At this point, Virginia Tech redshirt senior Michael Via barely bats an eye whenever offensive line coach Curt Newsome asks him about sliding over to a different position in the trenches. During his career, he has completed two training camps as a tackle, another as a center and rotated with right guard Jaymes Brooks at times last year.
Breaking in four new starters along the line this season, Virginia Tech always figured Via would be insurance should one of those players falter. This week, the Hokies cashed in that policy, moving their utility lineman from tackle to right guard and giving him a chance to win the starting job from redshirt sophomore Brent Benedict.
Newsome said Wednesday both would play in Virginia Tech’s season opener against Georgia Tech on Monday night, although the exact rotation is still undecided.
“Michael, he’s bigger than he was a year ago. That has something to do with it,” said Newsome, who added that he’s allowing both players to compete to be the starter this week in practice. “He’s a physical guy and has played a lot of snaps at the position.”
Via added weight to his frame while rehabbing from ACL surgery on his left knee this offseason, and now tips the scales at 304 pounds. But he has never been quite sure why he is so proficient at being a chameleon of sorts. He figures it’s because he played several positions along the line at Northeast Guilford High in McLeansville, N.C., where his father also happened to coach the offensive line.
Regardless, Via feels more prepared than ever to contribute in games for the Hokies this year. He started two games at center as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
“I’m definitely stronger and bigger than I’ve been, so I know I’ll be able to get in there on a defensive tackle and push him around a little more than I’m used to,” Via said.
He’ll need all of the strength he can muster against the Yellow Jackets, because 6-foot-7, 345-pound nose tackle T.J. Barnes is the centerpiece of Georgia Tech’s 3-4 defense.
The offensive line must endure the biggest adjustment playing against a 3-4 scheme rather than one with four down linemen. As play caller Mike O’Cain put it, running up the middle against Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh is particularly difficult because “the techniques of the defensive linemen are a little different. They lock onto you. They have a lot of what we refer to as a two-gap player. They aren’t necessarily trying to rush the passer or get up field. They’re just space eaters in there.”
It can also be difficult to identify blitzers, and this added complexity is why Newsome is reticent to simply hand the reins solely to Benedict at right guard. Even though the Georgia transfer is now three seasons removed from his senior year of high school, it’s easy to forget he has yet to appear in a college game.
“I like him in one-on-one battles,” Newsome said of Benedict. “He was a scout-team guy a year ago. Came from another program. He’s got all new terminology. He’s had 15 days of spring practice and he’s had a fall camp. That’s hard. There’s a lot of new terms. There’s a lot of new things going on.
“As far as when he knows exactly what he’s doing and making a block, I trust him and I like how physical he is.”. . .
That isn’t the only starting job up for grabs heading into Monday’s game. The Hokies’ game notes were released Wednesday and it included several “ors” at various positions.
For instance, redshirt junior James Gayle or classmate Tyrel Wilson will start at one defensive end and redshirt junior J.R. Collins or sophomore Corey Marshall will start on the other side. Gayle has been nursing an ankle injury throughout training camp, but took part in Wednesday’s practice.
At wide receiver opposite senior Marcus Davis, the Hokies list both Dyrell Roberts and D.J. Coles as starters. Coles has been recovering from offseason knee surgery and only recently was cleared to practice fully. At tight end, the starter will be either sophomore Ryan Malleck or senior Eric Martin.
The release of a game week depth chart also clarified the special teams situation. Freshman A.J. Hughes is listed as Virginia Tech’s starting punter ahead of former All-Met Hunter Windmuller. Roberts, meanwhile, will handle the punt return duties and wide receiver Demitri Knowles and running back J.C. Coleman will begin the year as the team’s kickoff returners.
Former All-Met Michael Branthover will handle kickoffs after punting last year.