So far this spring, Virginia Tech’s offensive coaching staff hasn’t shied away from acknowledging the challenges that await its revamped offensive line, which lost four starters to graduation following the conclusion of the 2011 season. But perhaps nobody faces a tougher assimilation into a new role than right guard Brent Benedict.
The redshirt sophomore transferred to Virginia Tech last July after going to Georgia in 2010 as a heralded four-star prospect, and spent the fall on the Hokies’ scout team. But this spring, he is working as one of Virginia Tech’s starting guards along with redshirt junior David Wang.
Penciling Benedict in as a starter come opening day, however, will be incumbent on how he progresses the next few weeks and into the summer.
“Since he’s been here, he’s always been running somebody else’s offense and going off a card, and then there’s really a year off from really working aggressively on pass sets and footwork and all those little things that encompass being an offensive lineman” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “Obviously there’s an extreme learning curve for him.”
Benedict, who has yet to play in a regular season college game, agreed with a reporter Wednesday after practice that it has been a journey for him since his days as a star recruit in Jacksonville, Fla.
He suffered a devastating knee injury during his senior year of high school that lingered into his first season in Athens, Ga. After going through spring practice a year ago, Benedict decided to transfer because he was unhappy with the way Georgia’s training staff dealt with the rehabilitation for his knee.
He has been itching to get back on the field ever since, but not before making some adjustments. The most notable is his size.
Benedict said he lost 15 or 20 pounds since the fall and is now listed at 311 pounds on Virginia Tech’s spring roster. But he was quick to point out that through the Hokies’ strength and conditioning program, he has still gotten stronger.
“I feel better. I feel like I move better,” said Benedict, who was recruited by the Hokies coming out of high school as well. “I think I was a little too heavy when I came in here.”
It seems movement is the key to Benedict’s game, for better or worse. That’s why the Hokies quickly made the decision to move Benedict from tackle – the position he played in high school – to guard when he arrived on campus.
Offensive line coach Curt Newsome has been initially impressed with the physicality Benedict brings to an offensive line that could have four players who tip the scales at more than 300 pounds next season. But he also conceded that “space is not his friend” when discussing Benedict’s technique.
“I don’t really mean to say he can’t move around, but he’s got a little road grader in him and he’s a better player covered up” by the right tackle, Newsome said.
Added Stinespring: “I think what we’ve seen thus far is we really think he’s gonna be in the mix. How that unfolds, we’ll see.”
This spring is crucial for Benedict and company to develop some cohesion and chemistry once fall training camp arrives in August. Even though there will be four new faces come opening day, Benedict would be the only player without at least three years in Virginia Tech’s program if he were to be in the starting lineup.
It’s also important to remember that redshirt senior Michael Via isn’t participating in spring practice this year because of offseason knee surgery, but the coaching staff is comfortable playing him at any position along the line.
Still, Newsome is trying to be more accommodating with this group, knowing well that growing pains are inevitable. It certainly isn’t like last season when the Hokies understood exactly what they were going to get from stalwarts like Blake DeChristopher and Jaymes Brooks.
“I think that he’s being more patient with us, which is a good thing for me,” Benedict said. “It’s a young group and I think that’s what has to happen with all the learning, the learning curve going on right now.
“I think that all the way across the board, all five guys are big, physical guys and I think that’s going to be something that plays a positive role on the team,” he added. “I feel like we’re better off than we were on Day One, but we still have a long way to go.”
On an unrelated note, Virginia Tech will hold its first full scrimmage of the spring Saturday morning at Lane Stadium. The action gets underway at 10:45 a.m. and it is free and open to the public. If you can’t make it, check the @HokiesJournal Twitter feed for updates and come back here to the blog in the afternoon for a breakdown of what happened.