Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sugar Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech Offensive Line

Guest poster Ryan provides his third Virginia Tech Hokies position group review.

Previously: Offensive backfield; Receiving corps.

Virginia Tech Offensive Line
Although the Hokie offensive line is not bred of the corn-fed big men that populate many of the BIG’s lines, they still love battling in the trenches, especially in the run game. Averaging a bit over 6-4 and 302 lbs., the line consists of four redshirt senior starters with the same unit starting all 13 games. When called upon in the running game the unit delivers, averaging 189 yards per game. Logan Thomas also has felt very comfortable when he drops back to pass since the unit has allowed 15 sacks, which is tied for the second-fewest in the ACC with Virginia (Georgia Tech allows the fewest due to their triple-option attack). If the unit is effective in establishing the run then it is hard to break their rhythm and if they establish a groove, then it makes the Hokies’ offense play well. Therefore, if Michigan is to neutralize Logan Thomas and David Wilson, in turn keeping the ball away from the playmakers at wide receiver, then they must win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Tackles – RT Blake DeChristopher #62; LT Andrew Lanier #72/Nick Becton #54
Blake DeChristopher, RT
The undisputed leader of the offensive line is redshirt senior Blake DeChristopher. Standing at 6-5, 311 lbs., he is the most experienced member with 50 career starts. The first-team All-ACC right tackle has recorded a unit-high 101 knockdown (or pancake) blocks and has led the team in that category in eight of the Hokies 13 games, including a 15 knockdown block performance against UVA. He earned ACC lineman of the week honors three times this season while averaging a coaches’ score of 90.6%, the best amongst his comrades. On top of all that, he sports Blacksburg’s favorite beard.
Blake's Beard
The left tackle is redshirt senior Andrew Lanier. Though Lanier has started all 13 games for the Hokies, he has rotated with redshirt junior Nick Becton in each of those competitions. The 6-5, 306 lbs. Lanier is in his second year as a starter for Beamer’s squad and sees the majority of the snaps at the position. Between Lanier and the 6-6, 326 lbs. Becton, the position has averaged a coaches’ score of 87%. There is no disguising that this is the weakest position of the offensive line in the passing game, but the position is still very reliable in the running game. The problem has not necessarily been ability, but more technical. Lanier and Becton can be caught flat-footed and high at times, allowing speedy and athletic ends and blitzers to collapse the pocket. Exhibit AB (Andre Branch):

Interior – RG Jaymes Broooks #68; LG Greg Nosal #75; C Andrew Miller #74
At right guard is redshirt senior Jaymes Brooks, the second-most experienced lineman on the Hokies’ unit with 41 starts. A second-team All-ACC member, Brooks is second on the team with 51 knockdown blocks and averaged a coaches’ score of 88.6%. Though he is by far the shortest starting lineman at 6-2, Brooks is perhaps the strongest of all his peers and his build and technique make him an ideal run-blocker.
Redshirt senior Greg Nosal is the Hokies’ starter at left guard. Standing at 6-5, 297 lbs., Nosal earned honorable mention All-ACC honors while compiling 78 knockdown blocks and averaging a coaches’ score of 88% in his second year as a Hokies starter. Nosal is most known for playing with a piece of his pinky missing in last season’s game against Central Michigan.
Starting at center is the youngest and tallest member of the Hokies’ offensive line in 6-6, 290 lbs. redshirt sophomore Andrew Miller. Miller faced some adversity early in his career, suffering a shoulder injury while the team was practicing for the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl bout against Tennessee during his redshirt season. After being limited during last season’s summer practice due to the surgery, Miller recovered nicely, serving as the team’s backup at both center and guard last season. He also was named the team’s best offensive newcomer in last spring’s workouts. Miller, like Nosal and DeChristpoher, is a very balanced lineman who can block in both the run and pass game and has emerged as a very reliable player in the middle of the line. For the season, Miller averaged a coaches’ score of 87% with 57 knockdowns.
Below is a compilation of some of the Hokies’ best runs of the season. On most of these runs, the line was able to get lock on their blocks, get a good push and get to the second level.

In the next installment, we switch focus to the Hokies’ defensive line and linebackers.

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