D-Block, VT's Million Dollar Fraternity

Freshman Ball Hawk Brandon Facyson Performs His D-Block Initiation Ritual: The Interception - Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

In Blacksburg, pros are being crafted, Super Bowl Champions are being groomed, and the future at defensive back looks bright-- just business as usual.

Some schools are just known for producing NFL talent at a specific position: Penn State has its linebackers, USC with its quarterbacks, Wisconsin churns out offensive linemen. Over the past 15 years, Virginia Tech has become a defensive back mill before our very eyes, churning out 17 NFL draft picks since 1999. Comparatively, the University of Texas, who likes to call itself "DBU" has only produced 13 DB draft picks in that same time. "The U"? 13 as well. Though it’s hard to pinpoint the exact origins of the Hokies’ success at DB, it’s safe to say that the success of "D-Block" as we know it today is rooted in the scheme of Bud Foster, combined with the brash, energetic coaching style of former Hokie Defensive Backs Coach, Lorenzo "Whammy" Ward.

A Peek at the LPD

Bud Foster has unquestionably made his mark in Blacksburg with his Lunch Pail Defense (LPD), a philosophy that is noted for its hard-nosed attitude and relentless pursuit. In an era where traditional defenses employ a scheme featuring  a 7-man front, (either a 4-3 with 4 down linemen and 3 linebackers, or a 3-4 with 3 down linemen and 4 linebackers) Bud’s scheme features an 8-man front: a 4-4. Running a 4-4 had traditionally left defenses vulnerable against the pass, as with an 8-man front, that leaves only 3 defensive backs (1 Safety and 2 Cornerbacks) to handle pass coverage responsibilities. However, Foster was innovative: two of the four linebackers were more the size of defensive backs than linebackers. Their "non-traditional" size meant an unusual skill-set for players at those positions: they often sacrificed height or bulk in their ability to fill gaps and stop the run, but they could run with backs out of the backfield or inside receivers and wreak havoc in pass coverage.

Bud has been forced to adapt his system due to the rise of the spread offense, which was a giant hay-maker counter-punch to Bud’s innovation (Think:  the 2003 Insight.com Bowl, when Aaron Rodgers’s Cal Bears lit up the LPD to the tune of 52 points). His answer? The 4-2-5 "Nickel" defense (Note: Foster will also use the Nickel out of a 4-6 to defend against the zone read.). It wouldn’t be a Foster defense if there wasn’t a twist: in the LPD Nickel, the Safety, Nickel, and Corner vary their alignment location and depths from play to play to give the opposing QB fits.

In Blacksburg, Foster had built the perfect storm: speed-rushing defensive ends, disruptive interior linemen with a non-stop motor, confusion built in each week just from a position and personnel standpoint, as teams had to prepare to face our "non-traditional" defense and discern who was playing as a "DB" and who was playing as a "linebacker" for each situation. Add to that Foster’s propensity for heavy blitzing, and it was a dream scheme for a defensive back to play in: QB’s had to discern many things quite quickly, leaving them prone to making bad decisions. Guess who was in prime position to capitalize?

D-Block.

Editor's Note: In the interest of avoiding promoting prison culture, I will urge readers to take a different look at the D-Block. The D-Block is the portion of the periodic table that contains elements 3-12, also known as the transition metals. One of which is gold, certainly apt for the nickname the unit has taken on. There has been plenty of gold in them thar Hokie secondaries over the years. Carry on.

--Flyers13

With a Name Like "Whammy," You Have to Be Good

Early D-Block was molded by Defensive Backs Coach Lorenzo "Whammy" Ward. By all accounts, Ward was a straight-shooter who not only related to his players, but built personal relationships with them during their recruitment and throughout their careers in orange & maroon. He earned his nickname during his hard-hitting playing career at the University of Alabama. Dealing day-in and day-out with an aggressive ball of energy such as Ward, it’s only natural some of his characteristics manifested in his players. And, with Foster’s scheme providing them many playmaking opportunities, manifest, it did:

Virginia Tech's National Rankings Under Lorenzo "Whammy" Ward (1999-2003)

Year

Total Defense

Pass Efficiency

Interceptions

Total Pass

Defense

Individual Honors

1999

# 3

# 7

Anthony Midget, 2nd team AA

2000

#3

2001

#2

#3

#7 (tie)

