Secondary To Anchor Defense In 2014

EIGHT - Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Defense: Part 2 of the Depth Chart Manifesto

Without further delay, we present the depth chart for the defensive side of the football. There will be some movement between positions, we can be sure.

Overall the defense loses five of the front six starters, with only Luther Maddy to return. However the secondary boasts two long-time veterans up the middle in Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett, and the edges are in good hands with two sophomores who played extensively last year: Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facsyon.

We are going to speculate below on the many changes expected on Bud Foster's defense. And while we always like to be right, we know that we probably won't be, and hold out hope that some of the names on this chart rise to the top and shock the world with how good they are.

VIRGINIA TECH DEFENSE DEPTH CHART (POST-SIGNING DAY 2014)

DT

DE

LB

FS

ROV

CB

5

8

12

4

3

5

Luther Maddy

SR

Dadi Nicolas

rJR

Deon Clarke

JR

Detrick Bonner

rSR

Kyshoen Jarrett

SR

Brandon Facsyon

SO

Nigel Williams

rSO

Corey Marshall

rJR

Derek DiNardo

rSR

Chuck Clark

SO

Desmond Frye

JR

Kendall Fuller

SO

Woody Baron

SO

Ken Ekanem

rSO

Ronny Van Dyke

rJR

DerWoune Greene

rSO

Anthony Shegog

rFR

Donovan Riley

JR

Ricky Walker

FR

DeWayne Alford

FR

Josh Trimble

rJR

Shawn Payne

FR

C.J. Reavis

FR

Steve Sobczak

FR

Matt Roth

rJR

Andrew Motuapuaka

rFR

Terrell Edmunds

FR

Seth Dooley

rSO

Devin Van Dyke

rFR

Vinny Mahota

FR

Chase Williams

rSR

Kevin Bronson

FR

Jameion Moss

rFR

Dahman McKinnon

rSO

Melvin Keihn
FR

Holland Fisher

FR

Raymon Minor

FR

In Case of Emergency, Burn Shirts?

The defensive line had been perhaps THE reason the Hokies of 2012-2013 didn't completely fall off and miss bowl games, or suffer losing seasons. Losing eight to nine years of starting experience in Derrick Hopkins, James Gayle, and J.R. Collins looks to be fairly devastating on the surface.

With the offense struggling to mount a consistent attack, and a non-existent running game unable to eat up clock, the Hokies the stamina of the Hokie front four was regularly put to the test. And for two smallish defensive ends, Gayle and Collins held up well for the most part. Though in the end, the sack totals were a little underwhelming, Gayle and Collins generated plenty of hurries and contributed to lots of interceptions.

At DT, Hopkins was always sorely underrated and deserves (along with Maddy) the lion's share of the credit for keeping blockers off of the also-departed middle linebacker Jack Tyler. It was due to this freedom that Tyler was able to lead the team in tackles his final two years.

This DL group was part of two top-10 nationally ranked defenses in 2011 and 2013. To most, expecting more of the same would be seen as setting ourselves up for disappointment. But we've said that before too. The Hokies lost several key defenders (Darryl Tapp, James Anderson, Jonathan Ellis, Tim Sandidge, and Jimmy Williams) off the 2005 team that finished 7th in the polls, and came back in 2006 with the top ranked total defense in the nation. The key to that team was the young secondary led by Macho Harris, Brandon Flowers, and veteran rover Aaron Rouse. So some similarities can be found if we examine closely enough.

So Who Are The Next Men Up on the Interior Line?

Luther Maddy is back for his senior season after exploring his NFL draft prospects. With more continued excellence, he should enhance his stock by returning to Tech. But next to him? That is the proverbial $64,000 question. Right now we like Nigel Williams for the job. Williams performed well last year, getting in for 200 plays, or between 12-15 reps per game. As a 2nd year player, it's encouraging that we still have three years left with him.

Defensive Tackle is extremely thin, and as we stated in the offensive portion of this overview, it might make sense to bring OL Alston Smith back into the fold for depth purposes. Of the five listed DTs, only three have experience. Beyond Woody Baron, who also saw limited reserve action last year, there are two true freshmen in Ricky Walker and Steve Sobczak. We believe that numbers will dictate that one of them will avoid red-shirting due to the shortage of bodies.

Depth is a huge concern right now, which leads us to the Corey Marshall conundrum....

The Corey Marshall Conundrum

First off, welcome back Corey! Please check all of the bad vibes from last August at the door. He may after all, be the most  "pivotal" player on the entire defense. After Marshall opted to return from an August hiatus and take his red-shirt year, it was widely assumed that the rift was largely due to his playing inside, and backing up the defensive tackles, as opposed to playing on the edge which he feels is his natural position.

