Where Would an Injury "Hurt" the Most?
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 6/17/05

Injuries. No one likes to think about them happening to a player on their favorite team, but it's an undeniable fact that injuries can derail a game or a season just as fast as poor coaching, poor talent, or poor team chemistry. Virginia Tech has a lot of talent heading into the 2005 football season, but one unknown that can slow the Hokies down faster than anything is a key injury. Or two, or three.

Virginia Tech had a very good season last year, going 10-3, and you can make a case that an injury cost them one of their losses, maybe two. Namely, the injury to Xavier Adibi. Adibi went down with a detached bicep in the season opener against USC, and his absence later in the season against NC State arguably cost the Hokies a win over the Wolfpack.

NC State faced a 3rd and 15 in their first drive against the Hokies. Mikal Baaqee, who was subbing for Adibi, blitzed. Baaqee had Wolfpack QB Jay Davis dead to rights but simply missed the sack, and Davis dumped the ball off to T.A. McClendon. McClendon fought through a missed tackle by Eric Green and picked up the first down, and State later kicked a field goal … and won by one point, 17-16.

Would Adibi have made the tackle, ending that drive and leading to a Hokie victory? We'll never know, but judging by the way he dropped GT's Reggie Ball with an open-field tackle, I'll take Adibi's athleticism over the venerable Mikal Baaqee any day, and yes, Adibi probably would have made that tackle (after all, Jay Davis isn't Bryan Randall or a Vick brother).

All else being equal, a reasonable person can argue that Adibi's injury cost the Hokies a football game. In the interest of fairness, Baaqee's experience may have saved a game, because after all, it was Adibi and his redshirt freshman partner in crime, Vince Hall, who blitzed against USC and were burned by a dumpoff pass that Reggie Bush turned into a long touchdown.

Then again, Bush scored the clinching TD by beating Blake Warren on a play that Adibi, with his sideline-to-sideline range, may have made.

As usual, I'm rambling on too long, but you get my point: injuries change the outcomes of games and seasons.

Something else about injuries: On the human side, whenever a player gets a serious injury, we feel sympathy for a young man who has worked so hard to get on the playing field, but who suddenly is faced with some combination of pain, surgery, rehabilitation, and waiting, often until the next season. Or longer. George Bell tore his knee up his junior year in high school, and three years later, is only now getting back to full strength. The toll on a player's psyche, and sometimes even his life, is heavy.

But on the tactical side, we immediately start assessing the impact of the injury on the team's performance, be it the Hokies or an opponent. Will the injury create a weakness that can be exploited? Has the outcome of a game or a season just been affected? How will the replacement play? It might be an opportunity to see a hotshot recruit hit the field for the first time.

We hate to see young men get hurt, but the cold-blooded football fan in us is always close behind, whispering in our ear, "Take a peek at the depth chart."

This article is not about the human side of injuries. It's about the tactical side, about the effects a key injury can have on a season. I'm going to take a look at the Hokies, position by position, and list in order what positions would be affected the most by an injury. I'm going to take it from the position where an injury would have the least impact on the team to the position where an injury would have the most impact.

12. Wide Receiver

Josh Morgan, Josh Hyman, Justin Harper, David Clowney, Eddie Royal, Jeremy Gilchrist … that's a half-dozen competent-to-very good receivers, though Gilchrist is unproven, and all we know about him, in the words of practice observers, is that he catches everything.

The half-dozen receivers that the Hokies can throw at opponents all have different styles and bring different things to the table, but I think you'll agree that if one of them goes down, the Hokie offense won't bat an eyelash. (I sure would hate to see Eddie Royal get hurt, though.)

11. Tailback

The Hokies aren't as deep here with proven talent as they are at receiver, but they're in great shape with two good front-liners in Mike Imoh and Cedric Humes, and some very promising backups in George Bell and Branden Ore. John Candelas is no slouch, either, a bruising, rugged runner who could be a star in Division II or III. To weaken the tailback position considerably, you'd have to lose both Imoh and Humes, I think (perish the thought).

10. Fullback

My opinion that an injury at the fullback position wouldn't hurt much doesn't come from thinking that the Hokies have a lot of depth at the position. It comes from the fact that the fullback is being de-emphasized in the Hokie offense, having lined up in 2004 for much less than half of the plays from scrimmage (337 out of 813 offensive plays). Jesse Allen is the #1 fullback, and an injury to him would create a dropoff if the backup (Carlton Weatherford) came into the game or if John Kinzer was moved back from tight end, but with the reduced role the fullback has in the offense, how much would it matter?

9. Rover

Cary Wade and Aaron Rouse were neck and neck here coming out of spring practice, and you get the feeling that you could almost flip a coin and pick a starter, so one of them being out with injury wouldn't make much difference. But both of them being injured would be a disaster, because it would leave just D.J. Walton, with no one else currently listed on the depth chart at the position.

8. Cornerback

How much an injury would affect the cornerback position depends upon who it is that gets hurt. Jimmy Williams getting hurt would be a bad, bad thing, but on the upside, the Hokies have two other solid corners in Roland Minor and Brandon Flowers. If the injured cornerback is someone other than Williams (Minor or Flowers), it has even less effect.

An injury to any one of the top three corners does impact the nickel (three-corner) defense, thought the Hokies don't use that set a lot. VT didn't substitute very much at the corner spot last year, giving most of the snaps to Williams (638 snaps) and Eric Green (662 snaps), with Roland Minor (151 snaps) in the mix, but no one else getting significant playing time.

