is Linebacker U, and
is Running back U, then
Virginia Tech might as well be considered
The Hokies have a long history of turning underrated recruits into
All-Americans and NFL draft picks. In
the past 15 years, there have been times when the defensive line has been weak.
At other times, the linebacking corps has failed to meet expectations.
However, the secondary is the anchor of the VT defense and one could
argue that it is the rock of the entire program as it has been the most
consistent performing unit in the Frank Beamer era.
Foster’s scheme works slightly different in the defensive backfield.
I will give you a look at the responsibilities of each of the four
secondary positions and a rundown of who will be manning those positions for the
Hokies this year.
get started with the “rock” star of the secondary--the boundary corner.
Foster’s scheme, the top cornerback does not necessarily line up against the
other team’s top receiver, nor does he necessarily line up on the right or
left side of the defense. The
boundary corner lines up on the short side of the field. You may ask, “Don’t
you want your best cornerback out on the wide side of the field or covering the
best receiver in space?” Bud
Foster’s response is ‘no’. Foster’s
philosophy is to make every opponent one-dimensional by taking away the run.
The boundary corner is traditionally VT’s most aggressive, toughest,
and best man-to-man coverage guy. He
must be excellent in run support and self-sufficient in coverage as the free
safety shades to the wide side of the field.
Another reason this is done is to take away the easiest throws (to the
short side line) for a college QB. Most
college QB's don’t have the arm strength to beat you on out routes to the wide
side of the field. By playing the
best corner on the short side of the field, it forces young QBs to make tougher
throws. Foster uses a blend of
coverage and blitzing schemes that often isolate the boundary corner.
Because of this, the pattern has been to move VT’s most experienced
corner to the boundary. It is a rite
of passage at this point.
who will be manning the boundary against the Broncos? .........
– Rashad “Rock”
(5-11, 190, r-Sr.)
stared all 13 games last
season and took over the boundary role a little prematurely last year as the
incumbent starter, Stephen Virgil, was injured on the final play of last
year’s opening game. Virgil
continued to gut out a gritty performance last season even though his knee never
fully healed. The coaching staff
felt he would be better served as the field corner, as it is the less demanding
of the two positions. At the
beginning of last season,
was the big question mark in
the secondary. “Rock” answered
the bell, posting 55 tackles, six interceptions, six passes defenesed, and six
QB hurries. He also boasts a
blistering 4.29 40 yard dash, tied for first on the team.
“Rock” spent most of the spring at the field corner position because
the Hokies will be very inexperienced on the wide side of the field.
However, I fully expect him to be moved back to the boundary this August.
will be the next Hokie secondary alumnus employed by the NFL.
– Chris Hill (5-10, 185, r-Jr.)
will be the primary backup at both the boundary and field corner positions this
year. An exceptional athlete, Hill
posted a 4.31 40 yard dash in off-season workouts.
Physically, Hill has all the tools to be a dominant cornerback.
He has struggled with his coverage technique and open-field tackling
early in his career causing the highly regarded recruit to ride the pine.
However, he seemed to turn the corner this spring as defensive backs
Coach Torian Gray has not yet completely settled the battle for the starting
field corner position.
of the field corner, let’s discuss this position’s responsibilities.
The field corner will line up on the wide side of the field, as the name
implies. He receives more help over
the top from the free safety and has less responsibility in run support because
the whip linebacker also lines up on his side of the field.
The field corner must be excellent in pass coverage because most teams
will split their best WR to the field side to give him the most space to
do I expect to start at the field corner?
– Jayron Hosley (5-10, 172, So.)
played in all 13 games last year as a true freshman. He is truly special as a
punt returner. The Hokies don’t
often let freshmen man this role, but Hosley’s talent for returning punts
could not be left on the bench. He
started the Chick-Fil-A Bowl at the boundary corner because Stephen Virgil was
ruled academically ineligible and the coaching staff felt that
was more needed at the field corner position against the Vol's’ offensive
scheme. Hosley turned in a great
performance including a monster sack on a CB blitz.
In my opinion, Hosley has the most upside of any cornerback on VT’s
roster and I will go out on a limb and say that he will be a star in the NFL one
day. He is a dynamic playmaker and
when he picks off a pass this year it is going to be hard to stop him from
taking it to the house.
Hill, and Hosley, things get a little thin.
James Hopper (5-9, 183, r-Fr) and Jacob Sykes (6-0, 190, r-Jr.) are two
guys that turned in solid spring practices but still appear to be a little ways
away from being game-day contributors.
now take a look at the quarterback of the secondary, the free safety.
