Virginia Tech football playing ‘musical chairs’ with offensive line

New Virginia Tech offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has been fond of using the phrase “Fab 5” on Twitter lately as a nod to the future. He has been on a recruiting tear in recent months, collecting five oral commitments from offensive line prospects who reside in places like New Jersey and Ohio, where the Hokies previously had a minimal presence.

If only it was that easy to anoint his five starters for Virginia Tech’s season opener against two-time defending national champion Alabama. After telling reporters before training camp began Monday that his offensive line would look like “musical chairs” this month, Grimes backed it up the past two days.

After starting practice with a first unit that featured freshman Jonathon McLaughlin at left tackle, junior Caleb Farris at center and redshirt junior Brent Benedict at left guard, along with right guard Andrew Miller and right tackle Laurence Gibson, Grimes shuffled the deck Tuesday.

Out went McLaughlin and Benedict, while Farris moved from center to left guard. Grimes then inserted sixth-year senior David Wang (Stone Bridge), formerly a guard, at center and moved redshirt junior Mark Shuman, a tackle who switched to guard during spring practice, back to left tackle.

On Wednesday, however, Grimes switched his starting lineup again. Now Wang is still listed at center, but McLaughlin and Benedict have returned to their spots as Virginia Tech’s first-team left tackle and left guard, respectively.

It seems the Hokies will have to get used to such unpredictability over the coming weeks.

“I’m not settled at all and I really like it like that,” Grimes said Monday. “I told them in our first meeting: ‘Nobody has a position. Nobody’s earned anything yet and everyone has the opportunity to win a job.’ I don’t have necessarily a specific deadline to say we’ve got to have our starting unit by the end of Week 2 or Week 3. We’re just gonna let it play out and let the best five prove it to us.”

New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said he’d like to have a starting five on the offensive line sooner rather than later, but Grimes appears to be taking a more patient approach.

His arrival on campus has been a breath of fresh air for Hokies fans who have long complained about the team’s offensive line play. His statement during an introductory news conference this past February that his unit is “the tip of the spear” for an offense still resonates.

Grimes, who came to Virginia Tech from Auburn along with Loeffler, has taken that message to the recruiting trail. And the results are an indication of what he’s hoping to see from potential starters along the offensive line this season.

“For what we’re gonna do on offense, we need guys that are athletes at every position,” Grimes said. “We don’t want guys that are 335 pounds and can knock everybody off the ball, but can’t move laterally, can’t pass block, can’t get off on screens and block DBs on the perimeter. We need guys that are athletes, so I look for that with all of them.”

For clarity’s sake, Virginia Tech’s offensive line can only hope he finds what he’s looking for soon.

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