2013 Football Spring Primer: Defensive Overview

J. Meric

The offensive overview gave the feeling that there's renewal on that side of the ball. So what about the defense? Will they continue the tradition of lunchpail defense excellence? Perhaps this spring will answer some questions about how the 2013 defense will look and play.

Statistical Snapshot

Categories FBS Rank
Total defense 18th
Passing defense 24th
Rushing defense 29th
Scoring defense 32nd
Red zone defense 50th
Sacks 19th
Tackles for loss tied 9th

The Challenge

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster, long time architect of the Lunchpail defense, has to be pleased with how well the defense responded in the final half of the 2012-2013 season. However, the secondary took a blow when Antone Exum went down to a torn ACL, knocking him out for the reminder of spring practices. It also casts doubt into whether or not Exum will make it back in time for the season opener against Alabama.

The linebacker and secondary depth are serious concerns. Tech loses standout linebacker Bruce Taylor and Alonzo Tweedy to graduation. Beyond the current starters in the secondary, there is a dearth of players with limited to no game experience, and lining up against Alabama's elite physical wide receivers have to make defensive backs Coach Torrain Gray lose a bit of sleep.

One major boost for the defensive line is James Gayle elected to forgo the NFL Draft to improve his stock by returning, anchoring what should be a veteran-heavy and deep defensive line. In the trenches with Gayle will be Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy at the tackle spots, both whom made a lot of noise in the backfield, clogging up running lanes, and harassing quarterbacks. J.R. Collins has manned the other end for the last two years as well, and after an underwhelming 2012 season, will look to return to form. The challenge for defensive line coach Charley Wiles is to continue to find gems to rotate in based on different situations. Dadi Nicholas has emerged as a star in the making, and he may be lined up opposite Gayle at the other end spot, although Tyrell Wilson may have a say in that (depending on Collins' hold on the position). Pardon the cliche, but Wiles has a good problem to have with how deep the line is.

The biggest thing from the defensive line is to increase the number of sacks and quarterback hurries. The ACC is switching to more spread offenses, and Bud Foster has to get his players ready to defend it. That means the linebackers need to step up. Tackling machine Jack Tyler returns and he should contend for All-ACC 1st-Team honors if he continues to perform at a high level. Chase Williams and other players on the depth chart who have been on the cusp for a while need to contribute.

The spring practice, scrimmages, and the Maroon/White game should give the defensive coaches plenty of looks to ideally set up the depth chart when August comes.

Conclusion

Bud Foster and his players pride themselves in the continuance of blue-collar, bend-but-don't-break defense that gave birth to the Lunchpail. Foster and the coaches have proven time and time again that they have the ability to find the right combination of players to execute Foster's complicated defensive scheme. It has become somewhat routine for the defense to beat up the offense during the Spring Game, but this spring, I would not be surprised if the offense finally gives the defense fits.

Be on the lookout for another spring football primer, this time, covering a certain aspect of Hokies' football that fans want to see returned to prominence.

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