Summer Questions Series No. 5: Will James Gayle live up to his reputation?
Gayle is 6'4" 253-pound monster of a defensive end. He passes the eye test with flying colors. Gayle also broke onto the scene in 2011 with seven sacks in his first season. But he has been marred by injuries that have largely prevented him from reaching his potential. Is this the year he lives up to that reputation?
Gayle struggled through ankle and shoulder injuries last season, but still managed to record 43 tackles and five sacks on his way to second team All-ACC honors. However, he wasn't all that effective week-in and week-out.
Over the course of the season, you never were sure how much explosiveness you could expect out of him, and explosiveness is what he needs to be effective. He has the speed to slip around the edge and the strength to bull rush an offensive tackle, but when injured, he loses just enough to almost get lost in a game.
Gayle has the kind of talent where he should never get lost in a game. He works hard and plays hard, but it's the injuries that have held him back. No doubt about it, the recent happenings at the ACC Media Day festivities have only provided him with a little bulletin board material to drive him entering into 2013.
Shortly after not being named to the pre-season All-ACC defense, Gayle tweeted "Underestimate me this year if you want to and I'm going to wake you up." Needless to say, the upcoming season has his full attention.
The other motivation this season for Gayle might come from his own team. There is a budding star at defensive end in Dadi Nicholas, and he has the chance to make a huge impact on this team. Certainly, Gayle will be ecstatic if Nicolas develops into a force. But Gayle also wants to be the best on the team, so a push from Nicolas can only help.
How important is a healthy and fully functioning Gayle to the Hokies? Over the last several years, as the offenses have advanced ahead of the defenses, one thing has proven to consistently be able to succeed defensively - a stellar pass rush. Specifically, a pass rush from the front four.
Gayle has 16 career sacks, so he knows how to get to the quarterback. But if he's fully healthy and on top of his game, he will really add to that total and set a personal best for sacks in a season. A pass rush from Gayle, along with his fellow defensive linemen and Bud Foster's always-aggressive schemes could return this Virginia Tech defense to the back four.
Before Gayle, Foster had a terrific defensive end in Jason Worilds. His 2008 season of 62 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 8.0 sacks needs to be the goal for Gayle in 2013. Perform like that, and Gayle will find himself on that first-team All-ACC team when the year is done.