Virginia Tech’s spring practice is fast approaching, with drills beginning March 27. To prepare you for what should be a highly-anticipated spring session, I’ll be breaking down the Hokies by position groups over the next week and a half.
Read the previous installments by clicking on the links: quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and tight ends and offensive line. We started the defense yesterday with the defensive line. Today, it’s the linebackers.
The 2012 numbers
– Jack Tyler: 119 tackles, 13.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 13 QBH
– Bruce Taylor, 76 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 12 QBH, FF
– Alonzo Tweedy: 38 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks, 4 QBH
– Jeron Gouveia-Winslow: 28 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 QBH, FF
– Ronny Vandyke: 21 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 QBH, FF
– Josh Trimble: 13 tackles, FR
– Chase Williams: 7 tackles, TFL, 2 QBH
– Tariq Edwards: 4 tackles
– Deon Clarke: 1 tackles, .5 TFL
– Derek DiNardo: 1 tackle
– Tariq Edwards, r-Sr.
– Jack Tyler, r-Sr.
– Chase Williams, r-Jr.
– Derek DiNardo, r-Jr. (walk-on)
– Josh Trimble, r-So. (walk-on)
– D.J. Ward, r-So. (walk-on)
– Deon Clarke, r-Fr.
– Devin Vandyke, r-Fr.
– Drew Burns, r-Fr. (walk-on)
– Josh Eberly, r-Fr. (walk-on)
– Ronny Vandyke, r-So.
– Dahman McKinnon, r-Fr.
– Jamieon Moss, Fr.
– Andrew Motua’puaka, Fr.
The starting trio seems to be all but set, but will the Hokies be able to develop enough depth behind Tyler, Edwards and Vandyke to feel comfortable during the rigors of the season?
The star attraction
Tyler went from walk-on to scholarship player to injury fill-in to All-ACC linebacker in the last few years, seizing the opportunity to be a full-time starter last year when injuries slowed Taylor and Edwards in the offseason. Playing the mike position, Tyler was a magnet to the ball, racking up a team-high 119 tackles, tied for third-most in the ACC. That’s 24 more than any returning player in the ACC. Tyler used to be a great story simply for working his way from an under-recruited prospect to a contributor at Tech. Now, he’s a good story for the fact that he might have a shot at an NFL future with another solid year.
With not too much debate about the starting spots — Tyler is a given, Edwards should be a lock if healthy and Vandyke has been the whip of the future for a year now — the real battles might be for second-team spots. The Hokies are very inexperienced after the projected starters. Only Williams has gotten an extended look in spring ball, taking advantage of Taylor and Edwards being out last year. Even still, he only played 83 defensive snaps last season, so his resume as a linebacker isn’t very broad. Along with Williams, a pair of redshirt freshmen — Clarke and Devin Vandyke — should get plenty of reps this spring. Other than Williams, they’re the only two inside linebackers who aren’t walk-ons. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster liked what he saw in them when they signed in 2012. After a year of watching, now is their first shot at making a real impression.
The new guys
It was a light class on linebackers. Moss, from Elizabeth City, N.C., switched his commitment from East Carolina, then got interest from some of the Carolina schools late in the process. He projects as a whip. Motua’puaka is best known as quarterback Bucky Hodges‘ teammate at Salem High in Virginia Beach. But recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring said on signing day that the linebacker has a “GPS on the football” and always seems to be around the play. Motua’puaka had 115 tackles and 21 TFLs as a senior in high school. Sounds like more than just a throw-in.
The wild card
There’s not a whole lot to choose from here. Edwards is a former starter, so he’s pretty well established. Vandyke has been described as the ideal whip linebacker by Foster so often that it doesn’t seem like there’s much of a chance that he won’t succeed at the position. I’ll go with McKinnon here. He had a legal scrape in the offseason after a car accident that briefly led to his suspension from the team. Now he’s back, and Tech will need him. The whip depth is dire, with Vandyke the only other player there on the roster. A few recruitniks described McKinnon as a sleeper prospect when he signed. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to show his stuff this spring.
How little experience did the group get last year? Tyler played 819 snaps, but the other linebackers that remain on the roster had just 269 defensive snaps combined (Ronny Vandyke 152, Williams 83, Edwards 23, Clarke 9, Trimble 2).