2013 Defense

The defense loses two starters and two key backups to graduation. With the way the unit finished up 2012, there is hope for next season, especially if starters Antone Exum and James Gayle return for their senior year.
 
The linebacking corp takes the biggest hit, losing Bruce Taylor, Alonzo Tweedy and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow. Taylor was the leader of the defense, and was All-Conference his junior year despite missing the last few games due to injury. Tweedy was an underappreciated tackler and an excellent special teams player. Winslow was very inconsistent but gave the Hokies depth at whip. The good news for 2013 is that the backup at each linebacker position has experience. The concerning news is that there will not be much proven depth behind the new starters. The incoming freshman class doesn't have any real standouts that could challenge for serious playing time, but depth could depend on the progression of a few redshirts from this past season.
 
Here are the projected 2013 starters at LB:
 
WHIP: Ronny Vandyke
 
Vandyke was probably the most talked about player from the spring into fall practice by Tech coaches. Bud Foster said he was the complete package for a linebacker. At 6'3, 215, he is fast and can cover alot of space. Though he received significant playing time in 2012, he didn't stand out the way some might have hoped. Vandyke is still a young player with little starting experience. Even so, expectations will still be high for the redshirt sophomore next season.
 
This is where depth is an issue. Kyle Fuller has played alot of whip the past two seasons, but the coaches would probably like to keep him in the secondary as much as possible. Redshirt freshmen Dahmon McKinnon and Devin Vandyke, Ronny's younger brother, are possibilities, as their positions could change and vary throughout spring practice based on where they are needed.
 
MIKE: Jack Tyler
 
Tyler will be a senior and will presumably take over the leadership role left by Bruce Taylor. He is an excellent tackler, as he ranked in the top 10 in the nation in tackes through the first three weeks of 2012. If he continues to grow at the pace he has since he started the Orange Bowl two years ago, he could easily be an All-ACC candidate.
 
There is a little more certainty as far as backups behind Tyler. Chase Williams has played well in his limited experience, but has always stood out in spring games and could prove to be a reliable second-string. Williams will be a redshirt junior and will have more expected of him. He won't challenge Tyler, but ideally there wouldn't be much dropoff if he had to go in for a few snaps to give Tyler a rest. Behind Williams, freshman Deon Clarke practiced at mike in the spring and ended up redshirting in 2012. If Williams plays well enough, Clarke could get moved to either whip or backer, depending on what the depth is like at those other two positions.
 
BACKER: Tariq Edwards
 
Backer may be the sketchiest of all the linebacker spots for next season. After needing surgery in the 2012 offseason, Edwards took longer than expected to recover, and ended up only playing 23 defensive snaps the entire season. Before his knee injury last March, Edwards was a rising playmaker who appeared to have locked up the starting role for 2012, but evidently his progress wasn't enough to make the coaches use him significantly. Edwards could return to his 2011 form for his senior year, or he could lose his starting role. There is not much to base a prediction off of, but it would really fill out the linebacking corp if he could become a reliable starter again.
 
Once again, it will be freshmen backing up this position. Clarke could get moved here, especially if Edwards doesn't perform. Ken Ekanem was recruited as a defensive end, but there's a chance he could get moved to backer or even whip. Edwards' performance is key at this position, because the depth is all but non-existent. Josh Trimble is the only returner, and he likes to blow up bottles outside his friends' apartments so he may or may not be a reliable option for 2013.
 
Projected 2013 DL starters:
 
Defensive ends: James Gayle, Corey Marshall
 
Gayle is one of the Hokie underclassmen considering turning pro, but it's not too likely that will happen. He has totaled at least five sacks each of the past two seasons, but his junior season was a bit of a disappointment considering how he finished 2011. He has all the potential in the world, and is one of the most gifted athletes on the roster with a 4.4 40 and a 38" vertical to go with his 6'4, 270 frame. 10 sacks are a very realistic goal for Gayle next season. As for Marshall, he swiched back and forth with J.R. Collins at DE, and by the bowl game had earned his starting spot and made the most of it. He should continue to hold down that spot and make plays, especially against the pass.
 
Experience is not as much of an issue with the line. Tyrel Wilson could start for most ACC teams, but he will be the third DE for the Hokies. Wilson is a clutch performer, as he showed late in the game against Rutgers. Collins could be moved back to end in the offseason, but the coaches have liked to play him at both spots on the line because of his versatility. He isn't quite big enough to be an every-down tackle, but his quickness gives him an edge on the inside. Collins was an All-ACC player two years ago at DE, but he will most likely get playing time at both spots. Regardless, he will be on the field a considerable amount. Dadi Nicholas is another backup who will contribute, and as last season wore on, Nicholas got on the field more. Redshirt freshmen Ken Ekanem and Jarontay Jones could push for the fourth spot, and incoming freshman Wyatt Teller is the only line recruit who might play next year.
 
