The Virginia Tech offense has spent the last three years trying desperately to rank in the top 100 in offense nationally. Even with high level talent on the roster, it has been unable to do so thanks in part to poor performance up front.
But this year, depth and talent on the offensive line will allow quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and the rest of the backfield, to play to their full potential.
Pass protection, particularly from the weak (left) side, has hindered Taylor’s ability to develop as a pocket passer over the past two years. As everyone knows, he is as effective as anybody in the country when it comes to running the ball, but if the Hokies want to contend for a BCS National Championship game, he must be able to make plays with his arm.
His effectiveness as a consistent offensive weapon—a top ten talent—depends more upon his development as a complete quarterback: one who can see the field rolling out to the right or back in the pocket, find an open receiver, and when all else fails, break down the field.
Those three to five seconds of protection, absent for these past few years, will determine if Tyrod is a jack rabbit or a thoroughbred.
The development of the players at skill positions are totally contingent on Taylor having those few precious seconds to throw the ball rather than immediately run to evade the onslaught of safeties and linebackers as they flow through the patchy offensive linesmen.
Taylor proved his freshman year (2007) that he has an accurate arm and can hit moving targets, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that his receiver core consisted of arguably the most experienced and dangerous group of playmakers in Tech history.
In 2008, however, that core was gone and replaced by a new, greener group of athletes.
Due to the low frequency of passes reaching their targets in game time scenarios in 2008, the young wide receivers have not been able to develop into elusive and effective weapons as quickly as expected.
This isn’t to say that they aren’t capable of becoming playmakers, because flanker Danny Coale and split end Jarrett Boykin showed off, particularly in the latter half of the season, that they can burn cornerbacks to find open space.
Even converted running back Dyrell Roberts has become a rising star in the wide receiver line up.
But rarely have they been able to find the end zone, and they haven’t developed the capability of stretching the play out—that is, the ability to add yards on after the catch to further progress the offensive marches down the field.
And therein lies the problem with having an inconsistent offensive line.
The crux of an offense is the ability to move the ball in the air and the ground. With no long plays forcing the safeties to play in a deep coverage, the threat of the run has been diminished significantly.
The success of the running game in 2008 was carried by standout running back Darren Evans’ hard nosed playmaking and Tyrod Taylor’s unbelievable ability to scramble, rather than great blocking from the line.
Only sporadically was the offensive line able to control the opposing defense. A large portion of Taylor’s 739 rushing yards were attained by his taking advantage of broken plays.
Many of those broken plays, however, led to Taylor (and backup-quarterback Sean Glennon) being sacked. In fact, the Hokies allowed more sacks than almost anyone else in the country: about three per game.
Now, this statistic is slightly skewed because Taylor is often taken down during a designed quarterback draw play, so the fact that the Virginia Tech was ranked 111th out of 119 isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, but the fact is still that Taylor is vulnerable to contact.
And, as we’ve seen in the past, contact leads to injury—and Taylor’s health should be the paramount concern if Virginia Tech wants to contend for a National Championship.
From here, the obvious question is: “How will returning three starters on a terrible offensive line help this year?”
The answer is two-fold: experience and depth.
The offensive line lost two seniors in center Ryan Shuman and guard Nick Marshman. New starters Beau Warren and Jaymes Brooks seem fit to take over, and it appears that this will be an upgrade rather than simply a replacement.
Brooks has already proved himself capable, as he played for an ineligible Marshman in the Orange Bowl against Cincinnati, and Beau Warren has made significant strides during spring training. The returning line consists of veterans Blake DeChristopher, Ed Wang, and star guard Sergio Render.
More importantly, though, is the depth in the positions at this point. Offensive Line Coach Curt Newsome believes that he will have at least eight players ready to start in the game against Alabama on September 5th.
Depth at these positions allows for players on the line to rest and reboot during games, as well as push hard to keep their starter status. Over the past few years, it has been rare to see the starters take a break, so the hope is that rotating the starters will keep the level of play at its peak.
With this new formula, Taylor and company should be able to perform on a level not seen in many years at Tech. The talent is there, especially with the addition of Ryan Williams, and as Taylor continues to develop as a passer and as a leader, the Hokies’ overall offensive output should increase dramatically.
If he is able to become the weapon that everyone has been waiting for, Virginia Tech will be a force to be reckoned with in 2009.