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ACC All Access: Assessing Virginia Tech's spring practice shakeup on its offensive line

Though it's certain to change a few more times before Virginia Tech heads to Atlanta in August to open the season against Alabama, the Hokies' offensive line depth chart has undergone a serious shake-up this week.

With offensive guards David Wang (sprained right ankle) and Nick Acree (knee) out for the rest of the spring, Tech figured to make some adjustments to compensate for the absence of those guys in the final week-and-a-half of practices. Some of the depth chart adjustments are simply ripple effect caused by the injuries, but true freshman Jonathan McLaughlin's ascension to first team left tackle qualifies as a surprise.

Andrew Miller, who has recovered from a fractured left ankle that kept him out of the last six games last season, has been moved to first team right guard. Miller had been working at first team center, which was the spot he manned last season.

Brent Benedict, who is a returning starter at right guard, has shifted to first team left guard with Wang out for the rest of the spring. Wang entered the spring projected to be Tech's returning starter next season at left guard.

Caleb Farris, who played left guard with the first team in Monday's scrimmage after Wang suffered his injury, is now the first team center. Farris started five games at center last season after Miller went down.

All of the interior shuffling was somewhat predictable given how thin Tech suddenly finds itself at the guard spots, but McLaughlin has obviously done a lot in a short amount of time to impress new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes.

McLaughlin, a 6-foot-4, 306-pound native of Mauldin, S.C., enrolled early in January after spending last fall at Fork Union Military Academy. He was originally committed to East Carolina, but changed his mind while he was at FUMA. He committed Dec. 20 to Tech, and was enrolled in Blacksburg less than a month later.

In the first half of the spring, juniors Laurence Gibson and Mark Shuman worked as the first team ofensive tackles, with both players spending time at both left and right tackle. Now, McLaughlin has moved ahead of Shuman at left tackle, while Gibson remains the first team right tackle.


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One has to wonder exactly what hasn't connected to this point for Shuman, a 6-7, 314-pound Fork Union native who came out of FUMA's undergrad program considered one of the nation's top 10 offensive guards by some recruiting analysts, and among the nation's top 35 offensive tackles by other analysts.

In his first three years at Tech, including a redshirt year, he's played a grand total of 39 offensive snaps as a backup. Of course, his brother, Ryan, started the 2006 season at left guard for Tech, and the '08 season at center.

Perhaps moving McLaughlin to a first team role is a motivational tactic designed to get more out of upperclassmen (Gibson and Mark Shuman) who were expected to move into starting roles for the first time. On the other hand, maybe McLaughlin was under-recruited and it turns out he's skilled beyond his relative youth.

In the '10 and '11 seasons, Grimes was in his second and third of four seasons as Auburn's offensive line coach. In those two seasons, four of Grimes' linemen earned All-Southeastern Conference and/or All-America honors. The guy seems to have a knack for evaluating talent.

I'll be back in Blacksburg on Saturday morning for Tech's next open scrimmage. I'll obviously be keeping an eye on Tech's offensive line movement.


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