A major talking point during the post-signing day media/fan relations blitz by the Hokies coaching staff following national signing day was a focused interest in Virginia Tech becoming a bigger, more physical football team. The quest for size even extended into the defensive secondary, where every corner and safety signee was over 6-feet tall.
At 6-3, 193 pounds, early enrollee Adonis Alexander is the tallest member of the 2015 DBU class. When Alexander verbally committed to Virginia Tech, a review of his junior film led me to compare Alexander favorably to former Hokies safety Aaron Rouse, an imposing run defender who was more comfortable filling alleys from an alignment close to the line of scrimmage instead of reading the play from a two-deep alignment. I also had the opportunity to see Alexander play in person in a half of football against Olympic High School the night before the stirring Hokies victory against Ohio State. A freak thunderstorm delayed the game and sent me packing early that night, but not before I had a better grasp of what Alexander brought to the table.
Alexander, who was rated a low three-star recruit by Rivals, only had one other FBS scholarship offer (Wake Forest) at the time of his commitment to Virginia Tech. He is a physical, punishing edge player who is most comfortable around the line of scrimmage. He is a bit of a tweener. Alexander has the height and frame to bulk up to linebacker size, and despite weighing in at less than 200 pounds he looks huge both on film and in person in the defensive secondary. He also isn't a terrific man to man coverage player, which I have noted is a critical component in Bud Foster's new secondary vision. Rather than having traditional roles of corners covering and safeties providing run support or over the top help, Foster repeatedly flips roles, with safeties providing coverage and corners coming off the edge or filling alleys.
At the same time, Foster has slowly started to work his rover back into playing near the line of scrimmage. Foster also has shown true genius in taking players that may not be terrific all-around players and finding a way to put them into a position to succeed without fundamentally altering his scheme. Alexander's size, athleticism, and tackling ability make him a promising commodity.
As a potential safety, Alexander is best suited as a rover with responsibility as an alley player to the boundary. That gives him less space to cover and allows him to aggressively play downhill. Alexander adds a different element besides size that Kyshoen Jarrett didn't bring to the rover spot. With Jarrett, Foster seemed to favor force calls on the boundary edge, meaning either his backer or defensive end was responsible for containing the play back to the inside with Jarrett coming up to fill the alley on the inside. Force calls protect the safety (greater margin for error with back side pursuit being closer on the inside), but force calls also limit the playmaking ability of your end and backer, so much so that Foster often played Deon Clarke on the edge to have him in position to contain. On spill calls, the safety is all alone in space and if anything gets outside, he doesn't have help.
Upon review of his senior film, Alexander's length helps him play a spill technique very effectively. Here the offense runs an isolation or weak side zone play to their right. Alexander is the play side safety.
The defensive end is jammed up on the inside and the run bounces outside. Alexander takes an excellent angle, drives his head through the outside leg of the runner, and wraps his arms. This is a perfect form tackle. By driving his head through the outside leg, even if the runner steamrolls him he will likely trip over Alexander's body.
Here is another example. The offense runs a belly dive. The fullback gets the football, while the left side of the offensive line executes a pin and pull block designed to trap the defensive end to the outside. The end sees the down block and crashes inside, leaving Alexander one-on-one to the outside in a spill situation.
Alexander takes an excellent angle. His aiming point is the outside leg of the runner, and Alexander drives his head through the outside leg. He wraps his arms, which leaves nowhere for the back to go except try to fall back inside where the Independence pursuit is catching up.
In coverage at the high school level, Alexander got his hands on a bunch of footballs. He has an excellent knack for finding the ball and making an attempt at an interception, although he doesn't look like a natural hand-catcher on film. There were a lot of inaccurate throws across the middle, and part of that comes from Alexander's physicality making a few prospective receivers get a case of alligator arms. At the same time, you could see plays where Alexander looks very tight in the hips and was beaten deep because he didn't turn and run fast enough to compensate. Fortunately for him, the quarterback play of his opposition didn't appear to be very good. On several of those plays the quarterback targeted a different receiver and Alexander came up to assist with the tackle.
Alexander is a project. He could ultimately bulk up to a linebacker much like Ronny Vandyke did. He could play in a whip role against teams that use two-tight or pro formation personnel. Or, perhaps he could play rover after improving his coverage skills. He certainly has promise as a special teamer, where his size and athleticism make him a sure candidate for coverage teams. Alexander is a willing, physical blocker in space and opened several huge paths for kick returners. His effort on special teams is excellent.
This play really got my attention. Alexander's teammate gets an interception and Adonis is several yards behind him when the ball is picked off. Alexander gets on his horse and gets out in front of the returner, cutting off the pursuit of a lineman, pancaking a running back, and then colliding with his teammate and a tackler to drive forward the pile. This is pure want-to, and you can't have good special teams play without athletic players who want to be successful in that role.