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Spring 2016 Virginia Tech Football Roster Review: the Linebackers

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The Virginia Tech Defense spent the 90's and the early 2000's as a seriously good unit. Year after year great top 10 defenses made lives miserable for opposing coaches and players alike. Crazy blitz packages, shutdown corners, ball hawking safeties, and solid linebackers dominated other teams passing games, daring them to throw into dangerous coverage. The last few years have not exactly lived up to that reputation. A big reason - Linebackers.

By the End of the Season Andrew Motuapuaka was getting after it.
By the End of the Season Andrew Motuapuaka was getting after it.
Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

The 2015 season marked another year at a multiple year low point for the Virginia Tech Defense.  There is no sugar coating it; we just weren't good.  There were individual standouts, and a couple of players really shined and grew; but overall the Hokie defense just could not get the critical stops when it absolutely needed to do it.  Two overtime losses and a couple of in season games where one stop would have made the difference on the scoreboard just put a bold type face on the word disappointing.

We have talked about the defensive line, and even with the sub-par seasons for several players there is no one unit that stands out as being as problematic as the linebackers.  There were good performances, and some serious growth.  Andrew Motuapuaka started off the season out of positon (he's really an outside linebacker - even a Whip/Rover combo player in size and skill set) at Mike, and for the first few games he struggled to get off of blocks.  He also had some issues getting pursuit angles right; but by the middle of the season, after his injury, he had completely turned his game around.  He was blitzing well, dropping into coverage, getting quality tackles in critical situations.

The following is extracted from the current posted roster, with year projections from Hokie Sports:

Number

Name

Pos

Height

Weight

Year

30

Johnathan Galante

OLB

5' 9"

204

r-Jr.

33

Quinton Taylor

OLB

6' 1"

224

r-Sr.

8

Zack Treser

LB

6' 4"

226

So./r-Fr.

18

Raymon Minor

LB

6' 2"

221

r-So.

25

Josh Eberly

LB

5' 7"

208

r-Sr.

38

Joe Koshuta

LB

6' 2"

240

So./r-Fr.

42

Matt Reinhart

LB

6' 2"

218

So./r-Fr.

44

Carson Lydon

LB

6' 2"

233

So.

45

Drew Burns

LB

6' 3"

220

r-Sr.

49

Tremaine Edmunds

LB

6' 5"

236

So.

50

Jamieon Moss

LB

6' 2"

213

r-Jr.

53

Trent Young

LB

5' 10"

212

r-So.

54

Andrew Motuapuaka

LB

6' 0"

238

r-Jr.

56

Sean Huelskamp

LB

6' 1"

207

r-Jr.

We are adding a special line for Anthony Shegog.  He is normally a Rover (Strong Safety - DB) but this year ended up playing more than a few plays in a Whip (OLB) Technique.

24

Anthony Shegog

Whip/ROV

6' 3"

212

r-So.

The roster doesn't tell you the story, though.  The real story is how few of those names have any quality experience playing linebacker in real football games.  There are quite a few special teams players, but there are far too few experienced players to make up a reasonable depth chart at the positions of Mike and Backer.  We have even had to reach into the Rover position to fill in at Whip with Anthony Shegog doing a manful job of playing a very different technique than he is used to.

Players and their Game Experience:  (From HokieSports.com)

Name

Position

2015 Experience

Games Played

Johnathan Galante

OLB

43 Special Teams Plays

9 games

Quinton Taylor

OLB

Scout Team

Zack Treser

LB

Freshman Redshirted

Raymon Minor

LB

62 Special Teams Plays

11 games

Josh Eberly

LB

None Noted

4 games

Joe Koshuta

LB

Freshman Redshirted

Matt Reinhart

LB

Freshman Redshirted

Carson Lydon

LB

54 Sp. Teams 21 LB

11 games

Drew Burns

LB

None Noted

2 games

Tremaine Edmunds

LB

273 Sp. Teams 20 LB

13 games

Jamieon Moss

LB

121 Sp. Teams

13 games

Trent Young

LB

21 Sp. Teams

5 games

Andrew Motuapuaka

LB

46 Sp. Teams 656 LB

10 games

Sean Huelskamp

LB

7 Sp. Teams 143 LB

4 games

Anthony Shegog

ROV/OLB

Play count not posted

13 games

The positions are broken up this way to show the serious lack of linebacker experience and depth.  Only Motuapuaka and Huelskamp have logged enough snaps at linebacker to come close to understanding the position at game speed.  There are two players with promise, Lydon and Edmunds who have a mere 41 (Bowl plays don't seem to be counted) snaps at LB between them.  This is not enough to boast about a first rate, deep linebacker corps.

As has been mentioned several times this past season, Coach Foster was forced by this thin configuration, to field a defense that looked more like a 4-1-6, or even a 4-0-7 (ed. can't add after shoveling tons of snow) where he used six defensive backs to cover both running and passing plays.  The appearance of Huelskamp as a viable third linebacker in the mix was a serious step up for him.  He needed to be the next man up, and held his own at a level far above his natural experience level.

There are no linebackers listed in the early signing list, and only two OLB commits for Fall.  Whatever transpires with the new coaching staff; one thing will dog this team into 2016.  We have a serious dearth of linebacker talent, with natural Outside Linebackers filling in for interior positions, and defensive backs being pressed into service as extra run stoppers as a matter of normal procedure.  This means that the defense is seriously out of balance.  That makes it nearly impossible to cover the middle of the field for quick passes, break away second level runs, and running quarterbacks.   The weakness is likely to continue until a true Mike and Backer combination - and pipeline are developed.  That is going to take time, and the defense is likely to struggle until those positions are dealt with.

Spring is going to be a serious challenge for this squad, but real game experience is what is needed.  That is in seriously low supply.

Defensive Backs are next on the Football Agenda

GO HOKIES!!!!

Sources:

http://virginiatech.247sports.com/Season/2016-Football/Commits

http://www.hokiesports.com/football/players/?sort=Position,LastName