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Justin Fuente looks for depth after quick success at Virginia Tech

Three of his linemen left when the season ended. Another transferred. Two more are hurt and will miss the spring. Some reinforcements will arrive this summer, but that doesn’t help now.

The numbers on Bud Foster’s defensive line this spring have left Virginia Tech scrambling to mix and match personnel just to fill out a proper depth chart. And that, the defensive coordinator said, underscores the biggest chasm between the Hokies and the elites of the ACC.

“I still think we’re a year or two away, from a recruiting standpoint, from having that quality depth like a Clemson or Florida State,” Foster said.

There are plenty of position battles worth watching this spring at Virginia Tech, as second-year head coach Justin Fuente looks to replace departed stars Jerod Evans and Isaiah Ford. But beyond those big shoes, there’s a trickle-down effect that has the coaching staff talking a lot about depth or, more specifically, the lack of it.

When Evans made the surprising decision to bolt for the NFL after the season, Virginia Tech was left scrambling for quarterback depth. It turned to the juco ranks.

Ford and Bucky Hodges have left a big void at receiver, and the Hokies will welcome Ohio State transfer James Clark to fill a need this summer.

On both sides of the line of scrimmage, the Hokies need some help. Running back remains a bit of a mystery, too.

And when it all shakes out, the lack of obvious solutions means one thing appears clear already.

“[The freshmen] all told me they wanted a chance to play early,” Fuente said with a laugh. “That’s what we’ve got is opportunity.”

It’s an odd dynamic, though. Fuente arrived last year, inheriting some high-level skill players. He immediately returned Virginia Tech to its past glory, winning the division, pushing Clemson in the ACC title game, then staging a thrilling come-from-behind win over Arkansas in the Belk Bowl.

But where to go from there?

“We haven’t arrived yet,” Fuente said in a message he has repeated to fans and players.

This year’s signing class -- the bulk of which arrives this summer -- will be the first full class of Fuente recruits. He estimates another year or two is essential before he has the personnel he really wants, to be in a position where talent can leave, the next group is ready to step up and a third group is ready to be groomed behind the last one.

When Virginia Tech coaches talk depth, they really mean that there needs to be a continuous flow of talent coming through the doors, and right now, they’re still trying to fix the pipeline into Blacksburg.

“We had a good year, a great group of kids,” Fuente said about his debut season. “But we still have a lot of things to do to get this program where everybody wants it to be.”

Even on defense, where Foster retains a high percentage of last year’s impact players, there will be some immediate roles for kids who aren’t even on the roster yet.

“We’ve got to create some depth at spots, and I think some of that depth is coming from freshmen,” Foster said. “That’s where we are right now. I like this recruiting class we’re bringing in, but we’re still hungry to bring in another recruiting class.”

This story is certainly not unique to Virginia Tech. Plenty of teams are looking for twos and threes, but the Hokies set such a high bar last season that it’s easy to assume the system is simply chugging along without a glitch.

This year’s class is a nice push in the right direction. The transfers help plug some holes. In the long run, though, there’s a bigger plan at work, and Fuente isn’t going to rush it.

“It takes a little bit of time,” Fuente said. “We’re not going for the quick fix, and we’re not short-changing it.”