that battle should go on into next spring and possibly next fall when that trio will be battling for two starting spots.
Virginia Tech may have lost both of their starting DTs from last season but DT may still be the best spot with two guys who have proven themselves in limited starts followed by three talented, young DTs.
The position-by-position preview continues on tomorrow as we look at Ken Ekanem and the defensive ends.
Check out the home of our 2016 Virginia Tech Football Preview right here.