Rock Solid

Carmichael is back for his senior year

Against a pass-happy team like Boise State, the secondary must be dependable and able to cover receivers like a glove. That describes the Virginia Tech secondary to a tee.

If Penn State is Linebacker U, and Miami is Running back U, then Virginia Tech might as well be considered Defensive Back U.   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.  

Bud 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.   

Let's get started with the "rock" star of the secondary--the boundary corner.  

In 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. 

 

So who will be manning the boundary against the Broncos? .........

 

21 – Rashad "Rock" Carmichael (5-11, 190, r-Sr.)

Carmichael 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, Carmichael 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.  Carmichael will be the next Hokie secondary alumnus employed by the NFL.  

 

9 – Chris Hill (5-10, 185, r-Jr.)

Hill 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.  

Speaking 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 operate.   

Who do I expect to start at the field corner?

 

17 – Jayron Hosley (5-10, 172, So.)

Hosley 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 Carmichael 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.    

Behind Carmichael , 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.   

Let's 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.

 

So who will be taking over for Chancelor at the FS spot?

 

15 – Eddie Whitley (6-1, 191, Jr.)  

Whitley 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 year.

 

1 – Antone Exum (5-11, 207, r-Fr.)

Exum 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.  

That 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.  

So who will man this critical spot in VT's secondary?

 

2 – Davon Morgan (6-0, 198, Sr.)

Take 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.  

The 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.  

Although 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. 

 

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