User ID: Password:

May 18, 2012

Experienced and deep defensive line drew notice with play this spring

By: Jimmy Robertson

Luther Maddy

Tech’s defensive line made its presence felt this spring, recording sacks at a breakneck pace. The unit recorded at least seven sacks in every scrimmage, though to be fair, the officials blew the play dead quickly any time a defensive lineman came near a Tech quarterback. Also, the Hokies spent a lot of spring trying to break in some new offensive linemen, and the defensive line often got the better of that group.

Still, coming out of spring, this defensive line unit ranks as arguably the strongest part of the Hokies’ squad entering next fall. It features size, speed, experience, and maybe most importantly, depth.

“We need to be better than we were last year, and I’ll be disappointed if we’re not,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t have eight or nine guys that we can roll in and keep people fresh.”

James Gayle, a second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, and J.R. Collins, an honorable mention selection, return to man the end spots, and both enjoyed solid springs while seeing just enough action to keep them sharp. The same applied to returning tackles Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy, both of whom drew accolades for their limited work.

Wiles’ bigger challenge this spring was to build depth. He essentially played six guys last year, with Tyrel Wilson and Corey Marshall proving capable reserves. So he went into this spring with the plan to build an actual two-deep.

Getting to that point required having a few defensive ends buy in to the idea of playing some at defensive tackle. The trio of ends – Zack McCray, Justin Taylor and Marshall, who came to Tech as a defensive end, but played tackle last season – all showed a willingness, especially when Wiles pointed out how the NFL’s New York Giants attacked people this past season en route to winning the Super Bowl.

They’re playing with four defensive ends,” Wiles said of the Giants. “The game anymore – look at what everybody’s doing on offense. You see a little bit of quarterback under center. You see a whole lot of spread to run the ball. You need athletes to make plays, numbers to numbers, sideline to sideline, and be able to run.

“We’re trying to get our best, fastest, most athletic guys and put them in a position to get on the field where we can really maximize our personnel.”

All three ends enjoyed solid, if not great, springs, and all three possess the versatility now to help at both tackle and end. In particular, McCray stood out, as the former SuperPrep and PrepStar All-American was much more physical this spring than in the past.

“I thought it would be a good move for Zack,” Wiles said. “It was a good move for us and a good move for him, just to get him some more playing time, and he was positive about it. No attitude. No sulking. Just all about the team. He jumps in there, and he’s playing hard inside and playing hard at defensive end. He’s making plays at both positions. He’s been physical. He’s been good. He’s been what I would expect him to be.

“When we talked to Corey about playing defensive tackle [last year], he was all about the team. Coach [Beamer] said, ‘If you want to go back and play defensive end in the spring, that’s what we’ll do,’ so that’s what we were doing. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by his athleticism out there. Corey is a good football player. He needs to get better fundamentally. He does a lot of things on just ability. But he can play defensive end and defensive tackle. Justin Taylor is the same way. By playing both positions, that gives him a better opportunity.”

The emergence of Kris Harley, a redshirt freshman, toward the end of spring gives Wiles another tackle. Harley played outstanding in Tech’s April 14 scrimmage, finishing with two sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss. His continued development, along with that of McCray, Marshall and Taylor, would enable Wiles to rest Hopkins more – something he wants to do.

“You look at it, and Derrick [Hopkins] played too many plays last year,” Wiles said. “He got worn down as the year went along. He can be better playing 40 plays a game instead of 60.”

Of course, all this doesn’t even account for the return of Antoine Hopkins, who tore his ACL in the Clemson game last fall and sat out this spring. A 17-game starter in his career, the 6-foot-1, 318-pound redshirt senior figures to be 100 percent by August, but he’ll need to come into fall camp in great shape to usurp Maddy from the top spot on the depth chart.

That’s just how deep this defensive line is.

“I’ve told Hop [Antoine Hopkins] that he better get ready to compete,” Wiles said. “Because Luther is playing well right now. If he needs to be motivated, just turn the video on. He’s been watching the video with us, so he knows.”


Stud ends

99 James Gayle (6-4, 260, r-Jr.)
66 Tyrel Wilson (6-1, 220, r-Jr.)
90 Dadi Nicolas (6-2, 223, r-Fr.)
87 Dewayne Alford (6-3, 229, Fr.)


42 J.R. Collins (6-2, 252, r-Jr.)
95 Zack McCray (6-5, 245, r-Soph.)
91 Matt Roth (6-2, 236, r-Fr.)
93 Justin Taylor (6-2, 253, r-Fr.)

Nose tackles

98 Derrick Hopkins (6-0, 305, Jr.)
96 Corey Marshall (6-1, 250, Soph.)


92 Luther Maddy (6-1, 288, Soph.)
97 Kris Harley (6-0, 283, r-Fr.)

(Injured: defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins missed spring practice while recovering from ACL surgery)