He worked with the defensive ends on the scout team last year, and was projected to be a strong side DE out of high school. With that position wide open, it is expected he'll slide in there and replace James Gayle. But last Spring he worked behind J.R. Collins on the weak side before his knees gave him trouble and he had to rest them.

Marshall, who is extremely strong, often played on the interior his first two seasons, even logging some time there as a freshman. However, he is undersized for the position, and if left to play there would be a Barry Booker type. Quick enough to slip blocks for the occasional sack, but mainly left to wrestle men 40 lbs heavier.

Hopefully, there were other issues at play than the dissatisfaction with his position last fall. And hopefully Marshall recognizes his importance to the team this season, and is ready to capitalize on the positive spotlight that is out there for the taking.

Who Else Will Be Racking Up The Sacks?

We are hoping for multiple repeats of Dadi Nicolas' dominant performance vs Pitt last year, when he recorded three sacks and demonstrated a Corey Moore/Cols Colas type motor (yes, we know, but Kols could summon it for a few plays a game, when he wasn't picking up 15 yard flags). He and Maddy went to the same high school in Del Ray Beach, FL  (Atlantic) and the two now intend to do big things together on the DL in 2014.

Nicolas is another undersized weak side DE (just 224 lbs) who should thrive in all-out pursuit of the QB. To this point he has been more of a pass-rushing specialist, but it is Wiles' and Fosters' hope that he has bulked up sufficiently to endure the rigors of playing the run on first and second down.

Behind Nicolas and Marshall though the depth at DE is perhaps even more questionable than that at DT, even though there are more bodies. Right now it appears that highly touted rSO Ken Ekanem is a front-runner for the strong-side backup position. He has steadily bulked up since coming to VT, and looks ready to handle some snaps in reserve. To this point, he has primarily played special teams, and only took seven snaps on defense last year.

Behind him is DeWayne Alford (19 defensive snaps), Matt Roth (also just seven defensive snaps), Seth Dooley a grey-shirt (then a red-shirt), and then two highly-regarded freshmen in Vinny Mahota (already enrolled) and another Del Ray Beach product in Kevin Bronson.

We like Bronson to avoid the red-shirt and play as a true freshman. His first step is all-natural, and he has the bulk now at 245-250 lbs to hold his own. We like him to challenge for the backup weak-side spot and be let loose to get after some QBs in games that have been decided. We also think that the potential for early playing time might have proved to be critical in his recruitment.

Would Bud Foster Try To Get By With Just One Linebacker If He Could?

With his 4-2-5 scheme so prevalent, Foster has gotten a little complacent developing his LB depth. Granted though that the two linebackers in this scheme are relied on heavily, a little too heavily at times in our opinion. Often, Jack Tyler would make two great plays in support on 1st and 2nd down and then be left out on the field to spy the QB on 3rd and long. And then with tremendous coverage by the secondary, and the two DEs pushed wide, this would leave mobile QBs or outlet receivers one on one with Tyler in open space. Tyler couldn't win them all. There is nothing so deflating as giving up conversions on 3rd and long defensively. It's like shaky relievers blowing saves in baseball games. All that work the whole team did, only to give it all back.

It was Foster's insistence on sticking with his scheme against BC that allowed the BC running game to steamroll us in 2013. Had he gone back to a more traditional 4-3 set we might have been able to stem the tide. But VT's extra DB was not making any dent in the run support. It may not have made a difference that day, but in as much as the Duke loss was on Logan (and the coaches for not subbing him out), the BC loss was on Foster for not finding a way to stuff an extra linebacker in the box to counter Andre Williams. Then we could discuss the problems the LBs had with Maryland and Marshall and their read option formations. VT was fortunate to win the Marshall game.

It is widely known that Bud Foster creates mismatches with his speed on the edges and the extra defensive back is a great mechanism for adding speed to the defense. But having athletic linebackers to cover the middle of the field has been underrated by Bud for at least 8 or 9 years now. We are wondering if perhaps it's time to show more packages that include three linebackers, and use more WHIP now that we have a large pool of players to choose from.

