Monday Mail: Reasons for Optimism and Concern in 2019 for Virginia Tech

Another Hokies win, another semi-positive Monday Mail.

That doesn’t mean fans are thrilled, but they are indeed happy that Virginia Tech’s nation-leading bowl streak is still alive and well. However, if this week’s questions are any indication, fans are already looking towards 2019.

Let’s dive in.

Phil Patterson has now finished his third season in the program. He hasn’t played a ton this season, appearing in 10 games but only making 11 catches on limited targets.

Despite being one of the older players at the position, Patterson has been passed by several guys on the depth chart. Eric Kumah and Tre Turner have solidified themselves as starters, while Damon Hazelton and Hezekiah Grimsley have earned consistent playing time as well.

Darryle Simmons redshirted this season and could surpass Patterson. The same goes for DeJuan Ellis, who has a bright future in the slot. Virginia Tech has another good crop of receivers on the way as well, with Jayden Payoute, Jacoby Pinckney, Tayvion Robinson and Elijah Bowick all set to enroll this offseason.

Attrition hits just about every position group every offseason, and Patterson is certainly on the watch list to leave the program.

There are plenty of reasons for hope next season.

Virginia Tech’s quarterback play should improve, with all of Tech’s options maturing physically and spending another offseason in the program. Whoever starts should play well next season, even if some attrition hits the position this offseason.

Tech’s wide receivers should be very good in 2019. Damon Hazelton should have worked himself out of the doghouse by then, putting himself on the field alongside Eric Kumah and Tre Turner. And to boot, the Hokies will have depth behind those guys.

The Hokies’ young offensive linemen have impressed thus far. Christian Darrisaw has taken over at left tackle and Silas Dzansi should be good to go at right tackle. The interior of the line is more of an unknown, but Tech has young options there that the coaching staff likes.

On defense, the ends should be highly productive. Houshun Gaines is set to return for his senior season, with Emmanuel Belmar, TyJuan Garbutt and Nathan Proctor returning as well. Tech will still be young behind the starters, but they’ll have a little game experience to go with their talent.

Linebacker play won’t be an issue. Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield are only going to get better and there’s young depth behind them.

The secondary will remain a question mark for Virginia Tech, but the entire group is set to return in 2019. Bryce Watts and Caleb Farley will be another year older and Jeremy Webb will be healthy. Reggie Floyd will be back for his senior season and Divine Deablo and Khalil Ladler will be experienced vets by that point and should improve after a year of regression.

Virginia Tech is by no means a perfect team heading into 2019. But the team should improve in key areas and will be a lot older and more mature. Next season should be a lot easier on the fans and eight or nine wins seems to be within reach.

That’s a good question, Mark.

Steven Peoples, a former walk-on from southwest Virginia, is leading the team in rushing this season. He’s rushed for 760 yards this season on 149 carries, far surpassing his career totals. Peoples has never been an explosive guy at running back, but he’s been a steady option throughout his tenure in Blacksburg.

Peoples is aging out this offseason, leaving a 5-foot-9 and 222-pound hole in Virginia Tech’s backfield.

Several Hokies are slated to return at running back, but none of the returning options are guaranteed to take the mantle and run with it. Deshawn McClease is the most likely option, who’s backed up Peoples this season with 331 rushing yards on 83 carries.

McClease can’t fulfill Peoples’ role, however, as a bruising tailback who dishes out punishment. Jalen Holston is the most likely player to do that, a rising junior with less than 500 career rushing yards.

Terius Wheatley has played in nine games this season, but has carried the ball just 21 times. Neither Cole Beck nor Caleb Steward made an impact this season and remain unknowns entering the offseason.

There is no Devyn Ford on the way to make things better, but Tech does have two running backs committed in the 2019 class. Keshawn King and Tahj Gary could surprise in their first seasons, but they can’t be relied on as true freshmen.

Virginia Tech needs Jalen Holston to take a giant leap forward this offseason. He’ll be entering his third season in the program, which is generally when you know if a player is ever going to make an impact. He’s best-suited to fill Peoples’ role and alongside McClease, should at least be able to prevent a dropoff in production in 2019.

Finding answers at defensive tackle needs to be Virginia Tech’s No. 1 priority this coming offseason.

Ricky Walker won’t be around to stabilize things anymore. His veteran presence will be absent in 2019 and there is no clear heir apparent. Jarrod Hewitt will likely enter as the top tackle on the team, and Hewitt has yet to record a sack in his career. If that doesn’t highlight Tech’s problem, I don’t know what else does.

Behind Hewitt, it only gets worse. Xavier Burke hasn’t shown the ability to produce either, but at least he’ll be a fifth-year senior. Robert Porcher IV is still an unknown, as is Jaevon Becton.

Virginia Tech has three defensive tackles committed for 2019 — Norell Pollard (6-foot-1, 260 pounds), Mario Kendricks (6-foot-1, 285 pounds) and Brandon Dorlus (6-foot-3, 270 pounds). It’s possible that one or two of these guys could contribute as true freshmen, but relying on true freshmen on the defensive line usually isn’t a winning strategy.

Tech does have offers out to JUCO products Jaden Cunningham (6-foot-1, 326 pounds) and Nick Figueroa (6-foot-5, 270 pounds), but it’s unclear where Virginia Tech stands with either of those players. And even if they sign, who knows if they can be competitive.

Time will tell if Virginia Tech can fill their holes at defensive tackle, but it doesn’t look good from the start. The offseason development of Hewitt, Porcher IV and Becton will be critical.

11 thoughts on “Monday Mail: Reasons for Optimism and Concern in 2019 for Virginia Tech”

  1. Nice article, Ricky – well-written. Sounds like we can hope for some improvement in number of wins and more competitive games overall. Greater experience at every position will help, but getting a couple of good JUCO transfers could change the outlook significantly.

    1. Adding some JUCO players in the secondary and on the defensive line could go a long way. I’m unaware of any secondary JUCO players that Tech is after, but I’m sure they’re scanning the market.

      1. Well, we only have 4. It certainly isn’t QP…Willis is the presumed starter. CJF loves him some JJ. I would not be shocked to see either of those two leave.

        Willis would be great in a pro-style offense that doesn’t rely on the read-option/RPOs. He really sucks at those. If he is a grad transfer candidate, he should find another home to showcase himself for some potential shot at the pros.

        JJ is very cerebral, but not very physically talented. The epitome of a game manager. Unfortunately, he doesn’t play for a team that ONLY needs a game manager. VT’s offense needs a playmaker at QB to thrive. Again, he could play elsewhere, but isn’t going to star anywhere but DII. No NFL shot, but he could definitely play for some football teams with lower expectations…like UVa

    1. It’s possible that two quarterbacks transfer out, but I see it as highly unlikely. I think Hendon Hooker transfers this offseason, and that Jackson, Patterson and Willis enter 2019 in a three-way battle for the starting job. JJ and Willis obviously have a leg up in that competition.

  2. Hazelton is not in the doghouse he’s been hurt the past few games, even Fuente said as much unless you are insinuating that Fuente is using that as cover for Hazelton being in the doghouse.

    1. I think Dylan Rivers going to have to beat out either Ashby or Hollifield to play. Rivers doesn’t seem like a defensive end and is already to years into his career. He’s got enough talent to supplant Ashby, but it’s going to take a lot of work.

  3. We have Adkins, a running back, here in dickenson county VA He has already been offered by Penn State, Tenn., Fla. etc

    Where does VT stand or think about him? Lets quit furnishing Penn St. RB;s

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