While this may be the first year of the Justin Fuente era that hasn't had a starting QB battle of any sorts, there are still plenty of starting position battles happening on both sides of the battle. With that in mind, here's my predictions for who will start for the Hokies at some of the most notable position battles.
Outside WR2: Jaden Payoute
There hasn't been a lot of talk surrounding the outside wide receiver battle opposite Tre Turner, but there has been positive signs that Jaden Payoute is back at 100% after injuries in fall camp caused him to miss the whole 2020 season. If that is the case, it's hard to go against Payoute for this choice opposite Tre Turner on the outside (With Tayvion Robinson in the slot).
Payoute has tremendous size and speed that has made most easily believe that he has big play potential over the top and can also be used in various other ways on screens and whatnot that get him the ball in space. Payoute also feels like one of the highest upside players on all of Tech's offense given his
Of course, there is some competition via the experienced Kaleb Smith who has proven to be a solid all-around wide receiver and Jaylen Jones who is the top freshman that profiles on the outside and has received loads of praise along with freshman slot receiver Da'Wain Lofton.
Both those guys seem likely to earn some playing time this fall, but Payoute is the top guy to pair on the outside with Tre Turner at this point. Of course, it's easy to envision Tech using multiple tight ends at times including James Mitchell on the outside or multiple running backs with Raheem Blackshear in the slot plus Mitchell which would likely relegate Payoute to the bench.
Right Guard: Silas Dzansi
Before fall camp, I would have had Silas Dzansi at right tackle with Johnny Jordan at right guard and while Jordan continues to get comfortable, it seems that the more VT experienced Dzansi has stayed at right guard and been the top guy.
Dzansi started his career at offensive tackle and was the starter at right tackle to start 2019 before losing the job by the end of the season to Luke Tenuta. After stepping into a swing offensive lineman role last season, Dzansi has found his place at right guard and seems to be looking strong as Dzansi continues to be the first name mentioned by any coach when asked about the right guard battle.
Of course, it is easy to envision Johnny Jordan pushing Dzansi and taking over that job later in the fall as he gets more comfortable in Tech's offensive line scheme while Kaden Moore remains a sleeper to earn significant time especially given the large amount of praise he's recently.
Dzansi could also end up moving to right tackle at some point this season if the Hokies feel that their best offensive line requires him on the edge with either Jordan or even Kaden Moore starting on the interior at right guard.
For now, it looks like Silas Dzansi is well on his way to earning the starting job at right guard, but there's plenty of time for this to change throughout the season.
Right Tackle: Tyrell Smith
This is the biggest guess at this point as Silas Dzansi seemed like the favorite but with him sliding inside to right guard despite the opening at right tackle, that has left a clear vacancy. At this point, comments from coaches seem to point towards long time veteran Tyrell Smith as the frontrunner and my pick at the moment to be the starting right tackle to open the season.
Smith definitely brings loads of experience that could be valuable especially in a first four weeks that will be quite important for the Hokies starting with North Carolina and including a Black Diamond Trophy showdown against West Virginia in Morgantown. Smith may not have nearly the upside of others, but he also is a proven commodity that can give you reliable play.
However, it's easy to envision this right tackle situation developing similar to when Luke Tenuta overtook Silas Dzansi during the 2019 season. In this case, Parker Clements would feel like the top contender to push Smith and overtake him later in the season as Clements has earned some praise during this fall camp.
JUCO transfer Bob Schick also fits that mold after not arriving till the summer because he was a late addition to the 2021 class while Silas Dzansi could continue to factor him given how Vance Vice likes to rotate guys all around the offensive line.
Right tackle is the biggest unknown and when that's the case, the experienced guy in Smith becomes the safe bet.
Running Back: Jalen Holston
I almost didn't include this because while there has been plenty of talk about a top trio of backs who will likely all receive lots of playing time, Jalen Holston seems poised to be the top traditional back to start the season.
The thing that held Holston back early in his Virginia Tech career was his lack of explosiveness. While he showed some good power, his upside was limited until he upped his explosiveness and acceleration, both of which showed big steps forward in 2020.
Holston put together some strong performances last season with 2 rushing touchdowns against Miami, 58 rushing yards on 14 carries against Virginia, and 42 yards on 5 carries against N.C. State.
Now there's no doubt that there likely will be plenty of touches for Raheem Blackshear and Keshawn King who both have also had strong camps especially King who has earned the nickname "Big Play Key". It's also easy to envision Tech using Blackshear out in the slot as well given his receiving prowess giving Tech some versatility to use some formations with 2 "running backs" on the field.
However, expect Jalen Holston to be the closest thing to a bell cow back getting the dominant share of power running carries along with plenty of early down carries throughout the season.