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Lack of depth a concern for Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer has yet to go into great detail as to what exactly ails his 0-2 Hokies, but since Saturday's defeat to James Madison, one point of emphasis has come up: "We need to execute better."

That phrase is a reporter's worst nightmare. It really means nothing. But the thought is, if you're not executing well, then maybe personnel changes are in order. It was during this line of questioning where Beamer finally cracked a bit.

There will be no significant personnel changes on either side of the ball, other than defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins taking the spot of starter Kwamaine Battle, who went down with a torn ACL against James Madison. There's a reason for this, despite an inconsistent offensive line and a litany of missed tackles and assignments on defense. The Hokies coaching staff has little faith in their reserves right now.

"The real issue is we'd like some back-ups to come along," said Beamer. "In both our games, every series has been critical. That kind of affects your ability to put a guy in there that you’re not quite sure about."

In particular, this lack of depth has hurt Virginia Tech in the trenches. The Hokies did not play any of their reserve offensive linemen against James Madison, and Virginia Tech center Beau Warren admitted Tuesday the linemen were worn out following the Hokies 17-play touchdown drive to begin Saturday's game, but thought after some rest, they were "back on track."

Beamer saw differently after watching the game film. He thought the offensive line was "gassed" and "played better in that first series than we did after that. I think it’s just a fact, we gotta get some of our back-ups in there on the offensive line.”

On the other side of the ball, the loss of Battle and defensive end Chris Drager to injury means the defensive line rotation includes just three players with any sort of playing experience before this season. Redshirt freshman J.R. Collins started at defensive end against James Madison, and now redshirt freshman James Gayle and true freshman Derrick Hopkins must take over as the primary back-up at defensive end and defensive tackle, respectively.

"I really was surprised, when we were talking in the headsets in the fourth quarter, that Tech was not rotating, they did not substitute a lot in the defensive line," James Madison Coach Mickey Matthews said Monday. "And I thought our depth in the defensive line paid huge dividends in the second half because we were much fresher. And once again, I think the scheduling really hurt them. You can’t make light of that, I thought it was a huge factor in the game. I thought their kids weren’t mentally sharp in the second half, and that’s what usually happens. In the first quarter, you can fake it for awhile. I thought they really were not as sharp mentally or physically in the second half.”

The lines, though, aren't the only spot where the Hokies find themselves thin. At linebacker, the continued absences of redshirt sophomore Alonzo Tweedy (groin), who was expected to share time with Jeron Gouveia-Winslow as a whip, and redshirt junior Barquell Rivers, has left Virginia Tech's defense in a vulnerable position.

The Hokies have given up two plays of 70 yards or longer on third down this year -- the 71-yard third-quarter touchdown run by Boise State's D.J. Harper and the 77-yard second quarter touchdown reception by James Madison's Jamal Sullivan -- and both were a direct result of shoddy tackling by linebackers. But with no viable back-ups he can trust, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has had to let his team learn from their mistakes while staying on the field.

"I'm concerned about our linebacker depth," said Foster. "You got some guys who have played two games, and they still got a lot of growing and experience to experience, so to speak, as far as plays and reads and those types of things. ... I’ve been disappointed by all the mental errors and critical errors, and missed tackles.

By Mark Giannotto  |  September 14, 2010; 3:02 PM ET
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Next: Is Virginia Tech's offense tipping its plays?


None of this is surprising.

Anybody who saw the first two games knows that they are having a problem with missed tackles and their offensive line.

The real question is whether they can fix it.

Posted by: Benson | September 14, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

The missed tackles will get fixed. Foster will see to that.

The o-line is a bigger concern. I don't think Lanier has the bulk to be an effective LT - he's only 275 lbs according to the roster. Getting Becton back should help the run game.

Re: depth... who knows. At least the starters will get used to playing the entire game. That should mean they play better each game, just from getting in better game shape.

All in all, things aren't as bad as they look. If going into the season I knew we lost the first game in the last minute and didn't punt in the second game, I would have assumed we showed up well against the #3 ranked team and blew out JMU.

Unfortunately, when you don't punt by virtue of having three good drives end in turnovers and one end in loss of downs, and three end in FGs instead of TDs, it's a loss.

Still 0-0 in the ACC. That's the important thing. All of our preseason goals aside from a national championship are still within reach.

Posted by: saltydog75 | September 15, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

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