When Virginia Tech opens the season against Alabama next Saturday in Atlanta, the Hokies will have several fresh faces in the starting lineup.
Each year, teams all across college football have to replace starters. Some graduate, some leave early or others depart the team for various reasons. The Hokies will have four or five new starters on offense, depending on the health of starting tailback J.C. Coleman. On defense, the Hokies will have only two new starters.
Replacing only six or seven starters means the Hokies should be in good shape, especially defensively.
In the team’s latest depth chart, released Tuesday, three true freshmen were listed as starters. Here is a look at some players who are expected to be first-time starters in 2013. Keep in mind; players like Andrew Miller, Caleb Farris and David Wang were not listed as they have started before, albeit in different positions.
Weight: 290 lbs
Position: Right Tackle
Player Replacing: Vinston Painter
Gibson, a redshirt junior, will finally have the chance to start in 2013. He arrived on campus in 2010 as one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, but didn’t see the field much the last two years.
Gibson has switched between tackle and guard during his career in Blacksburg. He will now have the opportunity to live up to his vast potential on a rebuilt offensive line.
An outstanding athlete, Gibson can play left tackle if needed. Coaches feel his best position is on the right side, however.
Weight: 313 lbs
Position: Left Tackle
Player Replacing: Nick Becton
McLaughlin’s ascent up the depth chart has been a unique one. He committed to the Hokies last December and enrolled in January. He spent the 2012 season at Fork Union Military Academy after having originally signed with East Carolina out of high school.
True freshman rarely start the season protecting the quarterback’s blind side. These are extenuating circumstances, though.
McLaughlin has terrific size and is an impressive athlete. He displays good technique and footwork for such a young player. His experience at Fork Union was good for his development and likely helped him in the eyes of new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes.
McLaughlin was in competition with junior Mark Shuman to be the starting left tackle. Shuman’s injury opened the door for McLaughlin to be the team’s starter, at least through September when Shuman is scheduled to return. It’s worth noting that McLaughlin was ahead of Shuman on the depth chart all offseason, so the coaching staff does believe in him.
Weight: 180 lbs
Position: Wide Receiver
Player Replacing: Corey Fuller
Outside of senior D.J. Coles, Knowles is the only wide receiver on the roster to catch a pass from Logan Thomas in an actual game. Knowles caught 19 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown in 2012.
A redshirt sophomore from The Bahamas, Knowles is one of the fastest players on the team. He was actually an under-the-radar recruit because he didn’t start playing football until high school.
Knowles displayed a knack for the big play last year, especially as a kick returner. He will likely remain in that position.
Knowles has the potential to be a star. It is his route running that needs to be refined. His development is one of the more interesting things to watch for the Hokies on offense in 2013.
Weight: 220 lbs
Player Replacing: Joey Phillips
Blue-collar, walk-on fullbacks are a tradition at Virginia Tech. Rogers would be the first to start as a true freshman, however.
Rogers beat out fellow freshman Jerome Wright, junior Fuller Hoepner and sophomore Griffin Hite to be the starter.
He brings versatility to the position, having played quarterback, running back and wide receiver in high school. He is a bit small for the position, but VT’s strength coaches are some of the best in the country and adding muscle will not be a problem moving forward.
Rogers is a good athlete and could be a matchup problem for opposing defenses. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler indicated Rogers could play the slot at times.
Weight: 216 lbs
Position: Outside Linebacker (Whip)
Player Replacing: Ronny Vandyke (Injury)
With all due respect to Trimble, if the Hokies had their way, he would not be starting at whip linebacker next week against Alabama. Whip linebacker, essentially an extra defensive back, is a crucial part of Bud Foster’s defense. When the Hokies have a good player at this spot, the defense is outstanding. When they don’t, they tend to struggle.
In the first fall practice depth chart, freshman Kendall Fuller was listed as co-No.1 at whip with sophomore Ronny Vandyke. Unfortunately, Vandyke was injured in the Hokies’ first scrimmage and is lost for the year. Injuries and attrition at corner led Fuller back to his natural position.
In comes Trimble.
A sophomore walk-on, Trimble is a good athlete. He was expected to make his mark on special teams, however. Players such as Trimble have always thrived at Virginia Tech. He possesses the size required to play whip. He was a running back and safety in high school.
Trimble has football in his blood. His father, Steve, played safety in the NFL for four years and all three of his older brothers played football at West Point.
Weight: 193 lbs
Player Replacing: Antone Exum (Injury)
The Fuller family has been outstanding to Virginia Tech. Before Kendall, older brothers Vincent and Corey were good players for the Hokies. His other brother, Kyle, enters his senior season as a three-year starter for the Hokies at cornerback and is an All-ACC performer.
Kendall didn’t just get to Blacksburg because of family legacy, though. He is a terrific talent. He has good size for a cornerback, great speed and the kind of football knowledge you’d expect for someone with his pedigree.
Foster and the rest of the defensive coaching staff placed a lot of responsibility on Kendall when fall practice began by having him learn the whip linebacker position in addition to his cornerback spot. Fuller possesses a good grasp on the defense, though, because Kyle has given him a crash course in it over the years.
In an ideal world, the Hokies would like to have Exum and Kyle Fuller as the starters at corner with Kendall and fellow freshman, Brandon Facyson, coming off the bench early this season. Unfortunately, they’ll be thrown right into the mix a little sooner than expected.