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July 27, 2013

Summer Questions #4: Grimes' OL

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Summer Questions Series No. 4: Can Grimes Get It Done In Year One?

Coach Frank Beamer hired Jeff Grimes this offseason to produce a tough, hard-nosed, physically dominating offensive line. The process is ongoing, and Grimes has secured four commitments for the future. But the immediate judgment lies ahead. How well can Grimes get these guys to play in year one, and how exactly should he be judged?

As of this writing (July 25), the offensive line appears to be:

LT - Jonathan McLaughlin LG - Brent Benedict C - Caleb Farris RG - Andrew Miller RT - Laurence Gibson

The heart and soul of this group is in the middle, where guys like Farris and Miller are expected to lead the way. Miller is an All-ACC caliber lineman who was lost for much of last season with a broken ankle. Farris has been talked about as a potential breakout star for two years now and provided he can stay healthy, brings the kind of grit and toughness the Hokies need. He battled a severe ankle sprain for much of last season as well. Benedict possesses the kind of brute strength and physicality, but needs to be more consistent. Up the gut is where this group is going to be strongest.

However, the success of this group depends on the play of the offensive tackles. McLaughlin enrolled in the spring after a semester at FUMA and quickly emerged as the best offensive tackle. That says something about the rest of the tackles, but it also speaks to this guy's potential. He is a true freshman according to NCAA rules, but his semester at FUMA last year essentially makes him a redshirt freshman.

Most of the time, freshman offensive tackles get to learn the ropes at the less important right tackle position. Not the case for McLaughlin, who must jump in right away at perhaps the second most important position on offense. He will be tasked with protecting quarterback Logan Thomas' blind side, which is of the utmost importance heading into 2013.

If McLaughlin succeeds, the Hokies should be, at the very least, fine up front. If he fails, strap in for a long season and get ready backup quarterback Mark Leal.

The other offensive tackle is Laurence Gibson, who nearly played as a true freshman, never really established himself under former assistant Curt Newsome, and switched positions multiple times in the last year or two. Since Grimes arrived at Virginia Tech, Gibson has emerged as the starter at right tackle and will be counted on in 2013. His role isn't as important as McLaughlin's, but the freshman falters, look for Gibson to be the first guy to get a look at moving to the opposite side of the line.

He recruited none of the guys he is coaching right now, so Grimes must play with the hand he is dealt. As a coach, that's your job, not an excuse, so any honeymoon period where he gets a pass for them not being his guys needs to be thrown out right now. I imagine Grimes will tell you that as well. His job is to coach these guys to succeed and make this football team better. If he doesn't, he has failed at his job for this season.

Now, does that mean he gets fired? Absolutely not. The big picture here is that this will be a process, and when Grimes does get his guys, then the clock really starts ticking.

However, with five weeks to go before the Hokies line up against Alabama, there is no time to think two or three years down the road. No one wants to go 7-6 again, so the important thing is on the task for the next 12 months. That means Grimes needs to get these guys ready to go and play well.

Should the vultures start circling overhead if the offensive line struggles early or at any point this season? No. But should there be expectations that this offensive line perform at an adequate level? Absolutely.



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