What's unsaid here is that an injury becomes a much more serious matter if either Flowers or Theodore Miller or both wind up getting suspended from the university or the football team due to their recent arrests.

7. Defensive Tackle

Jonathan Lewis is an All-ACC talent, and losing him from the defensive tackle rotation would represent a serious blow. I think Carlton Powell is set to have a good year as Lewis' counterpart, so the top two will be a dynamic duo. But as you know, the Hokies like to rotate defensive tackles, which means that Barry Booker and Tim Sandidge will see the field quite a bit, too.

But beyond that, if there's an injury, then Kory Robertson will play a lot, and the physically gifted Robertson is not ready yet. But that's not exactly a disaster. If you have two injuries, then Chris Burnette starts hitting the field, or perhaps Darryl Tapp gets moved over to defensive tackle full-time, and neither situation is a scenario you want to get into.

If there's only one injury and it's Lewis that's hurt, the injury is a big deal, but if one of the other tackles goes down, the impact isn't as severe. It's when two injuries happen here that things start to get serious.

6. Offensive line, particularly tackle

The general consensus of opinion is that VT's starting OL is decent, but the OL depth is paper-thin, and an injury would be a mess. That's partly true. It depends upon where the injury occurs. Reggie Butler, who struggled at guard last year, is the weak link at right tackle, so if he gets hurt, his backup (Nick Marshman or the currently-injured Tripp Carroll) is likely to be even less effective. Butler getting hurt is a problem.

If left tackle Jimmy Martin gets hurt, then Brandon Frye will start, a big drop off in talent and experience – also a problem.

If on the other hand starting center Danny McGrath goes out, it may not be that big a deal, because Ryan Shuman pushed McGrath in the spring before McGrath was named #1. You could also move Will Montgomery back to center. And if one of your guards (Montgomery or Jason Murphy) gets hurt, then the Most Improved Player on offense from spring practice, Brandon Gore, steps in and will probably do a decent job. It would be hard for Gore to replace Montgomery and not have a drop off in performance, but the impact of Gore replacing Murphy wouldn't be as big.

With the OL, determining how much one or even two injuries hurt is highly dependent upon where those injuries occur. It could be bad, or maybe not.

5. Linebacker

Now we're starting to get into positions where injuries would have a bigger impact.

The Hokies have three outstanding starting linebackers: Vince Hall, Xavier Adibi, and James Anderson. But their backups represent a big drop off in either talent, experience, or both. You could replace Anderson with Rouse, but that would impact the Rover position. If Adibi goes down, Blake Warren is a competent, experienced replacement, but he doesn’t nearly have Adibi's range or speed. If Hall gets hurt, he will be replaced by Brett Warren, a true sophomore who played a lot of special teams last year, but very little linebacker. The departure of the graduated Mikal Baaqee shakes up the depth in a big way here, because you lose Baaqee's experience and his mike/backer versatility.

4. Defensive End

The Hokies like to play four defensive ends, and right now, they have three good, experienced ones in Darryl Tapp, Noland Burchette, and Chris Ellis. Walk-on Orion Martin is projected to be the fourth DE, and he's raw with some talent and promise.

If one of the top three is hurt, the other two will be relied on more and will be more likely to tire. Martin could be a decent third defensive end, but you don't want him on the field that much at this point in his career. And the fourth defensive end? It would be Jordan Trott or someone you may have never heard of, from a cast of walk-ons.

Two injuries among the top three players at DE is cause to run screaming into the hills.

3. Tight End

The plan is that Jeff King will start, the very athletic and improving Duane Brown will back him up, and John Kinzer and/or true freshman Ed Wang will serve as the third tight end, a set that we saw with more frequency in 2004.

If one tight end gets hurt, then the Hokies will be forced to play an inexperienced player in two-tight end sets, which are common in VT's offense, and two inexperienced players in three-tight end sets. If King is the one tight end to get hurt, the experience and depth at tight end suffer a big blow, less so if it's Duane Brown that goes down (though you would lose a lot of athleticism if Brown was replaced by Kinzer or Wang).

Two injuries here, to both King and Brown, are a disaster.

2. Free Safety

D.J. Parker and Justin Hamilton are the guys here, with Parker having the edge on starting because of Hamilton's mid-spring ankle injury. One injury doesn't affect the position very much, because the other player could soldier on in the absence of the other. But lose both players and the position is wiped out. You're faced with starting Brenden Hill (assuming he's still around this fall) or Kent Hicks, who needs some seasoning and an awakening before he's ready, or a walk-on.

1. Quarterback

I'm in the camp that thinks that Marcus Vick has the potential to push a really good Hokie team over the top into greatness. He has the capability to make truly exceptional plays not just once or twice a season, but once or twice a game. All he has to do in the passing game is be decent, not great, and his legs will be the difference makers. Marcus has great potential for moving the chains on offense, in more ways than one, and the things he does with the football can mean the difference between winning and losing.

It's doubtful that Sean Glennon, should Marcus get hurt, will be a total buffoon at the position, but there are a lot of things Marcus can do that Sean can't, and throughout the spring, Vick outperformed Glennon in passing drills, in both accuracy and decision-making. The drop off from Vick to Glennon is considerable at this point. Imagine, to draw a parallel, how good the 2001 Hokies would have been with Michael Vick at QB instead of Grant Noel, and you get what I'm saying.

That's my take. I say that keeping Marcus Vick healthy at the QB position is Job 1 for the Hokies this fall.

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