Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has made it clear repeatedly how much he likes Ronny Vandyke at the whip linebacker position. So it was no surprise that the redshirt freshman moved up to co-No. 2 on the depth chart at the spot Tuesday along with Alonzo Tweedy.
The question is: can he continue that ascent?
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Vandyke has yet to play in a college game, yet he’s earned nothing but compliments from Foster, who called him the “complete package” at the position last spring, praise he reiterated at Tech’s media day Saturday.
“He’s long, so I think from a pass-rush standpoint he can do some things,” Foster said. “I think he can get in passing lanes with his length in coverage. He reminds me closer to what we had in James Anderson a few years ago, but he’s probably more fluid in space.”
Wide receiver Marcus Davis added to the chorus of praise for Vandyke.
“I think he’s gonna be a killer,” he said.
The whip is a play-making position in Foster’s scheme, but the Hokies haven’t had a standout there since Cody Grimm was a first-team All-ACC pick and third-team AP All-American in 2009 after leading the team with 106 tackles and 12.5 tackles for a loss.
Jeron Gouveia-Winslow remains at the top of the depth chart right now, part of “a tremendous battle” for the starting job, Foster said. Gouveia-Winslow had what Foster described as a “nightmare” 2010 season, during which he missed tackles in key situations in losses to Boise State and James Madison. But he played solidly the first six games of 2011 before suffering a Lisfranc injury in his foot against Miami. He missed the final eight games and was limited in the spring.
In that time, Vandyke has come along steadily. A rover last year in practice, he moved to whip, the position he played as a senior at South County High in Lorton, in the winter. He took to it naturally, named the top newcomer on the defense by the end of spring drills.
At 6-foot-3, he seems to be a better fit physically at the position that his competitors. Gouveia-Winslow, at 6-2, 210, doesn’t run as well in the open field. Tweedy, at 6-2, 193, is probably the fastest of the group but is also the smallest, which could hurt his run support. Vandyke could give the Hokies someone equally strong against the run and pass, a bonus that would allow them to substitute less in nickel situations.
For his part, Vandyke is simply enjoying the process, even if he’s not atop the depth chart.
“I don’t find it difficult at all,” he said. “I just know what kind of player I am. Just keep working and keep learning the little things and the big things will take care of itself.”
Experience might be the only thing holding Vandyke back.
“I think the more he’s on the field,” Foster said, “the more he’ll end up on the field when it’s all said and done.”