LB: Positions Open, Location TBD

It is fairly impossible to know right now exactly what to make of this large group. There are three four-star freshmen backstopping the group also. We won't profess to know who exactly will be the WHIP, the Mike, the Backer at this point. We just know the following:

  • Josh Trimble is the most experienced returnee, having started five games, and is the leading candidate to play WHIP. Undersized at just 216 lbs he played 190 snaps last year.
  • Deon Clarke missed the last four games of the season due to suspension. He played as a true freshmen. He was in on 33 defensive snaps last year. Perhaps the most athletically gifted of the upperclassmen.
  • We know we love Derek DiNardo on Special Teams, but he has given us little to go on otherwise, having just played 12 defensive snaps. As a rSR though, his time is now.
  • The Van Dyke brothers will play, and play a good deal assuming their injuries have healed. Devin had a torn ACL last year, and Ronny had season-ending shoulder surgery.
  • At the Mike, Andrew Motuapuaka looks like a candidate. The #20 inside LB in the country as a SR in HS, he red-shirted last year and hopes to be in the mix this spring.
  • Jameion Moss, Dahman McKinnon, and Chase Williams round out the group. Williams is in his final year, and has largely disappointed, though he will likely still feature on special teams.

Of the three freshmen, Melvin Keihn might have the best opportunity to start. Holland Fisher has that Aaron Rouse/Kam Chancellor ability to play anywhere from LB to FS, he could probably play CB if needed, but it may take a year to find him his home. And finally, Raymon Minor is still up in the air on qualifying status, as we know more we'll know if he can factor in this season. Though with any academic concerns, it's always wise to get the student ahead of the athlete in the interest of a player's longevity.

Everything's Fine On The Block, Nothing To See Here

Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facsyon are back? Well then, all is good in the world tonight.

Here is a blurb excerpted from famed Hokie beat writer Andy Bitter in the January 31, 2014 edition of the Roanoke Times:

Here are the most interceptions in a year by a cornerback tandem at Virginia Tech since 1999. I (Bitter) took the top-two interception totals by cornerbacks each year, not necessarily by the starters:

What exactly does the duo have planned for an encore? Needless to say they established themselves instantly as true freshmen in 2013, and will have plenty of QBs second-guessing themselves this fall. The real question here pertains to the key job opening at nickel back. Will Chuck Clark move into the role? Or will Donovan Riley and experience win out?

Clark played 145 defensive plays last year as a true freshman, and was also a special teams regular. His versatility seems to give him the edge as he brings enough lumber to back up either of the safety spots, and also covers fairly well (UCLA game aside). Riley boasts the years in the system, but perhaps not the athleticism. It was truly a luxury to have one of the Fullers in at nickel last year or even Antone Exum for the brief time he was available. In a system that relies so heavily it'll be interesting to see who wins that job.

VT has two inbound freshmen, C.J. Reavis and Terrell Edmunds. Both hold tremendous promise, and it wouldn't surprise either of us if one were to suit up as a true freshman (nod to Reavis if so)

#8

In a nod to one of our dear friends, who refuses to refer to Detrick Bonner as anything but EIGHT, we focus in on the Safeties. And usually, if EIGHT has gotten uttered from our man's mouth it doesn't represent happy times. Bonner is most likely a Rover who is doing the wrong job because he isn't as good a Rover as starter Kyshoen Jarrett. But because he demonstrates ability to stop the run and plays in front of him, he retains the job at Free Safety.

We have been waiting for two years now for someone to come along and beat Bonner out for the job, but that day isn't coming. And now that it's his last year, we actually expect some fairly solid things, in much the same fashion we experienced with Vinny Fuller in his final year. He and Jarrett represent stability up the middle, and they do a good job of punishing ball carriers who enter their area. Their ball skills are suspect though, and Bonner has gotten beaten so many times by a WR who is standing right next to him. Balls go through his hands, and he is always entering the frame a second too late.

In the event that Chuck Clark is slated for the nickel slot, then Der'Woun Greene might be the answer at backup free safety. He has good hands, and had actually entertained playing some WR at VT before coaches moved him to the defensive backfield. An issue for Greene has always been his slight stature. Weighing in at just 180 lbs soaking wet, he is at least 20 lbs light for his position.

Rounding out the safety depth is Anthony Shegog a redshirt Freshman, and Shawn Payne, a true Freshman, who might be a grey-shirt candidate.

Outlook

It's never wise to underestimate Bud Foster, Charley Wiles, Torrian Gray (and now Cornell Brown as well). The way we see it we have the makings of a nice starting 11. The question is then, what  we do in the event of a serious injury to one of just a few VERY key players. On a defense that only looks to have 37 players not counting the red-shirts, VT is going to be playing a core group very heavily. Looking back though, this isn't a whole lot different than other years, it's just that the depth coming up isn't usually so untested.

Spring practice might never have been as important to a Bud Foster-led defense as the spring of 2014 will be. In the year in which his giant annuity finally vests, he may have his biggest job ahead of him yet.

We hope you enjoyed this early look at the depth charts. Please let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter: @gobblercountry or on Facebook if that's your preferred means.

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