This year in linebacker recruiting has been active already, which is somewhat surprising considering Virginia Tech linebackers haven't exactly been notable of late in either the college or professional scene. The last Virginia Tech linebacker drafted was Cody Grimm, and he was promptly put at strong safety (makes sense since he was a Whip linebacker, which in Foster's front is basically a larger strong safety). That was back in 2010. Note, we had a defensive lineman, Jason Worilds, drafted as an outside linebacker in Pittsburgh, but that goes to their 3-4 system, not any specific talent of his at linebacker. Before that, it was 2008's Xavier Adibi. 2006's James Anderson. That year also had Darryl Tapp, who has played some OLB in 3-4s as well. 2002's Ben Taylor. 2000's Corey Moore.
In all, that's amounted to a staggering total of...zero Pro Bowl appearances. No major contributors outside a couple bright spots in James Anderson's career. Face it, for as much as we want to brag about the fact that we're #DBU and Bud Foster Defense and Lunchpail Mentality and all those great buzzwords? Tech's linebacking corps has always been a mediocre afterthought that has had a few solid college level performers- Jack Tyler, Cody Grimm, Bruce Taylor (I always believed he had professional prospects if not for the crippling injuries he suffered), Purnell Sturdivant, Barquell Rivers, Xavier Adibi, and Vince Hall. It's a long lineup of names we love to remember...but didn't bring a whole lot to the overall reputation of the school or show up on the level afterward. All linebackers we get fit a Foster Mold- fast, smaller linebackers that might not be so good in coverage but can blitz and run-stuff while the defensive line does a lot of the sacking and penetrating. This tendency to be undersized and fast has hurt us in a couple areas.
- Our linebackers have never been great in coverage, especially into the intermediate seam/flat area. Tight ends routinely burn us, mostly because our linebackers generally are 4-6" smaller than the tight ends they're supposed to cover.
- Our linebackers get pushed around and bowled over by larger, more powerful running backs.
With all that in mind, I wish I could get excited about the linebacking corps, but while Foster has clearly shown in his recruiting style that he's going after larger defensive linemen, the linebacker mold hasn't changed in the recruits we have so far and the ones that we're still chasing. The current depth chart looks something like this:
- Ronny Vandyke (R-Sr.)
- Anthony Shegog (R-So.)
- Andrew Motuapuaka (R-So.)
- Shawn Huelskamp (R-So.)
- Deon Clarke (Sr.)
- Dahman McKinnon (R-Jr.)
Unassigned (Note: Highly or recently recruited linebackers ordered before walk-ons, though that doesn't mean anything at Tech)
- Carson Lydon (Fr.)
- Raymon Minor (R-Fr.)
- Jamieon Moss (R-So.)
- Holland Fisher (R-Fr.)
- Tremaine Edmunds (Fr.)
- Trent Young (R-Fr.)
- Drew Burns (R-Jr.)
- Joe Koshuta (Fr.)
- Johnathan Galante (R-So.)
- Matt Reinhart (Fr.)
- Josh Eberly (R-Jr.)
For those keeping score, that's 17 of our possible 90 roster spots devoted to linebacker positions. In terms of graduation, and likely occasional transfers or team churn, we're looking at losing two for sure and possibly three to four depending on the status of the walk-on practice bodies. Right now the class has three commitments. I reviewed Tavante Beckett here, though his Hudl tape has become private since the article was posted. I'm going to concentrate on the other two commitments.
Emmanuel Belmar (Suwanee, GA. 220lbs, 6'-2", Outside Linebacker)
Belmar is your typical Bud Foster type, with maybe a bit more meat on the bone: a heady, head-on-a-swivel, don't-get-oversold linebacker. He flashes some coverage potential, which is nice- as I've mentioned, our linebackers have generally been lacking in pass coverage. He attacks the line of scrimmage, but not recklessly. He's able to fight through smaller blockers and those his size- not many records of him tangling with left or right tackles, though. His speed would be characterized as slightly above average to average, though I'd say that his tackling is fairly solid for a high-school level of competency- he doesn't tend to get his head down and try to spear targets into the dirt. As a guy who had teammates in high school whose sole purpose was this, I can respect that restraint. Right now he projects as either our standard slower-ish heady Mike or the Backer position. I'd tend toward the latter, if only because however long Motuapuaka stays it'll create a logjam.
The second linebacker I'll talk about is a longstanding commitment from all the way back in March. Foster was his primary recruiter, so it'll be interesting to see where Foster sticks him. Services are split on his evaluation- 247 has him at an 87 three star, while ESPN has him as a 68 two star, Rivals as a high-end two star, and Scout has him as a two star as well. 3-1 as a two star isn't overly inspiring, but if Foster thinks he'll fit in his scheme, I'll be interested to see what the tape says. We're his only offer as far as I can tell- which means, again, either he's shutting everyone out from interest, or he's not as good as Foster thinks he is...
Victor Greene (Spotsylvania, VA. 215lbs, 6'-0", Outside Linebacker)
...Why Foster is recruiting this guy as a linebacker is beyond me, on first look. I see flashes of Darren Evans in him- just a little bit of jump shift and a lot of forward-ho! momentum. He follows blocks well, and has a pretty good stiff arm and trucking move. I think he plays at about 4.5-40 speed. He spots and hits holes well, and follows his blocking. He's the kind of back you want to see on a zone blocking scheme, one where you're aimed at a region and find the hole- make one cut and go. Think Alfred Morris with the Redskins, or Arian Foster with the Texans, the ole Mike Shanahan/Gary Kubiak scheme where you churn out a pile of anonymous 1,000 yard rushers. He runs with good balance, and would be a good one-two punch with someone that could thump for yards. My only worry is that he faced a lot of teams that were terrible at outside contain, and of course, the lower level of competition at AA Virginia level.
On defense, this guy is not an outside linebacker (‘backer' in Foster parlance). He's a Whip. He's not big enough to play the other two linebacker positions and not fast enough for a real shot at Rover. He is a solid tackler that brings his whole body with him and wraps up on contact. He could stand for a bit of cleanup on just WHERE to tackle occasionally, but he does fine on pursuit angles enough that you can see he can be taught. He's definitely got the athleticism needed for the Whip position, even if I'm not overly thrilled with his shorter stature.
Am I sold on him getting a scholarship look? Yes. Am I sold on him being a whip linebacker? That, maybe not as much. It'll be interesting to see if he pulls a Trey Edmunds and starts on defense but somehow gets kicked over to the offense.
Next time, I examine the future DBU class of 2020-2021.