Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Before surprising many on the field by beating Miami, Virginia Tech made some news with the decision to redshirt sophomore linebacker Keshon Artis.
With Hollifield working at backer, Artis had been the backup mike linebacker. Since then, Hollifield has been playing more at mike due to the emergence of Alan Tisdale while Dylan Rivers is providing depth as a potential fourth or fifth linebacker, leading to the decision to redshirt Artis as Bud Foster confirmed after Saturday's game.
However, Justin Fuente said that while the plan is to redshirt Artis, he recognizes that it may not come to fruition if health issues become a problem at linebacker.
"That’s what we would like to do, but to be quite honest I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that with Keshon (Artis). There’s a lot of football left to be played, and we’d like to try to do that if we can, but that’s not taking into account a lot of things that could happen down the road," Fuente said. "Keshon is the one we’ve had the most conversation with to try to do that. You don’t have to have a very big imagination to foresee a scenario where we may not be able to do that.”
The decision to redshirt Artis is the right decision for Virginia Tech given what it does to a loaded spot at mike linebacker.
This move creates a year of separation between Artis and Dax Hollifield, setting the Hokies up to have Rayshard Ashby starting at mike through 2020, Hollifield at mike in 2021, and Artis at mike in 2022. Talk about an ideal setup for the future defensive coordinator for the Hokeis with the heart of his defense being a certainty with Alan Tisdale as the long-term backer with eligibility through the 2022 season.
However, the fact is that this move should have happened last year rather than this year.
Justin Fuente laid it out well in his remarks earlier this week. Artis was the backup mike linebacker leading up to this decision and still remains the fourth best linebacker over Dylan Rivers. While Rivers can be adequate in that fourth linebacker role, an injury to one of VT's top three linebackers would likely lead to Artis playing as the third guy with two injuries pushing him into the starting lineup.
Last year, Artis was farther down the depth chart and probably the fifth guy at most with three guys who could play at mike ahead of him in Ashby, Hollifield, and Rico Kearney. Of course, Kearney's late season transfer decision led to Artis climbing to the backup mike spot on the depth chart, but it's more likely than not that Hollifield would have started at mike with Rivers at backer if an injury befell Ashby.
If anything, Virginia Tech could have given Artis some playing time in an early season game while saving 2 or 3 games of a redshirt season for the end of the season.
Now there is some thought that playing as a true freshman, even on special teams, can help speed up development, but VT's own backer depth chart shows otherwise.
Dylan Rivers did play as a true freshman purely on special teams while Alan Tisdale redshirted the next year. While there are more development factors beyond that simple fact, what's clear is that playing special teams as a buried backup isn't necessarily worth sacrificing a redshirt and not a proven development advantage as Tisdale has shown moving ahead of Rivers on the depth chart.
Justin Fuente is making the right decision to redshirt Keshon Artis now, but this should have been done last year when Artis' role was limited to special teams instead of now when VT is one injury away from scrapping a redshirt that can set the linebacking corps up well through 2022.