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May 12, 2009

The defensive tackle spots are in good shape, but the Hokies are hoping some ends emerge

By: Jimmy Robertson



47 Nekos Brown (6-2, 252, Sr.)

82 Steven Friday (6-4, 229, r-Jr.)


91 John Graves (6-3, 275, r-Jr.)

55 Isaiah Hamlette (6-4, 242, r-Fr.)

33 Chris Drager (6-3, 240, r-Soph.)


56 Demetrius Taylor (6-0, 262, r-Sr.)

93 Kwamaine Battle (6-0, 283, r-Soph.)

45 Joe Jones (6-2, 257, r-Fr.)


95 Cordarrow Thompson (6-2, 308, r-Sr.)

98 Antoine Hopkins (6-0, 295, r-Fr.)

53 Dwight Tucker (6-1, 285, r-Fr.)

59 Courtney Prince (6-3, 270, r-Fr.)

Defensive line coach Charley Wiles went into spring practice searching for some ends, with Orion Martin having graduated and with Jason Worilds out for the spring with a shoulder injury. Following spring practice, that position got a boost when the staff decided to move Chris Drager, who had an exceptional spring practice at tight end, to defensive end.

Drager’s move provides depth and talent to a spot in need of it. Before spring practice began, Wiles and defensive coordinator Bud Foster moved John Graves from tackle to end to give Graves some reps at the spot. They plan on keeping Graves at tackle, but could move him to end if Nekos Brown or Worilds get hurt in the fall.

“If Nekos or Jason got hurt, we could move him [Graves] out there [to end],” Wiles said. “John was solid for us this spring. He’s just a good football player. He always does a good job. I think the move out there was good for him.”

Wiles had hoped to see a lot of Steven Friday this spring, with the hope that Friday could develop into that much-needed third end. But Friday injured his elbow on the very first play of the first scrimmage and missed the rest of spring.

Antoine Hopkins (98) had a nice spring and a huge performance in the spring game.
“That was really unfortunate,” Wiles said. “He needed the work. He needed the reps and he needed to get better.”

Wiles did get to take a close look at a couple of redshirt freshmen – Isaiah Hamlette and Joe Jones (who ended up being moved to tackle following spring practice). But both need to get bigger, stronger and faster before they can help the Hokies against the likes of Alabama, Miami and others.

“Isaiah’s not quite ready to play,” Wiles said. “He needs to get faster and more physical. He does have a better understanding of the game and he showed some flashes.

“Joe did not show many flashes. He needs to play harder. He redshirted last fall, but he wasn’t able to do much because of a shoulder injury [he had surgery]. He needs to get stronger and more physical, so this summer is key for him.”

At tackle, the situation is much better. Cordarrow Thompson and Graves form a nice tandem, and Demetrius Taylor makes for a solid reserve. Taylor would move into a starting role if Graves were to be moved to end in the event of an injury.

“Cordarrow had a good spring,” Wiles said. “He’s done a nice job of keeping his weight in check. Demetrius had a nice spring, too. He gives great effort and he’s playing with much better technique. I’m really pleased with what he did this spring.”

Wiles also was pleased with some of his younger back-ups; a group that includes three redshirt freshmen and a redshirt sophomore. The redshirt freshmen are Courtney Prince, Antoine Hopkins and Dwight Tucker, and Kwamaine Battle is the redshirt sophomore. Unfortunately, Prince tore his ACL in the final scrimmage before the spring game and his status for next fall remains up in the air.

“Antoine is a guy who just got better every time out,” Wiles said of Hopkins, who had two sacks and scored a touchdown on a fumble return in the spring game. “He was a little up and down at times with his effort, but I think he’ll be more consistent. He can be a good player for us. And Kwamaine has separated himself a little. He was feeling his way around last year while coming back from those shoulder problems [two surgeries], but he made a lot of progress this spring.

“Courtney and Dwight did some things, too. I hate that Courtney got injured because he was probably my surprise of the spring. Dwight has some potential. He needs to improve his technique, though.”

The summer will be critical for this unit, probably more so than any other position on the team. Most of them need to get bigger and stronger – and they need to stay healthy.

“The key for us is staying healthy,” Wiles said. “We really can’t afford any injuries at those end spots.”

The depth chart doesn’t include Worilds, who did not practice this spring, but should be ready next fall. Wiles also said a few freshmen will get close looks, including Lanford Collins, James Gayle, Duan Perez-Means and Tyrel Wilson.