A Contentious, Uneasy Feeling Regarding Virginia Tech’s Defensive Line

Last season was not a banner year for the “Lunch Pail” defense. Virginia Tech’s defensive unit struggled both up front and on the back end, finishing 106th in rush defense and 63rd in pass defense.

I can bust out more statistics, but if you watched a decent number of the games from 2018, those stats would paint you a picture you’ve already seen. The Hokies’ defense was uncharacteristically bad.

The two primary issues — poor defensive line play and poor secondary play — remain issues as we inch closer to the start of summer practices. Today, I want to take a closer look up front.

Virginia Tech addressed immediate needs up front this offseason, adding a plethora of defensive tackles. Guys like Dashawn Crawford, Jaden Cunningham and Mario Kendricks boost Virginia Tech’s numbers at the position, but there’s no guarantee of production there. Even one of the expected starters, Jarrod Hewitt, has zero career sacks to his name.

Here’s what Virginia Tech’s returning production looks like on the interior…

    • Jarrod Hewitt: zero sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss
    • Rob Porcher: 1 sack, 2 TFLs

Everyone else is new to the team. That’s a tad scary.

The problem at defensive end got worse last week, when it was announced that Houshun Gaines is not with the team at the moment as he heals from a torn ACL last year and losing his mother in October. Gaines has been through hell, and he deserves whatever time is needed before he comes back to football.

Gaines’ absence creates another void at defensive end, forcing TyJuan Garbutt to step up and assume the role as starter. But without Gaines, there is little track record of production at defensive end for Virginia Tech.

Let’s look at the career sack and tackles for loss totals for Virginia Tech’s returning defensive ends…

    • Emmanuel Belmar: 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss
    • TyJuan Garbutt: 1 sack, 6.5 TFLs
    • Zion DeBose: zero sacks, 0.5 TFLs
    • Eli Adams: zero sacks, zero TFLs
    • Nathan Proctor: zero sacks, zero TFLs
    • Jaevon Becton: zero sacks, zero TFLs

You don’t need an overweight sportswriter to tell you those numbers aren’t good. There’s talent at the position, but there’s no record of high-level output from any of those ends. Belmar and Garbutt are the only ones with any sort of production in their careers. Everyone else? Not so much.

To Justin Fuente’s credit, he somewhat acknowledged at ACC Kickoff that though he likes the unit he has, he sees the same inexperience at defensive end that everyone else does.

“In regards to just rushing the passer, I do like the way some of our young guys have come forward,” Fuente told The Athletic (subscription required). “It would be nice to develop that. TyJuan Garbutt is starting to come into his own in that role. Emmanuel Belmar is kind of a bigger, physical guy for us, but he’s continuing to come there. And then we’ll have to have some play from some young guys. We’ll have to have some other guys continue to step up at that position to help us.”

There is a chance that all of this works out. Tech’s newcomers at defensive tackle could make an impact and sure up the defensive interior. The ends that Fuente recruited just a couple years ago could develop into bonafide starters. And there’s a chance we could see this defensive front torment a very weak 2019 schedule.

There’s also a chance that we see a similar unit to 2018, when one lone experienced defensive tackle wasn’t enough. Hewitt may not get the help he needs, and Tech may struggle to slow down the likes of Boston College and Pittsburgh. And the unit might not get enough pressure on the edge like it did in 2018, when Virginia Tech finished tied for 84th in the country with 24 sacks.

If Virginia Tech’s defense is going to return to normalcy, the defensive front needs to take serious strides. Belmar, Garbutt and the rest of the ends need to generate pressure in the pocket, and the big uglies need to slow down opposing running backs. There’s no way to know what’s going to happen. We just have to wait and see.

10 thoughts on “A Contentious, Uneasy Feeling Regarding Virginia Tech’s Defensive Line”

  1. I think we’ll be better on defense. But will we be good enough?

    I also believe Bud will coach them up better this year.

