During Early Signing Day, The Athletic's Andy Bitter reported that veteran DT Mario Kendricks and former Nebraska transfer DE Pheldarius Payne will both be returning for Virginia Tech in 2023. Meanwhile, the status of starting DT Norell Pollard on whether he will return to the Hokies or not is still unknown.
A few roster updates for the #Hokies: DT Mario Kendricks and DE Pheldarius Payne will both return next year. Tech is hopeful DT Norell Pollard will be back too, though that's not finalized yet.— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) December 21, 2022
Kendricks' return is a big boost on the interior of Tech's 2023 defensive line as the Hokies have some promising youngsters who could use some more time to develop. Kendricks gives Tech a proven starter who can pair with Josh Fuga with Wilfried Pene as a key backup for sure, giving the Hokies lots of experience overall.
Kendricks led all DTs with 19 tackles this past season while also having a career high 5 tackles for loss including a sack plus 3 QB hurries and 3 pass breakups.
Meanwhile, retaining Norell Pollard would be another big boost both given the fact that he was a captain this past year and given the talent that he has shown to date and brings a high floor to the table. Pollard would likely be a starter with himself, Kendricks, and Fuga all getting plenty of reps as they did this past season, and Wilfried Pene working in some as the fourth DT.
If Pollard did not return, it's easy to envision the Hokies pursuing the transfer portal and JUCO options to find a plug-and-play DT. VT does seem to be preparing in case that does happen which has included extending an offer to Texas Tech DT transfer Philip Blidi recently.
Pollard had a career high 6 QB hurries this past season to go with 15 tackles including 3 for loss with 1 pass breakup.
At DE, Payne will bring more competition to a fascinating DE group with lots of returning young talents led by Cole Nelson and CJ McCray plus a veteran in Payne and a proven transfer in Darian Varner.
Brent Pry also mentioned that adding another pass rusher is something that Tech is looking to still do in the portal. That could be a sign that the Hokies see themselves using Varner a decent amount on the interior given his size. It could also be something that changes that Varner is now on board given how Tech sealed his commitment "late" on Tuesday night ahead of Early Signing Day.