So, on our last meeting we talked about a stacked and experienced defensive backfield. I purposely left out the supposed "elephant in the room", what happens to Devon Hunter. Joshua disagrees with my evaluation, which is not surprising; he has his own ways of evaluating talent and such. As I said in my response to UBank, I really don't see Devon Hunter playing this season, unless the circumstances are dire, and I don't care how much raw or semi-developed talent he has. Bud Foster's defense is not the part time, almost pure physical gift level of effort that high school defense has been. Maybe Hunter plays, I don't know. Maybe if he doesn't, he gets angry and disappointed and does something rash. We'll if he does that, then there are lots of us out here in the old and gray haired department who would advise him against being impatient and if he isn't, wish him luck because someone with that sort of ego is a difficult fit into any team. I am trusting that Devon Hunter sees what is ahead of him, and what benefits he'd have in doing what the coaches give him to do for the benefit of the team. Again, we'll see. With ten experienced players who can play every position in the defensive backfield, putting in a Freshman is an 'iffy' proposition. I remember when it wasn't allowed, either.
So, that was then, this is now, and we are here to talk Linebackers, and how things look coming in to the fall. There are nine listed linebackers on the roster, and basically two or three starting positions to fill. The three names with the most experience, quality game time, and physicality to play are well known to us at this point in the cycle. First, we'll keep the basics to Foster's base defense (4-2-5) and deal with the two people who absolutely will show up as #1's for their position.
2017 Hokie Linebacker Roster
|24||Anthony Shegog||3||LB||6' 2"||213||r-Sr.||Stafford, Va.|
|54||Andrew Motuapuaka||3||LB||6' 0"||233||r-Sr.||Virginia Beach, Va.|
|56||Sean Huelskamp||3||LB||6' 1"||222||r-Sr.||Centreville, Va.|
|53||Trent Young||1||LB||5' 10"||214||r-Jr.||Richmond, Va.|
|49||Tremaine Edmunds||2||LB||6' 5"||236||Jr.||Danville, Va.|
|58||Zack Treser||-||LB||6' 5"||225||r-So.||Blacksburg, Va.|
|14||Tavante Beckett||1||LB||5' 10"||214||So.||Chesapeake, Va.|
|48||Daniel Griffith||-||LB||6' 0"||216||r-Fr.||Suffolk, Va.|
|38||Rico Kearney||-||LB||6' 0"||219||Fr.||Jacksonville, Fla.|
|Jaylen Griffin||-||LB||6' 2"||230||Fr.||Rome, GA|
|Rayshard Ashby||-||LB||5' 11"||230||Fr.||Chesterfield, VA|
|Dylan Rivers||-||LB||6' 3"||230||Fr.||Stephens City, VA|
Redshirt Senior Andrew Motuapuaka (Who still has the best pre-game roster call out in the history of Virginia Tech. ANDREW-uh MO-TOO-UH-POOOO-AH-KAH!) is looking like he's "the guy" for Coaches Foster and Fuente. Andrew is making the trip to Charlotte and the big ACC joint press conference gig. The honor is no trivial thing as last year's invited player representatives’ show. He's the experience core of the defensive midfield. While sized like an outside linebacker, Foster subbed him into the Mike position two seasons ago. Though he had some tough lessons, Andrew made his presence felt, and that was serious pain for opposing offenses. Last season he started every game and his impact was immediate, serious, and impressive. His numbers of tackles, sacks, tackles for loss, fumble recoveries, interceptions are the stuff of dominant starters.
Tremaine Edmunds may be the biggest Backer (at least the tallest) that Bud has put on the field in the last several decades of play. He's flat out fast. He's strong, and has a good head for what's going on in his zone of responsibility. Mostly though, he has a real targeting-radar for where the ball is going, and how to get to that point on the field where his impact is going to be felt the most. Two seasons ago he received his first playing assignments, and improved steadily. Last season that toolbox became more complete; and his work looked more fluid and natural. What's an even greater bonus is his play on the field with his brother Terrell. It's like the two of them have some sort of subspace radio wave going. They just do complimentary and supportive actions nearly without direction. Some people just look effortless at doing things, Tremaine Edmunds is about to get to that level on the playing field. He can cover Tight Ends in drags, digs, and flares. He's tough to throw over, and very dangerous in a blitzing situation, it's almost like Foster has ditched the concept of Mike and Backer, and just placed two Mikes on the field to alternate techniques back and forth, thus forcing presnap reads to be more or less 50/50 guesses. That's powerful stuff for opposing quarterbacks to deal with. A DC that can dial up unusual blitzes from any player at any time presents an offensive problem to all but the most physically intimidating quarterbacks.
