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While his approach to interrogating media may be somewhat withdrawn, he actually doesn’t have any trouble expressing his feelings.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.”
Of course, the quest to get both Collins and Gayle to the 10-sack plateau may have to start in week two against Austin Peay. Georgia Tech’s option attack isn’t really conducive to racking up sacks, but it can result in huge games from defensive linemen.
Last season, Virginia Tech changed things up a bit heading into its game at Georgia Tech. Instead of sticking with freshman Luther Maddy as one of its starting defensive tackles, Virginia Tech opted to take Maddy out of the starting lineup and slide Collins inside from end to tackle. Collins was replaced at end by Hampton High graduate Tyrel Wilson.
The idea was to get a little more athletic and active on the interior, and Collins responded with 11 tackles (second on the team to linebacker Jack Tyler’s 12 tackles), including a half-tackle for loss.
“I wasn’t used to being inside last year,” said Collins, who said he’s up to 263 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame. “I got cut (blocked) like almost every other play, but I kept fighting and we ended up winning and I got the game ball that game.
“I kind of want to play inside (against Georgia Tech this season). I wouldn’t mind playing inside. It’s just fun playing Georgia Tech because it’s a different offense. It takes the whole defense to succeed. If one guy misses one assignment, then that could be a touchdown.”
Collins had to deal briefly last week with a self-inflicted obstacle. After being late to a position meeting, he was temporarily bumped behind sophomore Corey Marshall on the defensive end depth chart, before working his way into a tie for the starting role and eventually back into sole possession of the top spot.
“I was late to the morning meeting,” Collins said. “I had some car problems and it was just unfortunate for me.
“This is a business. If it was the NFL, I could’ve probably gotten cut or something like that. I’m fortunate to still be on the team.”
Perhaps Collins was a tad bit hard on himself, but it sounds like the point was made. Now, his focus is back on the task at hand.
“Nobody wants to be behind,” Collins said. “I guess it was a little motivational factor, but at the same time, I can only do what I can do.”
“I’m looking forward to (Saturday’s) scrimmage because in practice it’s slow-paced. I just like playing at a fast pace.”
Here’s a breakdown of Tech’s season-by-season sack numbers by starting defensive ends under Beamer (the list also includes sack leaders for each season if the top sack men weren’t starting defensive ends):
2011 – 13 sacks from starting defensive ends (Gayle 7, Collins 6)…41 team
2010 – 10 1/2 (Steven Friday 8 1/2, Chris Drager 2…Bruce Taylor 6)…34 team
2009 – 11 (Nekos Brown 6 1/2, Jason Worilds 4 1/2)…36 team
2008 – 15 1/2 (Worilds 8, Orion Martin 7 1/2)…35 team
2007 – 15 (Bethel graduate Chris Ellis 8 1/2, O. Martin 6 1/2)…47 team
2006 – 8 (Ellis 4 1/2, Noland Burchette 3 1/2)…30 team
2005 – 16 (Darryl Tapp 10, Ellis 6)…37 team
2004 – 11 1/2 (Tapp 8 1/2, Burchette 3…Jim Davis and Jonathan Lewis each had 5)…34 team
2003 – 12 (N. Adibi 5 1/2, Colas 6 1/2)…32 team
2002 – 18 (N. Adibi 9, Colas 9)…42 team
*2001 – 3 (N. Adibi 1, Lamar Cobb 2…Davis and Ben Taylor each had 4 1/2)…30 team
*2000 – 6 (N. Adibi 5, Cobb 1…David Pugh also had 5)…28 team
*1999 – 24 (Moore 17, Engelberger 7)…58 team
*1998 – 21 (Moore 13 1/2, Engelberger 7 1/2)…48 team
*1997 – 8 (Engelberger 6, Danny Wheel 2…Moore 4 1/2)…35 team
*1996 – 14 (Brown 8, Engelberger 6…Kerwin Hairston 6)…45 team
*1995 – 21 (Brown 14, Coleman 7)…48 team
*1994 – 14 (Brown 11, Coleman 3)…42 team
*1993 – 5 (Brown 3, Coleman 2…DeWayne Knight and J.C. Price both had 4)…32 team
*1992 – 4 (Billy Swarm 3, Bernard Basham 1…Jerome Preston 7 and P.J. Preston had 6)…33 team
*1991 – 4 (Wooster Pack 4, James Hargrove 0…P.J. Preston 6 and Jerome Preston had 4)…34 team
*1990 – 5 (Jimmy Whitten 4, Al Chamblee 1…Todd Brown had 4, Rusty Pendleton and P.J. Preston had 3 each)…21 team
*1989 – 9 (Chamblee 6, Whitten 3…Sean Lucas had 6, Jock Jones had 5)…33 team
*1988 – 7 (Chamblee 4, Whitten 3…Horacio Moronta and Scott Hill both had 7)…33 team
*1987 – 6 (Chuck Watson 3, Whitten 3…Scott Hill had 6)…19 team
*official stats prior to 2002 didn’t include sacks accumulated in bowls as part of season totals for players/teams
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