Defensive tackles: Luther Maddy, Derrick Hopkins
 
Antoine Hopkins is gone, but there shouldn't be any dropoff in 2013. Maddy and Derrick Hopkins both played solidly all season long in 2012. Maddy showed he could rush the passer as well as stop the run, and Hopkins specialized in clogging holes on the line of scrimmage. Maddy could be an All-ACC candidate in 2013. 
 
Behind Maddy and Hopkins are two other tackles with starting experience. J.R. Collins will receive significant playing time, and Kris Harley continues to improve every year. The cycle of linemen Curt Newsome dreamed of in 2012 will be even more realistic in 2013 because of the experience up and down the depth chart. 
 
Projected 2013 secondary starters:
 
CB: Kyle Fuller, Antone Exum
 
There won't be any changes in the secondary as far as new starters. Exum should stay at corner, as he really came on and excelled late in the season, with 4th quarter picks against UVA and Rutgers. If Exum can improve his man coverage, he could become the lock-down corner coach Torrian Gray had been hoping for all last season. Fuller will be another strong point, as he was consistent but not the standout he was expected to be in 2012. While not showy, Fuller is a sure tackler, and will sometimes play whip linebacker because of his coverage and tackling.
 
Depth in the secondary was shallow last season. There is help on the way for 2013, not just with returners but most notably with five-star freshman corner Kendall Fuller. Kendall will most likely start at nickel back if Exum stays for his senior season, which will give him plenty of playing time but won't apply too much pressure on him early in the season. Behind Kendall will be sophomore Donaldven Manning, if he ends up staying with the team. There were issues with Manning late in the season and his future was in question, but it appears he will play in 2013. If he puts on some weight and gains confidence, Manning could turn out to be a decent corner in dime packages. Donovan Riley will compete with Manning for the fourth corner spot, as well as redshirt freshman Davion Tookes.
 
S: Kyshoen Jarrett, Detrick Bonner
 
Both safety starters were hit or miss in 2012, with Jarrett starting the season hot and Bonner finishing with the better play. If both can play to their highest level at the same time, they can form a strong duo in the secondary. Jarrett is a big hitter, but he sometimes plays like Kam Chancellor and goes for the hit rather than the wrap-up. Bonner can get burned in coverage, but also broke up six passes in 2012.
 
Safety depth is not as sure as corner depth is shaping up to be. Michael Cole will be back after the injury that all but ended his 2012 season in the FSU game, and backing up Jarrett will be sophomore Desmond Frye, who showed potential at times late in the season when he was called into more playing time. Behind Cole and Frye, it will be freshmen who take the third string spots, and those positions on the depth chart likely will change multiple times between spring practice and August.
 
The 2013 defense could be just as good as last season's, and a top 15 year is entirely possible. The key will be the new starters at linebacker, as that will determine just how good the Hokies will be against the run. The line should be an excellent group, as all starters return a year older with more experience. A problem that has plagued the defense for the past few seasons is surredering big plays, and that starts with the secondary. The talent is there, but the consistency hasn't been. If Kendall Fuller can bring solid depth to corner, all the defense needs is consistent play from Bonner and Jarrett, and the depth shouldn't be as glaring of an issue. If the secondary is consistent and a few freshmen step up, this defense could be as good as some of Bud Foster's from the mid-2000s.

DISCLAIMER: Blog posts may not have been written or edited by The Key Play staff.

Comments

Good stuff

With great linebacker play, this is going to be another great defense. Just have to see how the offense shakes out with a lot more new starters than this side of the ball and with possible coaching shake ups.

Does Edmunds end up at RB for next season? Seems it will be pretty crowded back there. I guess how good Harris looks could be a factor?

"I never surprise myself"

Its also pretty heavy back at LB as well, but still not as crowded as the RB spot.

I'm really interested to see where he goes, but I think he'll stay at RB.

"Go Hokies!" - Thomas Jefferson
@HaydenDubya

Well written piece, but I'm not sure I agree with 100% of this. You really ignored some major players coming off red shirts, and some potential incoming freshman that could be huge.

With regards to the secondary, I think that the coaches really want to get Kyle Fuller back into a nickel position. With players like Donaldven Manning (hopefully stepping up), and other new corners coming in like Kendall Fuller, along with a bunch soon to be out of their red shirt season they will be able to do that.

