The 2021 Virginia Tech football team has more experience than past teams, but there are still plenty of young, talented players that are gaining more reps.. Here's a look at a few young Hokies who have seen their roles increase in 2021.
CB Dorian Strong
You can argue Dorian Strong shouldn't be on this list after his breakout 2020, but while there has been a battle between him and Armani Chatman for the starting CB job opposite Jermaine Waller, it's clear that Dorian Strong is Tech's #2 cornerback opposite Waller.
That's shown in the playing time especially coming off the bye with Strong receiving 52 reps against Notre Dame before playing 75 against Pittsburgh as the #1 cornerback in the second half with Waller out due to injury.
It's all well-deserved for Strong who has 10 tackles and 3 pass breakups so far this season. Those are solid stats, but they don't show the full picture of the fact that teams haven't really thrown Strong's direction often, a stronger indication about the high level he's playing at in his second season with the Hokies.
There's no doubt that Strong will continue to be a starting cornerback for the Hokies even if it's still an "OR" on the depth chart with him and Armani Chatman. However, Strong may get his chance to be a #1 cornerback at least this weekend if not longer as Jermaine Waller's status for the Syracuse game is very much up in the air after suffering a foot/lower leg injury against Pittsburgh.
If Strong is pushed into #1 cornerback duties, expect the freshman in his second season to be ready to shine and prove that Waller isn't the only future high draft pick cornerback on Virginia Tech's roster.
WR Da'Wain Lofton
There was lots of hype surrounding Da'Wain Lofton but Justin Fuente also said that his backup WRs were a little banged up during the first month of the season. Coming off the bye, we got our first more extended look at Lofton with the first team offense as he played 12 snaps including several in the first half with that just being the beginning.
Lofton had an interesting game against Notre Dame making some great blocks that opened lots of space including one fantastic one on a jet sweep pop pass to Tre Turner that set the Hokies up at the 1. Lofton also took a big hit on one of his routes that would have been a drop for anyone while also having a pass for him intercepted that Braxton Burmeister underthrew but Lofton also could've probably read better and cut back his route a tad.
Lofton's rise continued against Pittsburgh as he played a season high 25 offensive snaps while also recording his first career catch, a 29-yard reception off a snap where Lofton shed a tackler from behind and turned it into the only drive that reached Pitt territory during the first half.
After all the offseason hype surrounding Lofton, it seems like the Hokies are finally giving him room to grow with the freshman from Texas starting to seize his opportunities. That's shown by his 29-yard reception and his impressive block on a long gain for Tre Turner the week before.
Going forward, expect to see plenty of Lofton as the Hokies look to add even more speed to pair with Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner.
OT Parker Clements
Now 100% healthy, Parker Clements has quickly risen from barely playing during the first month to potentially the top right tackle for the Hokies for the rest of the 2021 season.
Clements' rise started against Notre Dame with the South Carolina native receiving double-digit snaps against the Fighting Irish and playing solid when given the opportunity.
His big move up the offensive line ranks continued this past week as Clements received an astounding 62 snaps in a game where Dzansi was not injured. Rather, Tech simply went with Clements over Dzansi with the veteran working some at right guard instead of Kaden Moore at times throughout this game.
This situation is playing out very similar to the last time Silas Dzansi opened the season as the starting right tackle back in 2019 when Luke Tenuta usurped him for the starting job by midseason. Both Tenuta and Clements also profiled very similar as tackles with tremendous size who came in to Tech moreso as raw talents but have been developed well with Clements being to fulfill the higher ceiling that his size has gifted him with.
The depth chart also is showing those changes as Clements is now listed as an "OR" regarding his starting status at right tackle alongside Dzansi. However, it seems like a matter of time for now till Parker Clements is the outright starter with the new potential battle emerging at right guard between Silas Dzansi and Kaden Moore.