The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching, something we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. That’s not until July 21, however. In the meantime, it’s as good a time as any to start taking a closer look at Virginia Tech.
This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on the Hokies’ roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people/ideas that will determine whether Virginia Tech’s 2013 season is a success or not. Next up is …
No. 21: Ronny Vandyke, whip linebacker
The hype on Vandyke started early last year, and Bud Foster is the reason. He said the then-redshirt freshman was an ideal fit for his system, a 6-foot-3, 211-pound heat-seeker who could cover the run and pass.
Things didn’t quite pan out that early for Vandyke, however, although big expectations remain.
Instead of Vandyke seizing the whip linebacker spot last season, it was veteran Jeron Gouveia-Winslow who held it early. Vandyke began to steal reps in the middle of the year, but it was senior special teams star Alonzo Tweedy who thrived at the end of the season, a blitz specialist who helped the Hokies defense immensely.
Both Gouveia-Winslow and Tweedy are gone now, leaving the job for Vandyke and only Vandyke, because the backups have little to no experience. Foster said Vandyke’s progress stalled last year, saying he played too robotic and times and didn’t let his natural ability take over.
“He didn’t want to make a mistake,” Foster said in the spring. “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.”
That should subside with time and experience. Foster still loves Vandyke’s potential. Recent whips haven’t been this long or rangy. Even Cody Grimm, the standard bearer at the position in the last five years, was only 5-11, 210 pounds. So Vandyke has some advantages in that sense, but he’s consistently got to be the aggressive kind of guy who de-cleated two Pittsburgh players with one hit on a punt return last September.
Virginia Tech hasn’t had a huge play-maker at the whip spot since Grimm, save for Tweedy in a couple games last year (and the debate will rage on about why he didn’t get a shot earlier). With as much as Vandyke has been hyped, it’s easy to forget he ‘s only entering his third season. That’s when things start to make sense for a lot of college players.
If Vandyke can put it together, he’d be a valuable asset, a linebacker big enough to help with the run and fast enough to keep up with receivers, which would minimize the amount of on-the-fly substitutions the Hokies need to do to pair up with different offensive sets.
Any defensive coordinator would love to have that versatility.
Coming Monday: He’s the old man on the team.