In Jack Tyler, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has a returning All-ACC linebacker whose 119 tackles led the Hokies last season and is tops among returning defensive players in the league in 2013.
After that — be it for injury reasons, inexperience or, well, inexperience — Virginia Tech has some question marks at linebacker, a group that lost veteran mainstay Bruce Taylor and late-bloomer Alonzo Tweedy.
Foster talked about the group after the first practice last Wednesday. Here’s what he had to say:
– The Hokies have high hopes for Tariq Edwards, who is coming off a lost year in which he never fully healed from offseason leg/knee surgeries to reduce the pain from a stress fracture. Frank Beamer said Edwards is fully healthy this spring, welcome news about a guy who was a play-maker in 2011 starting 14 games at backer and finishing with 71 tackles, 11.5 tackles and two picks.
“We need to get him back and being consistent and confident,” Foster said. “I think the big thing is I think he could have played last year, but he was just unsure of that leg and the stability and all those things. That’d be one thing, I think he feels a lot better, and we need that.”
– The backup inside spots have plenty of question marks. Chase Williams, a redshirt junior, is the next most-experienced player, but even that amounted to just 83 snaps last year. He’s played both inside spots but is expected to back up Tyler at mike.
Foster is excited about second-year player Deon Clarke‘s motor and athletic ability and redshirt freshman Devin Vandyke‘s potential. He also mentioned walk-on from Chesapeake Drew Burns as a possibility.
“I think he’s got a chance to be in the mold of some of those kids we’ve had in the past,” Foster said. “He’s a very intelligent guy. He’s got a lot of height and range and athletic ability. He might be a diamond in the rough, so to speak.”
– There’s also Dahman McKinnon, who played whip during a redshirt year but has shifted inside this spring to play backer to give coaches a chance to evaluate him at the position.
“He’s a guy that I didn’t see his ability in space like I saw on the recruiting film,” Foster said. “But what you try to do is try to evaluate guys’ strengths and their weaknesses and put them in the best position to maximize their abilities and minimize their liabilities, and get them to where they’re going to be productive and expose their strengths more than it’s going to expose their weaknesses.
“So that’s what I’m hoping to do with him. He’s gained some weight. I think he’s a really good football player. And I think the closer he’s going to be to the ball, maybe he’s going to be more productive for us.”
– The whip spot is headed by the elder Vandyke, Ronny, a redshirt sophomore who was deemed an ideal candidate for the position when he made the switch from rover last spring but saw his progress stall early in the season.
“Ronny was a freshman. And he kind of played like a freshman at times,” Foster said. “He was so robotic. He didn’t want to make a mistake. It was more like he was playing to do the right thing rather than: let’s do the right thing, but let’s go out and be a football player. Know what I mean?
“And I think he did that later on in the season. Not so robotic, so to speak. Some guys can be that way when they’re young. And that goes back to, more than anything, experience. Guys that have seen it and seen it and seen it and know when to bend or redirect. Ronny was kind of very segmented, robotic compared to what I know he can do. And I’m expecting big things from him this spring.”
– Backing him up, for now, is Josh Trimble, a walk-on redshirt sophomore who thrived on special teams last year’s in Tweedy’s shadow. For that reason alone, Foster likes his ability.
“Not that he’s going to be Tweedy, but if it wasn’t Tweedy, it was Trimble making the play,” Foster said. “So he’s got a knack of bending the body, can redirect. And there’s a similarity between backer and whip a little bit. He’ll play a little bit more in space there than the does in space. But I think he’s got those tools. We’re just trying to take advantage of a guy that maybe has some play-making abilities and put him in a spot.”