We're 10 days from Virginia Tech's spring game and the Hokies' defensive starting lineup on defense is starting to take shape. It looks like the coaches are going with football IQ over raw athletic ability in most cases, meaning guys like linebacker Alonzo Tweedy, cornerback Cris Hill and safety Antone Exum will see the field, but have to show something to the coaches in August if they want to start.
For the most part, I'm pretty confident in the defense right now, except for the defensive ends. Someone from that group still needs to show that they can produce. It's only spring, but I don't like it when the coaches are saying they don't have a true depth chart at a position as important as defensive end, like Charley Wiles told Kyle Tucker of the Virginian-Pilot earlier this week. The good news is there's still a lot of time between now and the Boise State game.
Right now our defensive line consists of John Graves and a bunch of unknowns, according to Tucker:
The four players trying to replace that quartet - ends Chris Drager (junior) and Steven Friday (senior) along with tackles Kwamaine Battle (junior) and Antoine Hopkins (sophomore) - have one career start between them, 67 combined tackles, 17 quarterback hurries, 12.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and one forced fumble.
Wiles told KT he expects Hopkins and Battle to rotate at the other tackle spot opposite Graves. If the season started tomorrow, Wiles said it would be Drager and Friday at the two end spots. But the Hokies' D-line coach doesn't exactly glow when talking about those two. Someone needs to distance themselves from the pack by working hard in the final two scrimmages (this includes the spring game) and showing up in August ready to dominate.
Right now my money is on James Gayle to be that guy. He seems to be the one impressing the coaches the most early on this spring. He just needs to keep the momentum going if he wants to earn a starting job.
We need a whip and right now it appears to be Jeron Gouveia-Winslow. If you want a comparison, JGW is more like The Deathbacker and Tweedy is more like Cam Martin (you know, without all the injuries). Tweedy is the more impressive physical specimen but JGW has the buzzwords (IQ, motor, bloodlines).
''I remember after the first day of hitting [in spring] and I was like coming off the edge and [guard] Greg Nosal came to block and I gave him a nice pop, and in the locker room afterwards he was like, 'Gouv, you're just like Cody, man ... you're not very big, but you can hit!' I was 'like, yeah!' It was a good thing to hear.''
Just like at whip, free safety is currently occupied by the player who knows the position best while the more physically gifted guy is trying to prove he has the position down. Eddie Whitley will probably start at free against Boise, but Antone Exum is going to be a beast:
Highly touted out of Glen Allen, Va., Exum was listed as the No. 38 best athlete in the nation following his senior season at Deep Run High School, where he played quarterback and handled the punt return duties in addition to spending time as a defensive back. Exum cites his quickness and alertness as the keys to his style of play.
Exum is big and fast and can fly to the ball, but until he learns to be the quarterback of the defense, Whitley will be the guy. Whitley can probably play all four positions in the secondary and that versatility makes him incredibly valuable to the defense. If something were to happen to Davon Morgan, you could see him at rover. Being able to play all four also makes him best suited to make the coverage calls at free.
Jayron Hosley is being limited by an injured groin, so cornerback Cris Hill is getting his chance to prove he deserves to be the starting field corner this spring. He's improved according to Torrian Gray, but not quite ready for prime time.