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Hokies Benefiting From Experienced Trio of Defensive Tackles At The Top

Norell Pollard 1 Fall Camp 2022 From VT

Virginia Tech may be young at a lot of places, but the top of the defensive tackle depth chart is not on of those as the Hokies have a trio of players with multiple years of significant playing time under their belts.

That trio has continued to get better and better with defensive line coach J.C. Price very excited about what he has on the interior among those three.

"I'm really excited about the top three we got: (Josh) Fuga, Mario (Kendricks), and Norell (Pollard) are playing at a high level. I think we can win a championship with these guys," Price said.

Both Norell Pollard and Josh Fuga finished last season healthy while Mario Kendricks was injured to end it, but Kendricks has found his stride after his injury recovery impressing Price. However, that praise continues to be hard to stop from just being for one of those DTs even when asked specifically about Kendricks and his offseason following an injury-riddled 2021.

"From the jump of camp, he's (Mario Kendricks) picked right where he left off from the season. Those 3 guys; Fuga, Norell, and Mario are all unique because all 3 of them possess 3 different skill sets. That's kind of a neat thing to have three guys with three different skill sets that the other team's got to prepare for," Price said.

So what are the unique skill sets that each of those guys possess?

"Right now, Fuga I would say is the best run guy. He's playing fundamentally sound against the run. Mario is slippery, he gets in and out of creases better than any of them. And Norell is the best playmaker. He sees things, and me and him butt heads sometimes about when is it time to take a chance and when not to take a chance, but Norell sees things. As long as he has an answer for me, then you got to let players like that go."

Having that combination of talent and experience is extremely valuable with Norell Pollard sharing how that's built a deep trust among the trio that any one of them can go out there and make plays.

"That's a big advantage. I had Bud (Foster as defensive coordinator) for one year. He said 'you can't coach experience.' I trust those guys. If I'm not on the field, I trust them, I know they're going to make a play. I don't have to be on the field, they can be on the field or vice versa they don't have to be on the field, one of us can be on the field. We just trust each other and we know that either 3 of us can go out there and get the job done. So that's a great thing to have in that room," Pollard said.

Norell Pollard is the most experienced of the three and has the most production with 11.5 tackles for loss including 6.5 sacks while having 20+ tackles in each of this three seasons working on the interior, fitting of the playmaker he's received from Price. Pollard agreed with that label feeling that he's been such since high school but also sharing more about how he would describe his style of play.

"I always felt like since high school that I was the playmaker, so of course I'm going to agree with it," Pollard said. "I would describe myself as physical, quick, twitchy. I'm just always trying to go get the ball and see where the ball is, and that's how I would describe my play style."

He also appears to be the leader of not only the defensive tackles but also the whole defensive line room which showed as he was named one of Tech's captains.

Price has seen Pollard grow as the leader of that room with those leadership skills starting to show last season.

"It all started within our room when (Amare) Barno left last year and Norell did it last year, it just went unnoticed. Norell has played a lot of football. He's been around here for a long time, and the reason why I like him is that he doesn't always say 'look at me, look at me.' So sometimes his leadership will go unnoticed and now some people are finally taking notice and that's a good thing," Price said.

Being the leader among his unit, Pollard has seen plenty of growth from both Mario Kendricks and Josh Fuga this offseason as those two, who have combined for 9 tackles for loss over their times at Tech to date, continue to improve.

"Getting stronger, faster, buying in, not worrying about who's going out there just knowing that we're all going to get our opportunity to play and knowing it's about the bigger goal of winning and getting the program back to where we need to be," Pollard said.

He also expanded on what he's seen in the growth from Josh Fuga who has the least experience among the three but seems to have taken massive steps this offseason as shown by the award he received in the spring from the staff as being one of the most improved Hokies.

"I've just seen him do what he's supposed to. He got challenged in the spring to go be that guy and he accepted the challenge. Ever since then, he's took off. We always knew Fuga could be what he is now and he took it to a whole another level and I feel like that really helps us as a unit because we can put anybody out there and we're going to make a play," Pollard said.

Overall, Tech has a proven trio of defensive tackles who all are showing signs of growth this offseason to go with immensely valuable experience that can't be taught or replaced as J.C. Price said.

"Nothing can replace experience. Think about it everyday in our lives, experience is huge and I'm glad we have it."

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