J.R. Collins isn’t the most demonstrative type on or off the field. So, when he came to a post-scrimmage media gab session Wednesday, it wasn’t surprising to see his initial reaction – thin, closed-mouth smile, head down, eyes looking up at reporters seemingly in anxious anticipation of what would be asked.
While his approach to interrogating media may be somewhat withdrawn, he actually doesn’t have any trouble expressing his feelings. Yet, as the quieter of the two men that bookend Tech’s defensive line, Collins is fine with the attention going elsewhere.
“Ever since I’ve been here, they’ve been talking a lot about (James) Gayle,” Collins said. “I don’t try to pay attention to it. I just play. I just do what I do. I’m only one guy on the field.”
If the season plays out the way many observers anticipate it will for Tech’s defense, Collins will have to get used to more of the spotlight, because people will likely be talking about both Collins and Gayle. Is there a chance Collins and Gayle could become Tech’s first defensive end duo to both reach double digits in sacks in a single season during Frank Beamer’s 26-year tenure as coach?
As esteemed colleague David Teel pointed out Monday, Tech leads the nation with 40 sacks from returning players. Gayle led the team last season with seven, while Collins was second with six.
Taking a deeper look inside sack numbers from an ACC and national perspective, it’s obviously no small feat for any player to reach double digits in sacks, much less two from the same team. Since 2008, the number of players in the country that have had 10 or more sacks has dropped dramatically with each passing season.
Last year, only 15 players in the nation had double digits in sacks. In 2010, the total was 19 players. It was 20 in ’09, and 28 in ’08. Maybe the further proliferation of mobile quarterbacks and various forms of option offense (spread option, triple option, read option, etc.) cropping up in playbooks has had something to do with the decrease in double-digit sack monsters.
No team last season had more than one player with 10 or more sacks. In the ’10 season, Fresno State defensive linemen Chris Carter (11) and Logan Harrell (10 1/2) reached the goal number, as did Troy defensive linemen Jonathan Massaquoi (13 1/2) and Mario Addison (10 1/2).
Central Florida defensive linemen Bruce Miller (13) and Jarvis Geathers (11) both had double-digit sacks in ’09.
The ’08 season marked the last time two players from schools in Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conferences hit the double-digit mark in sacks, with Oregon State defensive lineman Victor Butler (12) and defensive back Slade Norris (10), and Texas defensive lineman Brian Orakpo (11 1/2) and linebacker Sergio Kindle (10) getting it done. Nevada defensive linemen Dontay Moch (11 1/2) and Kevin Basped (10) also both had 10-plus sacks in ’08.
The last time a duo from an ACC school each had 10-plus sacks? Gotta go back to ’06, when Miami defensive linemen Kareem Brown (11) and Calais Campbell (10 1/2) effectively terrorized quarterbacks.
Beamer has had two players come close to getting 10 sacks each in a season, but it never happened. In ’08, ends Jason Worilds (eight) and Orion Martin (7 1/2) were both within range. In ’02, Cols Colas and Phoebus High graduate Nathaniel Adibi – both ends – each had nine sacks.
The vaunted 1999 Tech defense featured the combo of ends Corey Moore and John Engelberger, who teamed to have the most total sacks (24) in a single season by a starting end duo in Tech history. Still, they came just short of both players getting 10-plus sacks, as Moore had 17 and Engelberger had seven.
In ’98, Moore had 13 1/2 sacks, while Engelberger had 7 1/2. Current Tech outside linebackers coach and assistant defensive ends coach Cornell Brown’s best season as an end in his Hokie playing days came in ’95, when he had 14 sacks. Fellow end Hank Coleman had seven sacks that season.
While certainly mind-numbing, all of these numbers further demonstrate just how challenging it is for one player on a defense to reach double digits in the sack category, much less two. Are Gayle and Collins capable of getting it done?
Well, they’ll both have to stay healthy first of all. Gayle, a Bethel High graduate, has been hobbled in the preseason with ankle injuries. Collins was bothered early this week by a bruised right quadriceps muscle, and a sore left knee around mid-week.
Before people get too carried away with the notion of Collins, Gayle and the rest of Tech’s promising defensive line having a season for the ages and at least challenging Florida State for recognition as most productive defensive line in the ACC, Gayle hopes fans pump the brakes a time or two.
“I think people are giving us a little too much credit,” Gayle said. “We know we’re capable of being the best (defensive) line in the ACC, but we’ve got a lot to prove. We know that. We haven’t done everything we know we can do.”
Collins echoes Gayle’s thoughts.
“I don’t know if we’re getting talked up or not, but we do have to go out and earn respect,” said Collins, a Stafford native who had 57 tackles last season, including 9 1/2 tackles for loss. “People aren’t going to give us. That comes from just working hard.”