  2. the newcomers will come to play and we will not be as bad as last year. We have more experience defenders. In addition, our offense will score a lot more points than last year. With Willis or who ever ?? , we will have a more explosive offense due to experience on the line and running back and most importantly the QB experience of last year under Fu offense scheme.
    Go HOKIES<<<< ! I am ready for some for ball.

  3. The first game of the season will be a defining moment on where both the defense and offense are headed this year as a football unit. At a minimum we should have one of the best linebacker corps in the ACC, with a much improved secondary.

    I am not as much concerned with new players getting a shot to excel and I think we will do fine with both the defensive line and defensive ends.

    The greatest defense starts with an offense that stays on the field. It will always come down to QB play and moving the ball forward. To make my point, UVA does not have great football players, but they do have a QB that moves the ball and is headed into this season highly regarded. When Nick Saben was asked what the second most important player on the field, he reverted back to the importance of a great QB. Go Hokies! I am planning for a very awesome year!

  4. Pretty good QB play, a good offensive line, mediocre RB’s and young WR’s doesn’t sound that promising.

    Suspect DB’s, no DL, good but young LB’s sounds worse.

    Our only hope is very good coaching (we have that) and a pretty bad ACC this year (UVA #1 Coastal, ha)

  5. Better corner play could see more sacks. If the corners and safeties make the QB hold the ball 0.25 seconds longer; then maybe a sack happens. I think last year with the weakness at Corner and DLine there was a huge screw up waiting to happen. Better coverage makes the QB hold the ball. A good push up the middle makes the QB throw quicker and for a potential ball up for grabs.

    Improvement in both areas will aid the entire Defense. So let’s just go in and crash on the QB, grab him by the legs and make a wish.

  6. I assume come fall a couple of LBs will be converted to DE. Jaylen Griffen and the 6’6 juco LB come to mind

  7. It seems reasonable to assume that the DEFENSE will ‘find itself’ as the season moves to a finish. However, the up-front games could be a different story ? To say that the Boston College game (away) could be a ‘show-stopper’ is stating the obvious, in my opinion. Somehow, VT has to win (upset) this game to gain the ‘mo’ necessary to start the season off ‘on the right foot’ ! Unfortunately, the lack of depth at key positions could be the ‘bug-a-boo’ for the good guys. In Frank Beamer’s day, the starting RB would have been long anointed and would have been the subject of numerous sports articles, by this time. The ‘smokescreen’ related to who will be the starting QB, also makes no sense to me. Even with the ridiculous ‘weak’ football schedule, I don’t see any reason to be upbeat. Has ‘Bud’ still got it or is this season part of his ‘slide’ out of the door ? On a negative note, the results of the 2018 football season make me wonder if Fuente is really up to the level of the ACC Football Conference ? I regret being defensive to the point of looking at the ‘softies’ on the 2019 schedule to locate the best candidate to pull off the classic ODU type of upset ? Oh Yea; Virginia won’t be close to the Coastal Championship, but THE STREAK will come to an end in Scott Stadium in 2019 !!!

  8. This could be the reverse of the 1995 (Sugar Bowl, Druck) year. The defense held down the fort and did its job while the offense slowly developed. It wasn’t until the last 1/3 to 1/2 of the season that the offense started to click.
    This year we need the offense to carry the load (even in shootouts) until the defense comes around.

  9. My concern is stopping the run against big, powerful backs with inexperienced DL getting knocked around by big OLinemen. Then the backs start cheating up and get beat deep. That will wear out the entire D. GO HOKIES!

  10. I like Belmar and Garbutt but honestly I’m thinking Amare Barno is gonna have to move to DE. Not sure if that’s something he’s done before but considering what we have at LB right now I think it’s worth a shot. Having an athletic 6’5 dude coming off the corner could be really exciting. I’m sure that’s being considered but either way we gotta find a way to get pressure or it’s gonna be rough all over again.
    Go Hokies!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.