There was a lot of excitement when Virginia Tech added Nebraska grad transfer Pheldarius Payne from the transfer portal with most expecting that he would start at defensive end opposite TyJuan Garbutt.
However, that excitement will have to be saved for next season after VT head coach Brent Pry told select reporters at ACC Kickoff that Payne is likely out for the season due to a non-contact Achilles injury.
#Hokies head coach Brent Pry said Nebraska transfer Pheldarius Payne is likely out for the season with an Achilles injury. Was a non-contact injury in the summer. Would likely have an extra year of eligibility for next year if he wanted it.— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) July 21, 2022
Pry mentioned that Tech doesn't want to bring Payne back for just a couple of games and waste an opportunity for him to take a medical redshirt and return in 2023. Of course, that could change if Payne doesn't want to stick around for another year of collegiate football, his sixth between the JUCO ranks, Nebraska, and Virginia Tech.
There's no doubt that Payne is a fairly big loss for the Hokies after being a productive rotation player in Nebraska's 3-4 defense at OLB with 40 tackles including 4.5 for loss with 3 sacks during his time in Lincoln.
An offseason non-contact injury for a new addition expected to start is unfortunately not the first time the Hokies have suffered bad luck in that area after CB Jeremy Webb suffered a non-contact injury almost immediately after arriving from the JUCO ranks. Webb did go on to be a rotational player at Tech before transferring and having more success at Kansas.
With Payne out, the door opens now for redshirt freshman Cole Nelson who there has been plenty of excitement around to step up and take the starting defensive end job. He definitely has the greatest upside among the likely main contenders for this job and showed promise in 2021 with 5 tackles in 4 games working his way into the rotation while preserving his redshirt.
Veterans Jaylen Griffin and Eli Adams are also likely to be involved with Griffin maybe being the veteran frontrunner given that he has 44 tackles including 5.5 sacks over his collegiate career to date. Adams did have a strong Spring Game with a sack and should be a factor as well.
Marshall transfer C.J. McCray could also be a factor as well after moving from OLB to DE and showing plenty of potential in the Spring Game with 3 tackles. Other redshirt freshman Mattheus Carroll could also factor in though he seems slightly farther down the depth chart at the moment.
Regardless, Payne's absence leaves a void at defensive end for the Hokies that is unlikely to be filled via the transfer portal, creating an intriguing competition opposite TyJuan Garbutt though not the way that Brent Pry and his staff would have liked to have seen a competition created at that spot.