Virginia Tech received some unfortunate injury news this week with the loss of star TE James Mitchell for the season due to injury. That has many wondering who will step in to replace Mitchell's playing time and try to replace his level of performance which will be hard to do.
Here's a look at three Hokies I believe will be right at the forefront of it.
1. TE Nick Gallo
While Nick Gallo may be listed right alongside Drake DeIuliis, expect Nick Gallo to be the first tight end on the field and the Hokies' primary tight end going forward.
Gallo has been a consistent presence over the past year pairing a lot with James Mitchell in that h-back role that Dalton Keene dominated to allow Mitchell to be flexed out into the slot or all the way to the outside in some 2 WR, 2 TE formations. While Gallo would usually come off when Tech went down to 1 TE, a lot of those plays had Mitchell lining up right on the line rather than flexed out, a role that Gallo knows how to fill in well.
With that in mind, there's no doubt that Gallo is now the first tight end in terms of the more traditional TE role for the Hokies along with the h-back role that Tech has handed off in many ways to Gallo after Dalton Keene left for the NFL.
Gallo's Pro Football Focus grades also show that he is a blocking-first tight end which will be quite valuable for Tech's rushing-first offense led by Braxton Burmeister. However, Gallo shouldn't be underestimated as a receiver after having 11 receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown last season providing some valuable checkdown and dump-off gains for Tech last season.
After his brother Eric Gallo was a full-time starter for the Hokies, Nick Gallo is now poised to follow his brother's footsteps and be a full-time starter for the Hokies, just at TE instead of center.
2. TE Drake DeIuliis
Gallo is useful as a receiving tight end on checkdowns and more traditional TE routes, but DeIuliis is the more versatile and talented receiving tight end among Tech's healthy tight ends. With that in mind, expect DeIuliis to be the guy to fill in on some 4 WR looking formations that were usually 3 WR, 1 TE formations with Mitchell flexed out as a receiver.
DeIuliis has already been worked in some as an outside receiver with Mitchell sliding onto the line both this season and last. Through the first two games, DeIuliis has also seen almost an identical share of snaps to Gallo with DeIuliis having 65 compared to 70 for Gallo. While Gallo seems more likely to take the majority of the snaps that were Mitchell's, DeIuliis' receiving versatility will allow him to take some of them as well.
DeIuliis has only had 2 receptions during the first two games, but has been used at times as a receiver before some of Tech's younger true wide receivers. Additionally, DeIuliis has seemed to show growth as a blocker which seemed to be the primary skill set that held him back from claiming a larger role prior to 2020 where he had 3 receptions and started 2 games.
While I would still lean Gallo to be the main replacement, expect an increase for DeIuliis especially when Tech wants their top receiving tight end out there to give them a jumbo target outside or in the slot.
3. WR Kaleb Smith
It may be surprising to see a wide receiver on this, but the absence of Mitchell should lead to a little more playing time for starting WR Kaleb Smith.
Now Virginia Tech has used a lot of 2 WR, 2 TE formations this season and while we could continue to see the Hokies use those with 2 true tight ends, expect Kaleb Smith to pick up some of those minutes. Yes, Smith won't be lined up on the line of scrimmage, but Tech also would flex out Mitchell in that formation at times and Smith is a better receiver than DeIuliis.
Additionally, Smith is arguably the best blocking wide receiver on the team with Smith consistently providing plenty of value on the exterior on jet sweeps helping create that corner that guys like Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson to turn it up the field and gets those 7-10 yard runs that make Tech one of the best at the jet sweep in the country.
That blocking ability is clear to any team that scouts that the Hokies and won't allow teams to shift overwhelmingly to a pass defense focus when Smith is on the field which should create some play action opportunities. Additionally, having an extra true WR does force teams to think more pass and when that guy is one of the ACC's best pass blocking WRs, that's an advantage.
While it may not be obvious that Smith's role has increased in James Mitchell's absence, don't be surprised if the Hokies go with Smith in a 3 WR package instead of a 2 WR package that would have flexed James Mitchell out.