July 31, 2007
BLACKSBURG It wasn't too long ago when Duane Brown knew what it was like to be learning the game he'd played most of his life all over again. He was forced to look at it from a new perspective, one that would mean rarely (if ever) touching the ball again.
Now he's helping a teammate make the same transition.
Brown, a wide-eyed offensive line neophyte two seasons ago, has become the sage veteran. The success of Virginia Tech's football team this coming season could depend on how quickly Ed Wang learns to play Brown's old right tackle position.
When Brown moved from tight end to right tackle before the start of the 2005 season, his general location on the field didn't change much, but his responsibilities morphed completely. The glamour days were over. It was time for a life of getting dirty with the grunts. Wang, a 6-5, 309-pound sophomore, is in the process of attempting the same transition.
Last December, Wang started to split backup reps at right tackle and tight end during Tech's pre-Chick-fil-A Bowl preparations. With pre-bowl practices, spring practice and preseason practices to get acclimated to the tackle position, Wang won't have nearly the crash-course experience Brown had when he switched. In 2005, Brown was given two weeks to get ready for a starting role at a tackle position that suddenly had become painfully thin for the Hokies.
"My first game (at right tackle in a 20-16 win at N.C. State) wasn't the same as Wang's first game will be (Sept. 1 against East Carolina) because I was going against Mario Williams (the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft)," said Brown, a 6-5, 302-pound senior. "That was a learning experience in itself."
Of course, Wang won't have to wait long for an early season litmus test a lot like the one Brown had against Williams. On Sept. 8, Tech will travel to play at LSU, where Wang undoubtedly will see his share of defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, a preseason All-America candidate.
Brown is in the midst of another learning experience. He is one of four projected starting offensive linemen (including Wang) for Tech who will be playing a new position this season.
Brown moved from right tackle, where he started the last two seasons, to left tackle, where he will protect the blind side of quarterback Sean Glennon (the presumed starter). Ryan Shuman, who started at left guard last season, will be the center. Nick Marshman, who played both guard and tackle last season but was listed primarily as a tackle, likely will be the starting left guard.
None of those moves was more critical than Wang's new role.
Just consider tailback Branden Ore's comfort zones. Ore, a preseason first-team All-ACC selection, appeared to be most comfortable last season when he was able to cut back and bounce outside behind Brown on the right side. Will running lanes be as readily available with Wang at right tackle?
Nobody understands the difficulty of the move Wang is making more than Brown does.
"When I was at tight end, we had to block a lot, but we weren't required to just drive someone five yards downfield," Brown said. "You were helping the tackle most of the time. Just being man-on-man every play and blocking a guy (at tackle), it was a lot I had to learn, and pass protection, too."
In truth, given the relative uncertainty of Tech's tight end position (where Greg Boone struggled at times last season and Sam Wheeler looks poised to take over as the starter), it was a little surprising when Wang got moved to tackle.
Wang came out of Stone Bridge High in Ashburn, Va., in 2005 rated by most recruiting services as one of the nation's top 15 tight end prospects. Maybe there isn't as much genuine confidence as has been indicated by the coaching staff about the development of the program's young tackles, such as redshirt freshmen Aaron Brown and Clark Crum (both highly touted out of high school) and sophomore Richard Graham.
Any kind of nervousness regarding the status of Tech's line would be understandable. Tech returns three o-line starters (Brown, Shuman, right guard Sergio Render), but the unit ranked 10th in the ACC last season in sacks allowed (2.2 per game) and contributed to the offense being ranked 99th in the nation in total offense (295 yards per game).
Brown is aware of those two statistics, and they make his skin crawl.
"When everybody talked about the weak points of Virginia Tech's team, it was the offensive line," Brown said. "Being the leader and the senior of the group, I really take that to heart.
"We went into this spring with a new attitude about our determination and our aggressiveness. We just have to add that demeanor to it, that nobody can stop us. We didn't really have that last year."
BEAMER: DOOR OPEN FOR TAYLOR
Though the assumption all summer was that freshman quarterback Tyrod Taylor would redshirt the 2007 season, Tech coach Frank Beamer recently indicated that there's at least a chance Taylor will play this fall.
At the ACC Kickoff in late July, Beamer was asked if Taylor had a chance to get on the field as a freshman. Taylor is listed at 6-2 and 185 pounds, but he's probably closer to being just a hair over 6-0. His arm is plenty strong for an 18-year-old, but he needs to pack on more muscle if Tech wants him to play a role similar to the one Michael Vick played as Tech's quarterback in 1999 and 2000.
Yet Beamer didn't rule out Taylor's on-field availability for this fall. It was difficult to read if Beamer may have just been trying to appease his star recruit with the hint of a chance at early playing time, or if Beamer's impressions of Taylor's readiness were genuine.
Either way, Beamer didn't sugarcoat the possibilities. With Glennon, sophomore Ike Whitaker and junior Cory Holt all ahead of Taylor on the depth chart, the odds that Taylor will see playing time this season are slim at best. It would become a real possibility only if Glennon or Whitaker got hurt.
"I think we see where things are," Beamer said. "I think it's tough for a freshman to come in. What you don't want to do is, you don't want to put him in a situation before he's ready to be in that situation. There's just a lot of stuff going on from the time you get the play to the time you call the play to getting to the line (of scrimmage), and you've got the 25-second clock running. There's just a lot of stuff going on, and I think experience is a valuable thing."