With the first game week of the 2019 season here, Virginia Tech released their first depth chart of the year which included a few surprises.
Here's a look at 3 of the biggest takeaways from the first depth chart of the year.
1. James Mitchell Will Have a Large Role This Fall.
One of the biggest surprises may have been the "OR" on the depth chart at the starting tight end spot with Dalton Keene and James Mitchell. Throughout the offseason, Justin Fuente and his staff have consistently praised Mitchell with all signs pointing towards Mitchell having a significant role and this being a clear indication of that.
To see Keene and Mitchell with "OR" on the depth chart is quite surprising still given how well Keene has developed and how he returns as one of the ACC's top tight ends along with Miami's Brevin Jordan. Of course, part of this could be due to the fact that the roles Keene and Mitchell have may look a little different.
Keene has been known for his blocking and as a very good crackdown option while Mitchell is more known as a receiving tight end. Don't be surprised to see Mitchell work more as a Dallas Clark-like tight end in the slot with Keene almost often either at the line off-tackle or in the backfield as an h-back though both have the versatility to slide into the other role.
That combination could overlap at times or allow the Hokies to run some jumbo two tight end sets that, while forcing a more loaded box at times on the defensive end, also still provide plenty of big play passing danger that could create some better running opportunities.
While most of the hype around Mitchell was talk from the coaching staff, the depth chart is now the biggest piece of evidence to date that the Hokies may have a pair of star tight ends with Keene and Mitchell.
2. Running Back Remains Full of Confusion For Now.
The Hokies' running back rotation remains muddled with Deshawn McClease and Jalen Holston at the top while Keshawn King remains right behind the more experienced duo.
Justin Fuente has had plenty of praise for King as an "explosive" RB but has kept starting expectation under control especially after making quick mention of McClease and Holston when King was brought up in a press conference last week.
“The first thing I would say is that Deshawn [McClease] and Jalen [Holston] have done really well. Jalen has had a great off-season and has done a great job from a leadership standpoint with everybody. He’s had a great attitude and work ethic. I’ve really been pleased with him and Deshawn, too. But in addition to that, Keshawn has come in and has provided us some spark and some flashes. To what extend that will be, I’m not sure yet. But it will be to some extent, just not sure yet," Fuente said.
The quote seemed like an attempt to temper some of the expectations for King in part because of the growing talk that King may start as soon as the Hokies' season opener. However, even in these comments, Fuente still has plenty of praise for King providing "some spark" in the Hokies' backfield.
It isn't surprising that the Hokies would go with the older duo but, as we expected, it still remains RB by an unknown committee balance going into the season opener at Boston College. Both McClease and Holston bring different styles with McClease being the speed back and a threat in the passing game, and Holston taking on the bowling ball role with neither separating themselves from the other.
For now, Virginia Tech's backfield situation remains a mess, but that may not be for long depending on the development of Keshawn King this fall, especially with King already moving ahead a host of running backs who have been on campus longer including Terius Wheatley and Caleb Steward, and appearing on the verge of being right there with McClease and Holston.
3. The True Freshmen Are Coming.
Yes, there are lots of true freshman with five on the offensive side in the aforementioned King, Tayvion Robinson, Doug Nester, Bryan Hudson, and Nick Gallo.
The praise for King and Robinson has been aplenty since their arrival on campus this summer with both players pushing experienced players at their respective positions and both pushing for potential return jobs on special teams. Expect to see plenty of King and Robinson at Boston College and beyond with King having a great chance at earning the starting running back job this season and Robinson being ready to push Grimsley.
While King and Robinson have received plenty of talk throughout fall camp, the coaching staff's excitement about Nick Gallo has just arisen recently with TEs coach James Shibest mentioning how they've told Gallo to be ready to play this fall.
That culminated with Gallo being the #3 tight end on the depth chart over Drake DeIuliis, a surprising move that buries the redshirt sophomore farther down the depth chart, but also is a statement about how well Gallo has done. Of course, it remains to be seen how much Gallo will play, but it's clear that for the third-straight year, the Hokies did not miss whatsoever when recruiting a tight end.
Many expected Doug Nester to make the two-deep early on while seeing Bryan Hudson in an "OR" for the backup right tackle spot with Luke Tenuta is a little bit of a surprise given the praise Tenuta has received. Clearly, both Nester and Hudson have made strong impressions though it is possible that Nester could slide out of the two-deep with John Harris likely the backup right guard if Brock Hoffman is eligible, pairing with Zachariah Hoyt at center.
One thing to watch will be whether the Hokies seek to preserve the redshirt with it being more than possible that the Hokies look to restrict Nester and Hudson to playing in four games, especially with the depth that the Hokies have in the trenches.