In Foster’s scheme, the FS is responsible for making sure the rest of
his platoon is in the correct alignment and understands their coverage
responsibilities on each and every play. When
the opponent breaks the huddle in an unexpected formation or sends people in
motion at the line of scrimmage, it is the free safety’s responsibility to
keep everyone on the same page. This
requires the free safety to be a veteran of the system as well as a heady
football player. As an example, a
player by the name of Jimmy Williams started for the Hokies as a sophomore at
the FS spot. The Hokies were torched
often that season due to Williams not being up to snuff.
The following season saw Williams move to CB where he excelled and earned
first team All-American honors his senior year.
Obviously, it wasn’t a physical problem with Williams--it was mental.
This year’s departed starter was quite the opposite.
Kam Chancelor came to VT as an unheralded QB recruit.
When he stepped on campus, his physical presence was far greater than any
true freshman the Hokies had seen in a while.
He was moved to CB due to his great athletic ability where he contributed
in mop-up duty and special teams. The
following year he was moved to the rover spot, the most natural position for his
body type (6-4, 230). That year, the
Hokies had a bigger need at the FS spot and Chancelor was the best fit for the
job due to his knowledge of the system. He
started at FS for the Hokies for two years and struggled at times due to his
size. The mental part of the game
was there, but he wasn’t always fluid and agile enough to make the plays.
I have a lot of respect for players like this who make the best move for
the team even if it is to their own detriment.
who will be taking over for Chancelor at the FS spot?
– Eddie Whitley (6-1, 191, Jr.)
is a versatile player who can line up at any of the four secondary spots.
He first turned heads in practice as a true freshman by delivering
monster blows to receivers he was covering.
This guy hits like a Mack truck, considering his size. Whitley
has patiently waited his turn, having spent time learning all four of the
secondary positions. This past
spring he made zero mistakes in getting his teammates in proper alignment, which
is pretty impressive for a first time starter at the position.
Whitley brings a more prototypical size/speed combination to the position
than Chancelor did and many feel this position will be an upgrade over last
– Antone Exum (5-11, 207, r-Fr.)
is a guy that has all of Hokie Nation excited.
He is a big, strong, fast, and physical playmaker.
He is the type of player that could excel at multiple positions, both
offensively and defensively. For
now, he is slotted as the #2 FS and will probably be the #2 rover as well.
If Exum had more experience he would likely get the nod over Whitley, but
he is still learning the reads and adjustments.
In my opinion it’s not a question if this young man will be a
star—but when? The sky is the limit for Mr. Exum.
brings us to the position I have already referenced multiple times that you
may not be familiar with—the rover. (The rover is the second of Foster’s hybrid positions and
is coached by Jim Cavanaugh. The
rover is an outside linebacker crossed with a strong safety.
Until Foster adjusted his scheme in the early part of the 2000 decade,
the rover was more linebacker than safety. Now
the rover plays more of traditional strong safety role and the adjustment has
been successful in slowing down the en vogue spread offenses.
This player must be extremely versatile in what he is able to do on the
football field similar to his counterpart, the whip.
He will line up on the short (boundary) side of the field and his primary
responsibility will be run support. Don’t
get complacent thinking that he is only out there to clean up run plays, though.
The rover will blitz from multiple angles, relieve the FS in deep
coverage, match up man v. man on slot receivers and tight ends, and slide in and
play robber-1 coverage. This guy
does it all.
who will man this critical spot in VT’s secondary?
– Davon Morgan (6-0, 198, Sr.)
note that Morgan never redshirted and has been a contributor since day one on
campus. A devastating knee injury in
the 2008 season (his first as the starter) sidelined him for the final nine
games and slowed his growing process. The injury to Morgan forced the
now-departed Dorian Porch into the starting role.
Porch was a heady player and a solid athlete in his own right.
Morgan did not regain his starting role until the final four games of
last season. Now fully recovered
from the knee injury, Morgan will be one of the leaders of not only the
secondary, but of the entire defense. In
my opinion, he is due for a breakout season and will finally fulfill the
enormous potential the VT coaches saw in him as a high school senior.
Morgan should be selected in next year’s NFL draft.
aforementioned Anton Exum will probably get a number of reps at the rover spot.
Lorenzo Williams is competing to get in the two-deep at whip and will probably
be moved to rover if his efforts at whip are unsuccessful.
There is also the possibility of one of the incoming freshmen, Nick Dew
or Dominique Patterson, contributing as both are special athletes.
However, I find that scenario unlikely at this point.
50% of the starting secondary is not battle-tested, there is a feeling amongst
Hokie fans that this group has the potential to be special.
Some close to the program have stated that this is the fastest group the
Hokies have ever had. I will reserve
my judgment on that matter until the season is over, but I am optimistic about
what I see.