Virginia Tech's Defensive Tackle Depth Remains a Major Question

Virginia Tech's Defensive Tackle Depth Remains a Major Question

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Aug 01, 2018

One of the biggest concerns for Virginia Tech has been the short-term depth and long-term situation at defensive tackle. We've seen those concerns manifest themselves on the recruiting trail in the 2019 class with the Hokies making a large DT class a priority despite the fact that the Hokies will likely sign around 16 players. So far, the Hokies have been successful at recruiting DTs with three-star Florida recruits Mario Kendricks and Norell Pollard committed with VT being considered the favorite by many (including us) for fellow three-star FL DL Brandon Dorlus. In addition, the Hokies have one of the most talented pairs of starting defensive tackles east of the Mississippi River with star Ricky Walker and third-year starter Vinny Mihota. As long as those two stay healthy, VT's defensive line should be among the best in the country with those two and a quality pair of starting defensive ends in Trevon Hill and Houshun Gaines. However, questions have been raised about the depth at defensive tackle with Jarrod Hewitt being the only semi-proven defensive tackle. Former tight end Xavier Burke emerged as a likely backup defensive tackle this spring while the depth chart after that was full of major question marks with guys who haven't really seemed to develop yet. While the depth questions at DT were significant for 2018, the bigger concerns surrounded the position in 2019 and 2020 with Walker and Mihota both graduating after this season and Burke being gone after 2019. However, the Hokies believed they found that answer in high three-star DT Cam Goode. Goode impressed as a senior at Washington D.C. power St John's College HS and earned a spot in the 2018 Under Armour All-American Game. Goode had the size and productivity that made many believe that he could add some depth to the Hokies' depth chart in 2018 and take a starting job in 2019 alongside Jarrod Hewitt with Xavier Burke, another young backup, and the incoming freshmen improving the depth chart. Of course, that situation was still full of question marks, but Goode appeared to be a quality answer for 2018 and 2019 while the DT depth chart was rebuilt. However, that all changed in one tweet. With Justin Fuente and Virginia Tech announcing the departure of Cam Goode, it became official that the Hokies had no true defensive tackles from the past two classes still on campus with Joe Kane moving to offensive line and J'Bril Glaze leaving VT this past spring. To say the Hokies' recruiting at the defensive tackle spot has been disappointing would be an understatement. While what happened to Goode can't really be predicted in advance, the Hokies have also not done well building up the depth at DT so that the situation wouldn't feel so dire if a Cam Goode departed. Instead, the Hokies missed on the evaluation of Glaze while the move of Kane to OL shows a greater need for the Hokies to have added at least one other true DT to either of their large 2017 and 2018 classes. While the situation at defensive tackle is full of questions, there are reasons to believe that this won't go as badly as it feels like it could for VT. First, it starts with the fact that Charley Wiles has developed plenty of under-the-radar guys at defensive tackle before. Wiles assembled a strong starting DT duo with two lightly-recruited guys in Luther Maddy and Derrick Hopkins, both of whom worked their way up the depth chart to become multi-year starters. Jarrod Hewitt appears to be following that path is well entering his second year as a backup DT for the Hokies. Throughout the 2017 season, Hewitt steadily improved and was rewarded with a larger role as a backup DT, something that Bud Foster was looking for to give Ricky Walker and Tim Settle much-needed rest. However, the Hokies will need Hewitt to keep developing and become the type of quality backup DT that VT had in 2016 with Ricky Walker and Tim Settle. Given his development last season, Bud Foster has plenty of reason to expect Hewitt to take the next step and become that super third defensive tackle that the Hokies have been able to rely on for 20-30 snaps per game. If Hewitt can take that next step, it will alleviate some of the questions about the starting defensive tackle pair for next season. Xavier Burke emerged as the other backup defensive tackle for Virginia Tech this spring. The former tight end started to develop a feel for the defensive tackle spot and there were times during the Spring Game where it appeared that Burke was pushing Hewitt for the third DT spot. Burke is definitely an unknown, but the lights seem to be coming on for the redshirt junior along the defensive line. Beyond those two, the unknowns become greater as Darius Fullwood, despite being praised for his twitch, has struggled at the defensive tackle spot. Meanwhile, Jimmie Taylor has never really been a fit as a tweener that hasn't been able to find a home at DE or DT in Blacksburg. The x-factors in all this are the two bigger defensive ends who have the frames to bulk up and play defensive tackle, Robert Porcher IV and Jaevon Becton. When he came out of high school, Porcher was a well-regarded three-star DE and while he showed promise as a DE, he always had a skill set to move inside and play DT. One thing that stood out to us about Porcher in high school was his bull rushing ability, a basic skill required for successful DT. In addition, Porcher would be an above-average athlete at DT and have the skills to be a competent DT. Of course, the biggest question that remains is whether Porcher is able to put it all together at DT? If he is able to, Porcher can push for playing time as a backup this fall and as a starter in 2019. Jaevon Becton enters his first fall camp at 6'4'' and 250 pounds, and though he doesn't have the size to play DT right now, a year in Ben Hilgart's system likely can help him work towards being able to move inside. However, Becton appears likely to start out at defensive end which would shorten the gap between a possible transition to DT and the arrival of the 2019 class. Virginia Tech's defensive tackle situation became a greater question mark with the departure of Cam Goode, but there is some reason for hope with the development of Jarrod Hewitt and Xavier Burke over the past year. However, the Hokies would be rise to pursue a JUCO or grad transfer that can come in and at least push for a starting job with Goode's open scholarship. In the long run, Virginia Tech is fixing their recruiting misses and lack of true DT depth with a large DT class expected to join VT next spring and summer. For now though, the Hokies have a big question mark for their DT depth in 2018 while the DT position is the biggest question mark for the Hokies going into 2019 and beyond.

Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

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