With offensive competition at center and right guard for Virginia Tech, the focus has been on newcomers like Brock Hoffman and Doug Nester along with incumbent starter Zachariah Hoyt and redshirt freshman John Harris.
Meanwhile, a pair of older offensive linemen have been pushing for playing time in TJ Jackson and Tyrell Smith as both look to earn large roles at minimum and ideally, starting opportunities even with Smith primarily working at tackle and Jackson working all over the place.
Regardless, both Smith and Jackson have been in Blacksburg for at least a few years (with Smith having been at VT the longest of the two) with both players having worked all over the offensive line. That does give Vance Vice a safety net with these two being able to be productive swing offensive linemen at minimum given the versatility that both of them bring to the table even with Smith primarily working at offensive tackle so far this fall.
"Tyrell (Smith) was worked quite a bit this far at one spot. T.J.’s moved around two or three. The great thing about both of those guys – they’ve been here a while. They understand schemes and they give me depth at a lot of places," Vice said.
Of course, Smith has moved around plenty during his Virginia Tech career starting primarily as an interior offensive lineman before moving outside as his time in Blacksburg progressed. Though that has never led to Smith winning a starting job on a permanent basis, the redshirt senior has carved out a role as a versatile, top backup having played in every single game over the past three seasons.
His age and experience have also put him in a position to become a leader on a younger offensive line this fall, a natural role he has ran with even as he pushes hard to earn a starting job despite being an underdog on paper to do so.
"Tyrell Smith has been a great leader for us and not just in that room but for the entire team. He is an incredible worker with great strength numbers, and he knows this is his last go-around, so he is pushing hard," Justin Fuente said
Of course, it shouldn't be surprising to see Smith make this big push given that this is his last chance, but it is encouraging to see him do so despite having a pair of young, talented offensive tackles with starting experience ahead of him. While Smith may not end up with a starting job, it's clear that not only will he have a large role as a top backup once again, he'll also provide experienced player leadership that could be valuable for an offensive line with lots of potential but not as much age.
Meanwhile, TJ Jackson has always been an intriguing player given his size at 6'6'' and a massive 359 pounds now. The redshirt junior from Cumberland, VA started his career at tackle but has worked all over the offensive line this fall with Vance Vice saying that Jackson has "played all of them except center" so far during fall camp.
Justin Fuente has also been impressed with the growth of Jackson as an offensive line and the unique blend of size and athleticism Jackson brings to the table.
"T.J. Jackson is maybe the most unique athlete I have seen out there in terms of his size and athletic ability. Every day he continues to take steps forward to being a good player. He is just a big special athlete. He is a really athletic person and a really special athlete," Fuente said.
Fuente does anticipate that fall camp will cause Jackson to lose a little bit of weight as you would naturally expect but it appears clear that Jackson has shown he can carry a lot of weight without sacrificing much in terms of athleticism.
While Fuente's "special athlete" comment may have been in part about his blend of size and athleticism, it also appears to be about Jackson's mentality and attitude that has impressed the Hokies' head coach day in and day out.
"He is a pleasure to be around with a wonderful mother. I don't say this about many people, but he brightens up a room when you are in there - That's T.J Jackson. He has a great smile; he always in a great mood and always gives a positive spin to other people," Fuente said.
Given the negativity that seemed to be a cause of problems last season for the Hokies, TJ Jackson is clearly a part of the solution for flipping the attitude in the locker room and never the problem whatsoever.
Tyrell Smith and TJ Jackson are both poised to have roles on the offensive line this upcoming season as veteran presences who have also stepped into leadership roles. While Jackson and Smith may be underdogs to earn starting jobs, they've both made it clear to Vance Vice that they won't go down without a fight.
"Both of those guys are fighting for a spot right now."
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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