The Virginia Tech defense has a lot of question marks coming into the 2010 season, and the departure of Jason Worilds adds a huge hole to the defensive line.
John Graves is the anchor of the line, and at 6'3 283 pounds his main job is to open up holes for the rest of the defense. Graves is really the only sure thing the Hokies have on the defensive line entering 2010.
Right now, Chris Drager and James Gayle are battling for the starting position at right end. Drager is a converted tight end and entering his junior year. Gayle is a redshirt freshman, and is likely the long-term solution at the position for the Hokies.
Both players will likely split action to start the season, and this will likely be won by one of these two players a couple of weeks into the year.
The left side of the line is more concrete. Senior Stephen Friday has been named the starter, after backing up Worilds the last few seasons. Friday has 3.5 career sacks, all of which came last season, and 19 career tackles.
Friday has appeared in 24 career games and played in 12 last year. Friday is a symbol of what the Virginia Tech defense is going to look like this season: a lot of guys who have game experience, but they've never been "the guy." I expect Friday to have a very solid year, after having a good season last year backing up Worilds.
The last battle on the defensive line comes at the other tackle position beside Graves. Sophomore Antoine Hopkins and Junior Kwamaine Battle are competing for the job. The word is these two are dead locked for the position.
That's definitely news you like to hear coming from spring and summer camp. The coaching staff could have a better idea of who will win the job after Saturday's scrimmage, but the competition will likely come down to the final weekend of practice.
Competition is always a good thing, and, in the end, should make the Hokies better overall. The defense lacks starting experience, but almost every player that's competing for a job has seen plenty of playing experience.
The Hokies will have a lot of depth this year, which should allow them to stay rested going late into games; the defensive line is no exception. However, Graves has to be the leader of the defensive line in order for the defense to succeed as a whole.
Graves will likely take over Cody Grimm's role as defensive captain, and guys will look to him for leadership. Graves is by far the most experienced starter on the Hokies defense. He comes into the season with 22 career starts. Senior corner Rashad Carmichael is second on the team with 14 starts.
The defensive line will set the tone for the Hokies defense all season. If they can consistently open up holes for linebackers and safeties to blitz through then it should be business as usual for Bud Foster's defense in 2010.