Worilds departure leaves youthful line for 2010

Jason Worilds, the redshirt junior defensive end for the Virginia Tech Hokies, declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft Thursday.

Worilds finished the 2009 season with 49 tackles, 11 for a loss, and 4.5 sacks.

Worilds is the 12th-rated defensive end according to nfldraftscout.com, making him a likely third or fourth-round pick.

The move seems to be a smart one for the second-team all-ACC performer, who has dealt with injury issues throughout his career. Clearly, Worilds did not want to risk a serious injury in 2010, costing him millions of potential dollars.

His departure leaves the Hokie defense in a tight spot next season. Already graduating on the defensive line are starters Nekos Brown, Cordarrow Thompson, and Demetrius Taylor.

John Graves is the only player on the 2010 roster with starting experience on the defensive line. The rising senior started eight games in 2009.

Chris Drager is expected to take Brown’s spot at the “stud” end position. Drager finished 2009 with 22 tackles and 2.5 sacks as the backup. He is a converted tight end who was stuck behind Greg Boone, Andre Smith, and Sam Wheeler on the depth chart, and the coaching staff felt Drager was too athletic to keep off the field entirely.

He was very impressive for the playing time he had this past season, the first year playing the position in his life. He will need plenty of repetitions in spring practice and will have high expectations come August.

As far as Worilds’ replacement, Steven Friday, a product of the high school juggernaut Phoebus, will step in for his senior season. Friday was a highly touted prospect out of Phoebus (he was a four-star recruit in the class of 2005, according to rivals.com) but has failed to live up to the hype so far. Here is his chance to validate those expectations.

Graves will anchor the interior of the defensive line. When healthy, he has been a dominant force at nose tackle, with great strength and quickness that would be expected of a former defensive end.

He was third on the team in 2009 with 10 quarterback hurries, despite being sixth on the defensive line in number of snaps played. When he is on the field for entire possessions at a time next season, he could have a breakout senior year.

The other defensive tackle will be Antoine Hopkins, a Richmond product out of Highland Springs High School. Hopkins played 20 snaps in the bowl game behind Taylor. Most Hokie fans would remember Hopkins for his interception and near return for a touchdown against Alabama in the season opener.

The coaching staff is very high on Hopkins and will need him to become more consistent at shedding blocks in the running game. His natural pass rushing ability for a defensive tackle is remarkable, and he could become a very poor man’s Ndamukong Suh next season (not trying to be sacrilegious—he simply plays a similar style).

As usual, defensive line coach Charley Wiles will have a very fast defensive line in 2010. The Hokies are notorious for having great depth in that unit and always having fresh bodies flying to the football.

When three of the four starters have no prior experience starting at this level, depth could be an issue. Here are some names to look for to emerge as the backup linemen next season.

· Isaiah Hamlette, Stud End: 6'4", 245 lbs., will be a redshirt sophomore, athletically ready to play, mental aspect of the game is holding him back so far.

· Kwamaine Battle, Nose Tackle: 6'0", 281 lbs., will be a redshirt junior, needs to commit himself in the offseason to improve strength and stay in shape.

· Dwight Tucker, Tackle: 6'1", 280 lbs., will be a redshirt sophomore and will battle Hopkins for starting spot.

· Zack McCray, Defensive End: 6'4", 240 lbs., will be a true freshman, seventh-rated defensive end in class of 2010 according to rivals.com.

· David Wang, Nose Tackle: 6'2", 310 lbs., will be a redshirt freshman, shoulder injury held him out of practice all season, but is a great athlete with strong football background (brother of graduating left tackle Ed Wang).


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