Yesterday, we started our countdown of Virginia Tech's top position battles to watch with a look at the battle for the starting tight end job. Today, we go to the trenches to take a look at the battle for the starting right guard job.
Augie Conte had the right guard spot locked down over the past couple of seasons but with Conte and starting RT Jonathan McLaughlin graduating, the Hokies had a hole on the right side of their offensive line. This spring, Tyrell Smith locked down the right tackle job, though there is a chance Parker Osterloh will be able to make it interesting this, while right guard remained wide open with multiple contenders to replace Conte on the interior of the offensive line entering fall camp.
The Leader After Spring: Braxton Pfaff
While this battle was very close this spring between Braxton Pfaff and Kyle Chung, Pfaff appeared to have the slight edge at the end of spring, making him the favorite to win the job going into the fall. Pfaff was Augie Conte's backup at right guard last season and on-paper, would be appear to be the heir to Conte's right guard starting job especially after Pfaff received lots of praise at the beginning of spring.
Pfaff played in nine games as a redshirt sophomore and emerged as a top backup guard option for the Hokies, allowing VT to move Colt Pettit from guard to tight end with Pfaff proving to be a quality backup.
The Lynchburg native has the size you want in a guard at 6'5'' and 293 pounds while also having a good recruiting pedigree as though he wasn't heavily offered, he was rated as a four-star by ESPN and high three-star by 247 Sports with him now showing signs of fulfilling that potential.
Pfaff received the majority of first-team reps this past spring and while his advantage did close this spring, Pfaff remains the favorite for the job. However, this spring showed that it won't be easy for Pfaff to win the starting job especially with a pair of seniors looking to earn a starting job in their final season in Blacksburg.
The Top Challenger: Kyle Chung
Kyle Chung started last season pushing Eric Gallo for the starting center job after Gallo had a slow start but by the end of the season, Gallo was solidly the Hokies' starting center with Chung's hopes of being a starter being diminished at center. However, Chung has proven to be versatile along the offensive line, able to work at both guard and center with Chung getting reps at right guard this spring.
Chung wasn't talked about much at all at the beginning of the spring with most expecting Chung to be Virginia Tech's top backup interior linemen that could play some at guard and center. However, Chung steadily improved at right guard and was beginning to push Pfaff for first team reps by the end of the spring.
Chung has taken an interesting road to this point as he moved from tight end to offensive line after high school, a move that many including myself believe Lecitus Smith may make in the near future. Injuries plagued Chung early in his collegiate career as he had three surgeries during his first two years in Blacksburg. However, Chung hasn't had injury issues over the past two years, and enters this fall in position to have a large role on the offensive line whether he starts or is a top backup.
Chung started to claim a larger role last season on the offensive line and with snapping being his weakness at center, Chung is a better fit at guard that has his chance now to become a starter.
The Now Healthy Lineman: Parker Osterloh
For the past two years, Parker Osterloh has been a featured backup for the Hokies and while he has come close to earning a starting job in the past, he hasn't been able to. This past spring, Osterloh was out due to injuries, hurting his chances significantly of winning a starting spot especially with Tyrell Smith appearing to lock down the RT job.
However, Osterloh has shown the versatility to play either guard or tackle, and should be able to compete for the starting right guard job despite missing the spring. Osterloh has plenty of experience having played in 9 games last season and 12 in 2015, something that could prove quite valuable.
Osterloh is one of the biggest offensive linemen in the ACC at 6'8'' and 326 pounds which makes him more of a fit as a tackle, but won't stop him from being able to compete for the starting right guard job despite how most,guards are usually 6'2''-6'4''. Osterloh has also been one of the Hokies' most versatile offensive linemen just like Tyrell Smith and Kyle Chung.
Osterloh may not have been able to practice and compete for a starting job this spring, but the door is still open for him to earn the job this fall in his final season with the Hokies.
Prediction: Braxton Pfaff
All three of these guys have been in the program for at least three years and will all have some sort of role, but Braxton Pfaff is ready to ascend to a starting job and will hold off Kyle Chung and Parker Osterloh at least for the season opener against West Virginia. However, no one should be surprised to see Vance Vice also be unafraid to make a change if Pfaff struggles especially after last season when it was "by committee or series" at times at center and left guard last season before Eric Gallo and Wyatt Teller fully regained their starting jobs.
Both Chung and Osterloh are very versatile and if they don't win the right guard job, they will be the top two offensive line backups with Chung being able to play guard or center and Osterloh being able to play at tackle or guard. Meanwhile, Pfaff should be a starter for the Hokies by 2018 with Teller, Chung, and Osterloh all graduating but Pfaff was solid this past spring and appears ready to become a starter for the Hokies.
Tomorrow, we'll head back outside to take a look at a couple of battles at wide receiver.
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