The issue, this season is what happens after the number 1 positions are off the field. The first most obvious issue is the small number of linebackers on the full class roster. There are 12 total, when there were 16 last season. The Number 2 slots on the field look to be owned by Sean Huelskamp and Anthony Shegog. Both are redshirt Seniors who are going to be playing their last games for Tech. While neither is probably going to get next level attention, they do have a huge role to play in getting Tech to the next level.
Huelskamp is usually the main backup for one of the middle positions. He played in all 14 games last season, but didn’t record huge numbers. Some of that is due to the season long durability of both Motuapuaka and Edmunds; but he’s going to be challenged to step it up this season. Shegog has been steady over the last two seasons. Each of the last two seasons he’s netted about 25 tackles, but last season he added a fumble recovery and a critical interception in the Belk Bowl to his resume. Like Huelskamp, Shegog has played in every game for 2016. I expect that with the reduced roster depth of the Linebacking corps, both of them are going to be expected to contribute at a higher level.
The next experienced linebacker who we’ll probably see more of is Tavante Beckett. Beckett’s a true Sophomore who as a Freshman appeared in every game last season. That’s a real indicator of some serious talent when you are talking about being a linebacker in the Defense where the DC is the main linebacker coach. Beckett’s best years are ahead of him and getting more playing time will definitely help him establish himself as a “go to” player in 2018 and 2019.
Of course it wouldn't be a roster review if there weren’t "issues" requiring address. The first and foremost is still running quarterbacks. QBs breaking containment on the edges to rip off big critical down yardage has been the situation that has dogged the Andrew and Tremaine combination for two seasons. Last year things were a bit better, if only because they had to cover Evans in practice; but when coupled with the triple option, there just wasn't the coverage or flow necessary to stop Georgia Tech. It also killed us against Syracuse where we just didn't seem to be able to spy the QB and keep him from breaking containment. This season is going to be a repeat of last if the defense cannot shut down the option and the running QB. We know at least three schools that are going to run their quarterbacks at us; Georgia Tech, Pitt, and Clemson. Putting that sort of stink in a box and keeping the lid on it is going to be a main mission for the upcoming season.
The one major item on everyone's list is that the pictures you see here are, pretty much the same pictures that you will see in 2017. That's right; there are no significant top level changes to the Virginia Tech Linebacker Depth Chart anticipated for this season. That presents a few issues for 2018 and 2019, but it ends up providing us with an unchanged starting 2+2, with the prospect of two additional younger players getting some field time.
There is an interesting note and personal observation that was backed up in my review of GC's photo library, though. Bud Foster's defense has evolved and is something that might be a brutal combination of planning and accidental lessons learned.
Coach Foster looks like he's got the personnel to stick with his 4-2-5 defense. But that's like saying that a 1970 442 is just an Oldsmobile Cutlass. Once you get past the base sheet metal, there is almost nothing shared between the two. (Okay, I'm dating myself by using 1960’s era muscle cars as metaphors.)
What Foster seems to be doing is making his Defensive Line (that review is coming), bigger, faster, and capable of controlling the area in front of and behind line of scrimmage (from +3 to -15 yards) without requiring an extra man in the box. We'll cover the defensive line in the next article, but what that give us is 2 wildcards and five cover men in the defensive mid and backfields.
Folks, that's devastating and nearly impossible to plan to defeat. Just take a look at some of the pictures. Tremaine and Andrew play Mike interchangeably. Motuapuaka might be the 'Mike' on the depth chart, but on the field he's just as likely to line up at a Backer slot with Edmunds at Mike. What's more is there is no Left/Right bias. Some defenses don't swap linebackers around outside of the A gap. AM might line up outside the DT or even DE on some plays, while TE2 is on the right 'A' gap (with TE1 sneaking up into the box for a 4-3 effect). What's really interesting when the supposed blitzing linebacker doesn't, the Backer does from the 5 hole on a stunt with the DE. Or both Linebackers drop into coverage and there are seven players operating a ball thievery ring.
AM and TE2 played lights out football last season. Both of them have improved, and we might not see the ghosts of Hall and Adibi this season.
Next Up the Defensive Line gets some face time.
It was awesome last season, and could be checking in with another power season in 2017.