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Virginia Tech Hokies 2016 Roster Preview - Linebackers

Gobbler Country looks at the Hokie Linebacker situation this season and asks a pointed question.

Andrew is playing.  He's got a big year ahead of him.
Andrew is playing. He's got a big year ahead of him.
Michael Shroyer/Getty Images

There was the feeling when starting this preview that the article was going to be quick work.  There was even the impulse, given the 2014 and 2015 defense field expedient configurations of 4-1-6 and 4-0-7 that the linebacker roster might be so light it could just be combined into the Defensive Backs preview (coming, folks, coming).  Temptation to economize is not particularly fair to the existing brave but happy few (Where is good Prince Hal when you need him? -€” and this is about ‘college' football so you better be able to catch the reference.)

If there was a list of the neglected, undersized, and under recruited position in all of collegiate sports, the Virginia Tech Linebacker might be pretty close to the top of the list.  We have had, occasionally, very good college level players; but #LBU is Penn State, not us.  Hall and Adibi were our last great pair.  Cody Grimm ended up a Strong Safety, and no one else stuck at the next level, in position.  That's not a great track record.  It's also a serious problem when it comes to several critical aspects of defending against the spread/speed read option offenses that are currently being fielded.  Frankly, Paxton Lynch and the 2014, 2015 Memphis Tigers would have brutalized us.

This year might be just a little different.  Even though there are more than a few players who are less than ideally sized for their potential positions. (Ok, Bud Foster adapts on the fly. It's his ‘thing'.  He just does that; but there are still some assigned positions for some players.) The Spring Game, however, showed something a bit interesting to those of us who noticed.  We saw a Mike and a Backer in the defensive formation.  There was a real commitment, through the practice game, to making sure that the ‘2' part of the 4-2-5 Hokie Defense was represented on the field and those players played linebacker, not extra lineman or scrambling defensive back.

Out of the seventeen (16 plus a Rover -€” which I will explain a bit later) seven have some game experience, and four of them have two seasons worth.  That is not a grand number, though.  It leads to a crying need for serious recruiting chops for 2018 and beyond. The roster is changing as we write.  The morning check of 7/27 reveals two more Freshmen on the list.  We will also see how this gets addressed as some of the defensive back generalists beef up and perhaps get pulled into the middle.

Well, the inexperience and relative thin nature of the future is for the future.  This is now, and 2016 looks like there are still a few size issues, but no real negatives on first two levels of the depth chart.  Here's what we have in order of field experience and then class:

Players with two seasons:

Sean Huelskamp -€” redshirt Junior, Sean played in four games in 2015 and started two of them.  He played mostly defensive snaps, and netted three and a half tackles for loss, and a sack; for a first time starter that's pretty good.  He backed up Andrew Motuapuaka and played beside him, filling in where needed.  That's actually good.  He's flexible and can handle either the Mike or Backer responsibilities.

Jamieon Moss -€” redshirt Junior, Jamieon is mostly a Special Teams player for the prior two seasons.  We will see if he spends any time on the field for defensive snaps this season.  Special Teams still has a critical role to play, and unless the rules start removing the function players like Jamieon Moss will have a chance to excel.

Andrew Motuapuaka -€” redshirt Junior, Andrew is functionally the starting Mike Linebacker for the team, though he's probably more physically suited for Backer, or Whip/Rover.  He struggled early in the 2015 season (getting off of bocks, and taking appropriate angles) but as he gained experience and knowledge he also gained effectiveness.   His solid initial 2014 season was followed up by an excellent final half of 2015.  He even grabbed an interception.  Look for Motuapuaka to step his effort up to the next level in 2016, the team is going to need him to lead.  It would be nice to see him playing in a more natural position for his size and skill set, though.

Anthony Shegog -€” redshirt Junior, Anthony stepped it up big last season.  He played in all thirteen games, and started five.  He nabbed 29 tackles, 16 of them solo, and recovered two fumbles.  He'll undoubtedly be a leader and major contributor for the 2016 effort.

Players with 1 season:

Jonathan Galante -€” true Senior, Jonathan was a walk on from Bluefield College.  He played special teams last season.

Trent Young -€” redshirt Sophomore, Trent is another Special Teams player with limited (6) game experience last season.