At safety, I honestly think Detrick Bonner might get beat out by one of the younger guys, because like you said he definitely does struggle with coverage and tackling and IMO he is the weakest part of our secondary. I really like how Kyshoen played this year.

Having said that, I think our defense will be pretty great as long as they stay healthy, and I'm excited.

Hopefully the offense gets it's shit together, which I also believe is possible.

"Go Hokies!" - Thomas Jefferson
@HaydenDubya

Edmunds; redshirts

With the way the running backs played this season, I think there is not doubt Edmunds stays at RB. It's no guarantee J.C. and/or Holmes will step up enough to carry most of the load, and Harris isn't proven yet. Chris Mangus will be a factor as well but the coaches liked Edmunds enough at RB to keep him there in August so I think he'll stay.

Donaldven Manning never showed much, although he played sparingly and was still just a true freshman. I think he'll play in dime packages, but Kyle is too good of a tackler to have him on the bench in two receiver sets. At least in the beginning of the year, I think Kendall should be eased into playing time before talk of starting him.

The other guys coming off redshirts won't crack the starting lineup. Frye played in 2012, and he could push Bonner, but that's about it. Davion Tookes and Dahmon McKinnon are about the only other redshirts other than Clarke and Ekanem that could play alot. As far as incoming freshmen, we all know Frank likes to redshirt as much of them as possible. I did forget to mention Holland Fisher, who will most likely not redshirt. Fisher could easily play #2 at either rover or free safety, since it's basically just Cole and Frye behind the starters. Wyatt Teller might be the only other defensive frosh I see playing next season.

I'd really like to see Holland Fisher at free safety, but for some reason we like to try and pack as much weight and bulk on our guys as possible and have them play a bigger position. I just saw that Ken Ekanem who came in looking like a solid LB was moved to DE. So I think we'll probably try and get Holland Fisher to play whip, but again I really want him at safety.

"Go Hokies!" - Thomas Jefferson
@HaydenDubya

Ekanem was a DE in high school and was recruited as such. He's slightly undersized, but he's quick and effective.

Good piece

Fisher may have to do a year at prep school.

I'm confident in Tariq. Not confident in Bonner - hopefully he can put on some more pounds and step it up next year.

Love the d line and love Jack! I like RVD and think he'll be good. You're right in saying he didn't live up to the hype but you could still see the speed and tenacity. When he gets the system down and doesn't have to think, he'll do damage. He's only a freshman!

Corners don't concern me at all, especially with Kendall likely making an impact - His cover skills are natural and he's much bigger than Manning. Jarrett is the man!

Kendall Fuller - future Thorpe winner
(STOP CRYING ABOUT DOWNVOTES)

I thought Bonner was really shaky, but as the year progressed he got much better. From the FSU game on he was a pretty reliable player, not a stud in the secondary, but not nearly the liability, I'm really hoping he can step it up and be a better and consistent player next season.

Too bad he was "Stone Hands" Bonner in the Bowl Game this year. Coming up with either of those picks he dropped would have lowered #hokienation's collective blood pressure. Either way, you're right. He played with a lot more confidence as the season wore on. Holland Fisher is obviously the real deal though. We'll see what happens.

If the offense can hang on to the ball more next year so this defense is not constantly on the field then I think this could be one of our better years statistically on D

VTMidge-Andrew Shields

After the secondary's slow start this season I am not in favor of any more juggling of the DBs.

Keep Bonner @ FS, Jarrett @ Rover, Exum at BC and Kyle Fuller @ FC. I think moving Kyle Fuller to FS and starting Kendall Fuller would be a bad idea. Kyle may be the QB of the secondary but his strength is tackling and run support near the LOS and taking him even further from that role isn't wise.

Let Kendall fight with Manning for the #2 FC slot and bring them on the field in nickel situations, moving Kyle Fuller to Nickel/Whip

If Fisher can make a push for playing time @ FS/ROV then all the better.

Flowers, Harris, Chancellor, Carmichael, Whitley, Hosley, Fuller, Exum

I just found out that Chase Williams is Greg Williams' son. Can we please start a bounty program?

Rip his freaking head off!

This is old news. Our program did everything it could to shield Chase from the fallout of the bounty scandal.

It's all about The VPISU
VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804. Also go Keydets, Army Black Knights, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and ATL Braves.

On a more realistic note though, think his brother would come coach in Blacksburg? The Rams just let him go as a linebackers coach, maybe we could bring him in for something.

Rip his freaking head off!

Josh Trimble is the only

Josh Trimble is the only returner, and he likes to blow up bottles outside his friends' apartments so he may or may not be a reliable option for 2013.

I lol'ed.

@seanhoganvt