[Occasionally throughout the season we'll take a look at individual match-ups that will impact the Hokies.]
Last year's whipping boy is back at outside linebacker.
Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, whose struggles at whip (now called outside) linebacker often forced Virginia Tech to play five defensive backs last season, will get the chance to redeem himself in 2011. G-W is listed as the starting outside linebacker for the Hokies' opener with Appalachian State and figures to see a lot of playing time, despite Bud Foster saying he would again play nickel at times during the season.
Last season got off to an inauspicious start for G-W, who was a part of the breakdown in coverage that helped Boise State score its game-winning touchdown. He was even out of position on his best play of the season, his pick-six against Florida State.
There's talk this preseason that G-W has improved markedly. Compare that to 2010 when there were warning signs about the position in the post-Deathbacker era after Jim Cavanaugh laughed and deflected a question about whether the whips would be a defensive liability.
Still, compare what was said about G-W last year...:
"He's not perfect, by any means, but he's done a good, solid job. Like anything else, you try to decrease your mistakes. He's pretty solid in the passing game. Every now and then, he'll get a fit wrong in the running game. He'll be in the wrong gap or play with the wrong shoulder, something like that, but nothing that can't be corrected."
...to this year:
"The one thing that we did, we really forced that we were going to see if he improved, and we needed him to improve. And he did. Part of it is he played for the first time [last year]. He didn't play any snaps, really, the year before. I'm hoping he'll be much better this fall."
There is that "hoping" caveat, but the staff is definitely higher on G-W 12 months after he initially took hold of the job. Foster even said he has "a lot of confidence" in him. The word confidence wasn't exactly getting thrown around when the topic was whip linebacker while Tech prepared for Boise.
In a way, G-W represents something that happens in Blacksburg (and 119 other FBS campuses) every preseason. The coaches are excited for a new year, excited about new starters and excited about the improvement of their returning starters. Sometimes it's genuine, sometimes it's hyperbole and sometime's it's lying. And it's nearly impossible to tell what's what.
Can G-W really overcome his struggles last year and live up to the cautious optimism he's being shown? I hope he can because it will give Virginia Tech's front seven a better chance against the run. It will also mean our coaching staff isn't just whistling "Dixie" when it comes to the improvement of the team. Something they've been prone to doing the past four seasons.