The easiest way to describe Virginia Tech’s offensive line this season is to focus on the four new starters that will be called upon to keep quarterback Logan Thomas upright and pave running lanes for a new tailback. That, though, wouldn’t do justice to the journeys right tackle Vinston Painter and left tackle Nick Becton needed to take in order to arrive at this moment.
To Coach Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech has “probably never had more talented big guys at offensive tackle than those two.” And now, for the first time during their collegiate careers, both redshirt seniors will be given ample opportunity to prove it.
Painter, a highly touted recruit from Norfolk, seemed to finally prove himself in spring practice. Becton, who could be entering his third year as a full-time starter if not for a turf toe injury before the 2010 season, is now being asked to protect Thomas’s blind side full-time after splitting reps with senior Andrew Lanier a year ago.
Should the two most physically imposing linemen on the roster manage to have breakout campaigns in their new roles, it would go a long way towards determining the success of the Hokies’ season. For now, their teammates are saying all right things about a tandem that is long in the tooth by college standards, but short on actual game experience.
“You say it’s a new offensive line, but . . . I have no worries whatsoever with those guys,” Thomas said.
Upon arriving on campus in 2008, neither Painter nor Virginia Tech’s coaches were exactly sure what he should be. At first, he played defensive tackle. Then in 2009, he moved to right guard. By spring practice the next year, Painter had transitioned outside to right tackle.
All the while, Painter wasn’t getting much playing time besides special teams duties, struggling to turn prodigious skills in the weight room that allowed him to record a 4.74-second 40-yard dash and a 465-pound bench press into tangible results. After considerable hype out of high school, Painter was labeled a bust because he had never been able to tap into his considerable physical attributes on the field.
But coaches saw a transformation this offseason as Painter ascended to the top of the depth chart with the graduation of ACC offensive lineman of the year Blake DeChristopher. The 6-foot-5, 304-pounder was more efficient with his movement coming out of a stance and took on more of a leadership role for this revamped offensive line. It prompted position coach Curt Newsome to comment this spring that Painter is much more confident as a football player than he was.”
“We just need to be demanding and make sure we get his best effort, because no one in that room has more tools than Vince has,” Newsome added.
Becton was on the verge of starting back in 2010 as Virginia Tech prepared to open the season against Boise State. But a turf toe injury was slow to heal, and Lanier took control of the position. Even last year when Becton split time with Lanier, he still did so from a reserve role.
Like Painter, the physical tools were never a question for Becton. With long arms and a 6-6, 328-pound frame, he is the prototypical left tackle. But his aggression was often called into question by Newsome, and it affected his run blocking. In essence, he was too nice.
But Becton out-performed Lanier down the stretch last year and ended the season with more than 450 snaps to his credit. Becton said his improved play was due to a “different mind-set” and his desire to “dominate.” Painter had a better way of describing Becton’s on field transformation: “He started playing like somebody’s stealing his car.”
“We know what we can do and we’re working extremely hard now,” the 6-6, 304-pound Painter added “We’re gonna prove the doubters wrong.”