Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
The Virginia Tech football program released their first depth chart of the 2020 season ahead of Saturday's game against N.C. State and there were multiple surprises and other notable standings to say the least.
Now it's likely that there will be some speculation as to whether some of these current depth chart decision are due to player availability due to COVID and contact tracing protocols. Additionally, some players may rise as the season progresses for various reasons including someone like Changa Hodge who has had limited time within the program since transferring from Villanova.
Here's our look at three of the biggest surprises and notable news to come from this depth chart release.
Kaleb Smith as a Starting WR Over Changa Hodge, Evans Fairs
Most expected grad transfers Changa Hodge or Evan Fairs to be Tech's third starting receiver alongside Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson. Instead, the Hokies are going with a returning player for now in Kaleb Smith.
Smith showed plenty of promise early last season finishing with 9 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown including a career game against Boston College with 4 catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Smith profiles as the type of bigger receiver that Tech had in Damon Hazelton, something that Hodge isn't necessarily as much of.
Of course, it's safe to expect to see Hodge and Fairs plenty, but seeing Hodge not earn a starting job is especially surprising. However, you have to wonder how much of that may be due to the fact that Hodge just transferred to Virginia Tech a few weeks and hasn't had much time to learn the offense, let alone fully practice given the time it takes to transition to that due to COVID protocols.
For now, Smith is the third starting receiver for the Hokies, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Hodge and Fairs receive lots of playing time and potentially take that starting job away, especially someone like Hodge who has tons of NFL potential.
Doug Nester Is a Backup at Tackle
Vance Vice loves to move guys around and that shows with Doug Nester surprising being a backup at right tackle. Now we've seen talented offensive linemen like Wyatt Teller not be a starter at the beginning of the season and quickly earn a starting job.
For Nester, it may be a little more of a challenge with Lecitus Smith and Bryan Hudson at left and right guard respectively. Luke Tenuta is ahead of Nester for now at right tackle, but you have to think that Nester will be the first guy off the bench to rotate in and likely do so a lot.
Tenuta may be a surprise at right tackle in his own right over Nester and Silas Dzansi, but Tenuta looked better than Dzansi during the latter half of last season and has tons of upside at 6'7'' and 315 pounds.
Nester definitely has the size to play offensive tackle as well and could be someone who grows and earns more playing time (and possibly the starting job) as he gains more experience at tackle. Head coach Justin Fuente also said during today's press conference that he feels tackle is Nester's "natural spot" likely in large part due to Nester being 6'6'' and 327 pounds.
Transitioning Nester now isn't also a bad idea given how Christian Darrisaw could be a big season away from heading off to the NFL to become a first or second day draft pick.
Additionally, if Nester at tackle doesn't work out for the Hokies, it's easy enough to slide him back inside where he's more than shown that he has what it takes to be really good.
Tayvion Robinson Not Included At Punt Returner
This came as a surprise to many to see Tayvion Robinson not included at all at punt returner, but Justin Fuente made it clear that was a mistake.
Fuente does confirm Tayvion Robinson will be the #Hokies top punt returner and says it is a "mistake" on the depth chart— Tim Thomas (@TimThomasTLP) September 21, 2020
Robinson showed the potential to be one of the best punt returners in college football if not the best after returning 13 punts for 185 yards, averaging 14.2 yards per return.
However, the absence of Robinson does make it clear that Khalil Herbert and Raheem Blackshear are the top two backups at punt returner. Meanwhile, fellow RB Keshawn King is the Hokies' top choice on kickoffs followed by Herbert and Blackshear plus another RB, Jalen Holston.