When Virginia Tech offensive line coach Curt Newsome got his first in-depth look at what Georgia transfer Brent Benedict was capable of, he quickly came away concerned about Benedict’s ability to block in space and his “extreme learning curve.” Though Benedict took most of the first-team repetitions at right guard during spring practice, his starting spot was anything but a certainty entering training camp.
It seems, however, that Benedict spent the summer transforming his body. At 304 pounds now, he’s dropped 30 pounds since arriving in Blacksburg last July. As a result, it appears the Hokies are preparing for Benedict to be the starting right guard when Virginia Tech faces Georgia Tech to open the regular season next month.
“He’s moving better and he understands a little more,” Newsome said recently. “He still has some moments where you’re like, ‘Why doesn’t he understand that yet?’ That’s the thing we’ve got to eliminate. You can’t have one or two of those a quarter, or you’re getting your quarterback hit or somebody’s in the backfield. But he’s working at it, he cares, he’s had a great attitude and I like the way he’s moving around.”
The offensive line will be a focus throughout the season, but since training camp opened, Virginia Tech’s players and coaches have tried to play down the uncertainty that comes with losing four starters from a year ago.
Instead they’re focusing on the years of experience within the program that the team enjoys in the trenches. Tackles Vinston Painter and Nick Becton are both redshirt seniors and left guard David Wang is in his fourth year at Virginia Tech. Center Andrew Miller is a redshirt junior who started every game last season.
In regards to Becton and Painter, Coach Frank Beamer noted this past weekend “we’ve probably never been that big and that talented with two tackles that you plan on starting.”
“I feel like there’s a lot of good athletes and a lot of these guys have gotten snaps before,” Benedict added. “I’m really the only guy who hasn’t gotten snaps on a college football field before. I’m taking my cues from them and I’ve learned a lot. We’ve got a lot of potential.”
Benedict was particularly happy with the weight loss because, through Virginia Tech’s strength and conditioning program, he actually got stronger in the weight room. You’ll remember, part of the reason Benedict left Georgia last year was because of a disagreement with the school’s training staff over how to rehabilitate his injured knee.
The redshirt sophomore also gained a new appreciation while sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, reflecting on the journey he has been on since emerging as a four-star recruit coming out of the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla in 2009. He came to Virginia Tech while still recovering from major knee surgery that took place when he was a high school senior, and three years later, he’s finally on the cusp of seeing the field again.
“It takes time, moving to a new place and all that kind of stuff. Blacksburg is a very humble place, and I feel very comfortable here now,” Benedict said. “I’m blessed and fortunate to even be playing this sport anymore.”
As for who will be Virginia Tech’s replacements along the offensive line should any starters get injured, Newsome said two viable options have already emerged. Redshirt senior Michael Via is back from offseason knee surgery and will likely be the first player off the bench this year because of his experience playing every position along the line.
Another intriguing option is sophomore Caleb Farris, who is taking snaps at both center and guard in hopes of getting him some immediate playing time.
“We don’t want him to just back up Andrew [Miller]. We think he’s talented enough to help us on the field and center’s a position that you don’t interchange very often,” Newsome said.