Our position-by-position preview of Virginia Tech's 2016 football team continues on today with our final offensive position group, the offensive line.
The offensive line has been the weakest part of Virginia Tech's offense for the last few years even with their turnover at the quarterback spot. Now, Virginia Tech seems poised to have their best offensive line in years with four starters returning from last year's offensive line.
That group is led by left guard Wyatt Teller who has a future in the NFL and has a serious chance of ending up on the All-ACC First Team with the upside that he has. Teller made the move across the line from the defensive line to offensive guard early on in his collegiate career and that move has proven to be one of the best position changes completed by the Hokies.
Teller is one of the top run blockers in the ACC and does a great job at creating holes while also being someone who can be very effective as a pull guard getting to where he needs to quickly because of his athleticism and then plowing through people and creating space to at least the second level.
Teller isn't as good of a pass blocker but he made strides in that area this past season and if he continues to take those type of steps, Teller will be one of the top offensive guards in America. Teller has had some issues with penalties but if Teller can improve his discipline and lessen his penalties, there is no reason why Teller can't be one of the top offensive guards in America.
Augie Conte emerged as a leader on the offensive line this spring and has developed into a solid offensive guard that can always be relied on. Conte did split some time between tackle and guard early on in his career but settled down fully at right guard at the beginning of last season and has developed into a very reliable guard.
Conte isn't an elite run or pass blocker but Conte is also a solid overall blocker that isn't really a liability in either area. Conte is also a very-disciplined player that you want as a leader on the line as someone who does not draw a lot of penalties. If there is one guy on the line who can be called Mr. Consistent, it's Augie Conte.
Jonathan McLaughlin has started 35 games over his first three seasons in Blacksburg with him missing the four other games during his sophomore season because of his season-ending injury. McLaughlin showed tons of promise as a freshman before injuries caused him to have some major struggles as sophomore with the 2015 season being a bounce-back year for the South Carolina native.
McLaughlin has a lot of solid blocking skills but the one issue that has prevented McLaughlin from taking the next few steps from being average to being a very good blocker is his footwork. If McLaughlin can improve his footwork whether he is at left or right tackle, he can live up to a lot of the promise that he built up after making a solid impression as a freshman.
Last season, Eric Gallo took the starting center job after being a backup as a freshman and was quite solid with very few bad snaps. Gallo was the most under-the-radar player along the offensive line but there were multiple games where he seemed to be the top offensive lineman out of the starting five.
Gallo is a lot like Conte as someone who is not elite in one area but is just a fairly reliable interior lineman who has proven to also be a reliable snapper no matter what QB he is working with. Gallo has been quite reliable in the heart of the offensive line and has the potential to be Virginia Tech's best center since Jake Grove.
Yosuah Nijman was not 100% this spring which allowed Parker Osterloh to open the door for a chance at earning a starting tackle job. However, Nijman's upside is tremendous and all signs point to him quickly locking down the starting left tackle job now that he is fully healthy.
What's clear is that Nijman has been putting in the work he's needed to do this offseason with his weight up to 300 pounds after being around 280 to 285 last season. Nijman has always had a great frame to add that type of weight while also having very good athleticism.
Nijman has the size, frame, and athleticism to play in the NFL down the road while also showing some very good footwork that could make him a very good pass blocker and solid left tackle. The Hokies have also kept Nijman at left tackle since he moved early on from defensive end to the offensive line and is ready to take over on the blind side and let McLaughlin slide over to right tackle where his footwork issues shouldn't be as exposed.
Parker Osterloh had a strong spring and while he may not earn a starting spot this year for the Hokies, Osterloh has opened the door to potentially earn a spot at guard or tackle. After a strong spring at right tackle, Osterloh has put himself in position to be the first man up on the edge if Nijman or McLaughlin gets injured during the season.
JUCO transfer Demetri Moore is another versatile lineman who will likely be one of the top two lineman off the bench to rotate in and give someone else a break. Moore can play tackle but his skill set seems more fit at the guard spot where he is fairly mobile and showed in junior college that he can be a capable pull guard.
D'Andre Plantin is a tackle for the future and after redshirting this past fall, emerged this spring as a likely backup tackle before injuries caught up to him near the end of spring practice. Meanwhile, Braxton Pfaff seems likely to be a backup guard this fall though Osterlon and Moore will likely come in ahead of him in on the interior.
Tyrell Smith is set to be the backup center though his snaps are something he must improve over the course of fall practice or he may be in danger of losing his spot on the two-deep to intriguing walk-on Austin Cannon who has the size for the position at 6'2'' and 302 pounds. Billy Ray Mitchell and Cole Pettit are likely third-string on the interior while new freshmen Patrick Kearns, Thomas Jarrett Hopple, and T.J. Jackson all seem headed for redshirts.
With that said, here's our prediction for the two-deep at each offensive line spot.
LT Depth Chart Prediction
- Yosuah Nijman
- D'Andre Plantin
LG Depth Chart Prediction
- Wyatt Teller
- Demetri Moore
OC Depth Chart Prediction
- Eric Gallo
- Tyrell Smith
RG Depth Chart Prediction
- Augie Conte
- Braxton Pfaff
RT Depth Chart Prediction
- Jonathan McLaughlin
- Parker Osterloh
Despite Parker Osterloh getting some time with the first-string offensive line this spring, expect Virginia Tech's starting offensive line to be Nijman-Teller-Gallo-Conte-McLaughlin. Meanwhile, Osterloh is the backup RT but that is because an injury to Nijman would lead to McLaughlin moving to LT and Osterloh coming in at RT most likely.
On the interior, Demetri Moore may be the starting right guard in 2017 after Augie Conte's graduation but we have him at LG as in this case, this shows how Moore is the top backup offensive guard with Pfaff behind him though if two of Conte, Teller, and Moore were to get injured, Osterloh would be next before Pfaff. For now, we still think Smith will stay ahead of Cannon at the backup center spot but that could be a depth chart battle to watch.
Virginia Tech's offensive line has been a weakness for years but with four starters returning and a fifth with a huge ceiling as Nijman has, Virginia Tech should have their best offensive line in years.
Our position-by-position preview goes over to the other side of the ball as we start with Woody Baron and the defensive tackles next.
Check out the home of our 2016 Virginia Tech Football Preview right here.