Terrell Edmunds* -€” redshirt Sophomore, Terrell played significant time last season and made a serious impression on Hokie Nation.  His 34 tackles and 1 fumble recovery were excellent for a first complete season.  Look for this Edmunds to continue to stretch the switching Rover/Whip technique in either direction as needed.

Tremaine Edmunds -€” true Sophomore, Tremaine is actually the Hokies' first true Mike sized linebacker in at least a decade.  He's listed at 6'5" and 236 pounds; he's more appropriately sized to fight in the middle under the zone, and pressure the A gap on blitz packages.  He spent most of the Spring Game playing a classic Mike linebacker position.  I would not doubt that he will end up being a designated "spy" for running quarterbacks.  Big and fast, he's capable of controlling underneath the zone.  Last season, he spent most of his time on Special Teams, but as the season progressed his defensive snap count and effectiveness increased.  Look for that trend to continue.

There are quite a few redshirt Freshmen and true Freshmen on the list.  Some are so new they have no bios on Hokie Sports.  Out of the true Freshman list it is difficult to see any of them not being redshirted, though Tavante Beckett probably has the edge on a shot at the regular roster.

2016 Virginia Tech Hokie Linebackers: (as of 7/27/2016)

No.

Name

Exp.

Pos.

Height

Weight

Class

37

Johnathan Galante

1

LB

5' 9"

210

Sr.

56

Sean Huelskamp

2

LB

6' 1"

207

r-Jr.

50

Jamieon Moss

2

LB

6' 2"

220

r-Jr.

54

Andrew Motuapuaka

2

LB

6' 0"

235

r-Jr.

24

Anthony Shegog

2

LB

6' 3"

212

r-Jr.

18

Raymon Minor

-

LB

6' 2"

221

r-So.

53

Trent Young

1

LB

5' 10"

212

r-So.

49

Tremaine Edmunds

1

LB

6' 5"

236

So.

61

Joe Koshuta

-

LB

6' 2"

240

r-Fr.

92

Matt Reinhart

-

LB

6' 2"

225

r-Fr.

58

Zack Treser

-

LB

6' 4"

221

r-Fr.

14

Tavante Beckett

-

LB

6' 0"

215

Fr.

40

Emmanual Belmar

-

LB

6' 2"

230

Fr.

30

Eron Carter

-

LB

6' 2"

230

Fr.

48

Daniel Griffith**

-

LB

6' 1"

225

Fr.

44

Tre Hubbard**

-

LB

6' 0"

230

Fr.

22

Terrell Edmunds

1

ROV

6' 1"

201

r-So.

** Recently added to the roster

The Hokie Linebacker corps looks more experienced, and more ready to face the season than it did last season, at this time.   There is a solid breadth of experience, but some of those folks are dedicated Special Teams players.  Their potential contribution to the defense of 2016 is relatively unknown at this time.  Our proposed depth chart will take some of that into account, and we'll go with the three categories of Mike, Backer, and Whip/Rover (even though the usual scheme calls for only two true linebackers.)

Theoretical Linebacker 3 Deep for 2016

Backer

Mike

Whip/Rover

1

Motuapuaka

Tremaine Edmunds

Terrell Edmunds

2

Shegog/Huelskamp

Huelskamp/Motuapuaka

Moss/Shegog

3

Beckett (if no redshirt)

A special note on the Whip/Rover position -€” The evolution of this particular player has gone from two different skill sets usually represented by a different player, to a technique shift that is assigned to one player dynamically before the snap.  Generally when a "Nickel" situation is put in one player will favor the Rover Technique with the additional defensive back being charged with the Whip technique.  For the purposes of the position Terrell Edmunds looks like the one player who can cover either position on the fly.

The big issue will be on-field Defensive Snap experience.  There is modest full roster depth at Linebacker in general, but the field experience is often Special Teams, and almost no defensive play.  That will be an issue that, as noted before, might begin the tug of gravity on the already inexperienced defensive back position.

There is a reasonably effective two deep roster for the start of the practice season.  It's, again, time for some experienced players to step up into unfamiliar territory.  It most certainly is an opportunity for the redshirt and true Freshmen to take a run at the regular roster.

The Linebacker puzzle hasn't quite been solved yet.  The long term picture is even fuzzier.  There are good players here, but only a couple of injuries short of a serious problem.

Next Up: a depleted and inexperienced Defensive Backfield.

GO HOKIES!!!!