With spring practice close to wrapping up and the annual Spring Game just around the bend, it's time for us to take a look at an area of concern (for the moment due to injury): the linebacking corps. While the Hokies can return all three starters from last year's team, all three have been hobbled by injuries and will miss all of spring practice.
Even operating under the assumption that those three guys will be back for fall practice and the start of the season, it is important that Tech has a contingency plan, and interesting to see who or what that is if such a plan is afoot. As last year taught us, there is no such thing as too much depth, so it is paramount that with an injury-riddled position, the Tech coaches are able to establish depth with their linebacking corps now rather than in-season. For a breakdown of the corps as a whole and by position, keep reading like your life depended on it.
#24 Tariq Edwards
#36 Chase Williams
#47 Brian Laiti
#51 Bruce Taylor
#58 Jack Tyler
#27 Nick Dew
#28 Alonzo Tweedy
#37 Ronny Vandyke
#40 Wiley Brown
#41 Derek DiNardo
Josh Trimble (position not specified)
D.J. Ward (position not specified)
Here are the significant developments regarding the linebacking corps since the end of last season:
Telvion Clark was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules late in March. Clark was arrested March 18 for Public Intoxication/Swearing. There might have been more there than just that arrest, as the charges were not that severe. Clark was at one point the favorite to win the backer position prior to last season, but an injury cost him a chance at a starting job and relegated him to special teams duty and mop-up time at linebacker, seeing the majority of his time against Appalachian State. Clark had 6 career tackles.
Tariq Edwards suffered a leg injury which required surgery that will keep him out of spring practice.
Bruce Taylor and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow will both miss spring practice while recovering from Lisfranc injuries. This marks the third consecutive spring we will be minus our starting Mike linebacker for the duration of spring.
Ronny Vandyke has been moved from Rover to WHIP linebacker.
The Backer spot is the greatest area of question. Unlike the WHIP position which has bountiful and numerous players waiting to step into the starting lineup at the first sign of trouble, Chase Williams is the only player right now prepared to step in if Edwards can't go. And when I say Williams is the only player PREPARED to do so, I say that pretty liberally, as Williams has seen 13 snaps of action on defense in his young Hokie career. But because of the dismissal of Telvion Clark, Williams is the heir apparent.
Tech coaches have been raving about him since he stepped on campus, both because of his mental aptitude for the position and his physical ability, and were even considered burning his redshirt as a true frosh. That talent they've been raving about has yet to be seen as Chase again has only seen 13 snaps, but Williams did a good job last year on special teams.
As for Edwards, hopefully he will be back and then there's not really a discussion. Edwards played perhaps the best Backer for the Hokies since James Anderson. When everyone is healthy he is so dangerous because he plays all out and is able to pin his ears back and fly all over the field. With him out there Backer a position of strength. However, if his status is in doubt or if Williams makes a good impression in his stead, he may have to win back his spot like he did last year against Clark.
Projected Starter: Tariq Edwards
MY Projected Starter: Tariq Edwards
Mike backer is a position that is a little more settled. If Bruce Taylor is healthy he's the guy, but Jack Tyler has seen a great deal of time over the last two years and has performed admirably. No matter Taylor's health situation Tyler will get some time. He probably will be part of the solution at Backer if there is any doubt about Edwards' health as he has played both the Mike and Backer positions and is pretty much interchangeable at both.
Laiti is the biggest question mark in this group other than Taylor's health. Brian is getting up there in eligibility to have never even gotten a whiff of the field. He has only dressed out once and did not play. This year I'd expected him to be featured on special teams in some capacity and in mop-up duty for when we are blowing out the Austin Peay's of the world (sorry Austin Peay. Mad respect for your chant though). If he wants to see the field however, he must put his best foot forward. Who knows, with his frame, we may even see him follow Tyler's lead and be interchangeable at both Mike and Backer, which would once-and-for-all end depth concerns at both positions.
Projected Starter: Bruce Taylor
MY Projected Starter: Bruce Taylor
Though message boards and "experts" expect Jeron Gouveia-Winslow to just pick up where he left off and win the job outright, I believe it will be an open competition, and Cornell Brown intimated that in an interview with the Virginian Pilot. The Lisfranc injury is so fickle and all of the backups are far more versatile, something coaches strive for at the WHIP. Even though JGW made huge strides from 2010 to 2011, he still wasn't the best player to ever suit up at that position, and I thought that in his limited time there, Tweedy played equally as well. If JGW isn't healthy, I'd go with someone or multiple someones other than JGW.
Additionally, Ronny Vandyke has apparently made a good impression early on as he has already supplanted Nick Dew as the #3 guy at WHIP according to multiple reports. They talk about Vandyke's play-making ability in the same way they talk about Tweedy. If Dew is ever able to put together knowledge for the position with his athletic acumen he will be a terror. However, I hear mumblings about this guy that he may be somewhat of a Steven Friday or Cris Hill, in that he was a great prospect who took all five years to turn all his gifts into something. If he is able to produce as well as those first two guys as a redshirt-senior, I'll gladly take it at this point, but out of high school I was hoping for more from him.
As for guys like Brown and DiNardo, I like what each bring. For Brown, he flies down the field and is among our best special teams players, often laying big hits on unsuspecting return men. DiNardo is a great effort player, and he has worked himself into some reps. But the only way he sees time on the defensive side of the ball is in a Tech blowout.
Projected Starter: Jeron Gouveia-Winslow
MY Projected Starter: Alonzo Tweedy
Once area of concern when looking at the linebacking corps as a whole is the disturbing number of WHIP linebackers when compared to Backers and Mike backers. It will be important for the Hokies coaching staff to load up on Mikes and Backers respectively going forward as almost all if not all the linebackers in the 2012 recruiting class are WHIPs or Backers (mostly WHIPs).
For more Virginia Tech spring football coverage leading up to and including the Spring Game, stay tuned to Gobbler Country.