#8

Ronyell Whitaker, 3rd team AA

2002

#1

DeAngelo Hall, 2nd team AA

Willie Pile, 2nd team AA

2003

#7

#4

#4

Keeping It Turnt Up With T. Gray

When Ward left Blacksburg to become Defensive Backs coach for the Oakland Raiders, Foster sought out former VT and Minnesota Vikings DB Torrian Gray to fill his shoes. Gray’s homecoming proved to be a HUGE asset for the Hokies, as he has proven himself to be one of VT’s best recruiters, with a reach as far as Georgia and even into talent-rich Florida. Gray is a major proponent of the idea that all defensive backs should be able to play multiple positions within the secondary. Not only does such flexibility lead to a greater understanding of the scheme and refine a player’s skill set, it also works to add an additional element of confusion to opposing QB’s, as they try to discern which DB is aligned at which position. This versatility helped the Hokies’ defense to remain nationally elite:

Virginia Tech's National Rankings Under Torrian Gray (2006-2013)

Year

Total D

Pass Efficiency Defense

Interceptions

Total Pass Defense

Individual Honors

2006

#1

#2

#1

Brandon Flowers, 3rd team AA

2007

#4

#5

Brandon Flowers, 1st team AA

2008

#7

#10

2009

#12

#8

#11

2010

Jayron Hosley, 1st team AA

2011

#10

#14

#18 (tie)

2012

#14

2013

#4

#5

#6

#8

Kyle Fuller, 1st team AA

The Proof is in the…Well, You Know

Playing DB is all about attention to detail, flexibility, confidence, and swagger. Getting drafted into the League is all about making plays and getting noticed. Hokie DB’s have been fortunate, both to be able to develop and refine their skills from two of the nation’s best in Ward and Gray, as well as to have a nationally-respected stage on which to put their talents on display, masterfully crafted by Foster. They have certainly seized the opportunity—until the streak was broken in 2013, each of the years of the Ward-Gray Regimes had seen at least one VT DB selected in the NFL Draft:

D-BLOCK NFL DRAFT PICKS SINCE 1999 (17)

Year

Name

Position

Round

Team

1999

Pierson Prioleau

Safety

4

San Francisco 49ers

2000

Ike Charlton

Cornerback

2

Seattle Seahawks

2000

Anthony Midget

Cornerback

5

Atlanta Falcons

2001

Cory Bird

Safety

3

Indianapolis Colts

2002

Kevin McAdam

Safety

5

Atlanta Falcons

2003

Willie Pile

Safety

7

Kansas City Chiefs

2004

DeAngelo Hall

Cornerback

1

Atlanta Falcons

2005

Eric Green

Cornerback

3

Arizona Cardinals

2005

Vincent Fuller

Safety

4

Tennessee Titans

2006

Jimmy Williams

Cornerback

2

Atlanta Falcons

2006

Justin Hamilton

Safety

7

Cleveland Browns

2007

Aaron Rouse

Safety

3

Green Bay Packers

2008

Brandon Flowers

Cornerback

2

Kansas City Chiefs

2009

Victor "Macho" Harris

Cornerback

5

Philadelphia Eagles

2010

Kam Chancellor

Safety

5

Seattle Seahawks

2011

Rashad "Roc" Carmichael

Cornerback

4

Houston Texans

2012

Jayron Hosley

Cornerback

3

New York Giants

Forecasting the Future

With Kyle Fuller (Sr.) a virtual lock to be selected in the 2014 Draft, the Hokies look to be back on track churning out next-level prospects. In fact, it is widely accepted that had Kyle elected to forego his senior season, the streak would still be active today. It is quite possible that Cornerback Antone Exum (r-Sr.) will, finally recovered and healthy, show well at the Combine and increase his draft stock. Safety Kyshoen Jarrett (Jr.) submitted paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Committee after this past season, but must not have liked his feedback, as he chose to return and anchor the Hokies’ secondary next season. Safety Detrick Bonner (r-Jr.) will also have an opportunity to hone his skills in 2014 and perhaps hear his name called in 2015. Though it’s often unwise to project the future based on one season, super-Freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller—who combined for 11 interceptions in 2013—are likely already high on many teams’ underclassmen watch list. Other youngsters, such as Donovan Riley (So.), Chuck Clark (Fr.), and Der’Woun Greene (r-Fr.) are waiting  in the wings for their turn to shine.  But, the time to rise is now, for hot on their heels will be highly-touted incoming prospects Holland Fisher, (Rivals 4*, 247Sports 4*) C.J. Reavis, (Rivals 4*, 247Sports 4*) and at least 3 other projected incoming defensive back prospects.

Whether they’re currently preparing for February’s NFL Draft Combine or their NLI (National Letter of Intent) signing ceremony on Wednesday, their goal will remain the same: to follow in the footsteps of Roger Brown (Packers), Tyronne Drakeford (49ers), Pierson Prioleau (Saints), and Kam Chancellor (Seahawks) and become the fifth member of D-Block to hoist the Lombardi Trophy…and perhaps to also follow in the footsteps of DeAngelo Hall and sign a big, huge, fat contract along the way.

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