Our Virginia Tech football position previews ahead of fall camp continues today as we take a look at the Hokies' linebackers where the Hokies have loads of returning talent headlined by Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale.
With that said, here's our LB preview along with the rest of our position previews.
- Running Back
- Wide Receiver
- Tight End
- Offensive Tackle
- Interior Offensive Line
- Defensive End
- Defensive Tackle
Projected Linebacker Depth Charts Entering Fall Camp: Mike LB
- Dax Hollifield
- Keshon Artis
- Lakeem Rudolph OR Jayden McDonald OR Jorden McDonald
- Alan Tisdale
- Jaden Keller
- Dean Ferguson OR Will Johnson
- Keonta Jenkins
- Keli Lawson
- J.R. Walker
Linebacker has loads of continuity with Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale as the starters at the mike and will (formerly backer) LB spot with Keshon Artis and Jaden Keller backing them up.
Dax And Tisdale
Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale have been in the same conversation for a while starting in 2019 when Hollifield was out of position playing backer while Alan Tisdale arrived in Blacksburg as a natural backer and turned it into a back-and-forth battle through 2020 between the two.
After Rayshard Ashby's graduation and departure following 2020, Hollifield got to slide over to his natural mike LB position with Tisdale at the backer spot that will now be the will LB spot in the new Tech defense.
Both players stepped up their games in 2021 as full-time starters as Hollifield had 92 tackles including 9 for loss with 4.5 sacks while Tisdale had 84 tackles including 7.5 for loss with 2.5 sacks with all of those except Tisdale's sack total.
On a team that has questions about where the star talent may be, this is one spot where Tech may have that type of star power that they need to elevate themselves and at least win 6 games if not achieve a winning record in a rebuilding year for Brent Pry.
Hollifield has always been a more natural fit at the mike LB spot and should provide valuable veteran leadership in the heart of Tech's defense while also showing improvement as a run defender next season. Tisdale is the better athlete of the duo and has the higher ceiling given that athleticism which makes him much better in pass coverage compared to Tisdale.
Tisdale also showed growth as a run defender which was a positive sign for his development and if he can continue to grow in his ability around the line of scrimmage, he could be Tech's best linebacker in 2022.
They also should both benefit from getting to be coached by one of the best linebackers coaches in the country in head coach Brent Pry along with one of the top young defensive coaches in college football in defensive coordinator/LBs coach Chris Marve. That's a really good duo that could help this talented duo take the next steps and both be All-ACC linebackers in 2022.
The New Sam LB Position
The new sam linebacker position isn't exactly a full linebacker position but it is much closer to it than the nickelback position that Tech had the past couple of years. However, there is definitely a coverage element to this position still though that may remind more of the Bud Foster whip linebacker spot at times.
With Chamarri Conner moving to a full-time safety spot, this new position has also seen loads of new faces with Keonta Jenkins and J.R. Walker moving from safety to sam linebacker while Keli Lawson finally is at linebacker after starting his career at wide receiver with the new staff quickly making the change this spring.
Jenkins seems like the frontrunner for the job with the former safety who has some starts under his belt playing alongside Hollifield and Tisdale in the Spring Game in what looked like the starting trio pairing. Jenkins only had 1 tackle, but definitely looked fairly comfortable in that role.
Meanwhile, his biggest challenger is likely Keli Lawson who started his spring at wide receiver before moving to sam linebacker with Brent Pry instantly having high praise comparing Lawson to former Penn State and current New York Giants LB Cam Brown. Lawson followed all that praise up with a productive Spring Game where he had 3 tackles including a sack.
Lawson may be more of a true OLB than this hybrid OLB position, but Lawson has tremendous athletic and size giftings with his 6'4'' frame that also gives him loads of upside.
J.R. Walker also is in the hunt after moving from safety to the sam linebacker spot like Jenkins and though he may be fairly even with Lawson right now, Lawson appears to have the greater upside while Jenkins is definitely ahead of Walker with that appearing to be the battle going forward. However, Walker definitely has some potential and shouldn't be fully ruled out in the battle for the starting job at this new position on the Tech defense.
Keshon Artis Stays Patient
In the transfer portal era, most would have assumed that Keshon Artis would likely transfer elsewhere given how long he's been the backup mike linebacker behind Rayshard Ashby and then Dax Hollifield once Hollifield moved back to the mike spot.
And honestly, no one would have blamed him either in search of a place where he could be a multi-year starter.
Instead, Artis has stayed at Virginia Tech and though he is poised to be the top backup linebacker for the second-straight season, his time is coming in 2023 while his return gives Tech strong depth at linebacker which is lacking at a lot of other positions.
Artis showed that he has the talent to become a very good starting mike linebacker for Tech when given the opportunity last season rotating in a lot while also getting a start when Hollifield was suspended for a first half due to a targeting penalty. When Artis got his chances, he took advantage with 21 tackles including 6 for loss with 1 sack plus a pass breakup in what was a productive 2021 for him.
Now, Artis may be one of the best backup mike/middle/inside linebackers in all of college football and could start on a whole lot of other Power 5 teams yet continues to choose to stay the course knowing his time to start at the premier football school in his home state is coming soon.
And when it does, I think it's a strong likelihood that Artis will be one of the better starting mike linebackers in the ACC. In the meantime, Artis helps gives Tech the type of depth at linebacker that they wish they had at a whole lot of other positions this season.