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2009 Virginia Tech Preview - Defense
Virginia Tech DE Jason Worilds
Virginia Tech DE Jason Worilds
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 11, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Virginia Tech Hokie Defense

Virginia Tech Hokies

Preview 2009 - Defense


- 2009 CFN Virginia Tech Preview | 2009 Virginia Tech Offense
- 2009 Virginia Tech Defense | 2009 Virginia Tech Depth Chart
- 2008 VT Preview | 2007 VT Preview | 2006 VT Preview

What you need to know: If ever there was a time when the Hokie D was on its heels, it would’ve been 2008. Seven all-stars had run out eligibility and the two-deep was littered with unproven players. So what happens? Tech finishes No. 7 nationally in total defense and No. 9 in scoring defense. It’s no wonder long-time assistant Bud Foster is widely hailed as one of the nation’s premier defensive coordinators. His Hokies will be air-tight again this season, welcoming back starters at every level and a slew of key letterwinners. If there’s an All-America candidate in this no-name crew, it’s junior DE Jason Worilds, who toyed with opposing tackles throughout his first season as a regular. He’ll set the tone up front for a defense that doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses and faces a schedule that’s light on firepower.    

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Cody Grimm, 71
Sacks: Jason Worilds, 8
Interceptions: Stephan Virgil, 6

Star of the defense: Junior DE Jason Worilds
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Rashad Carmichael
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jake Johnson
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Stephan Virgil
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Worilds, 2) Virgil, 3) Senior FS Kam Chancellor
Strength of the defense: Run defense, pass defense, third down defense, generating pressure
Weakness of the defense
:
Depth at defensive end, big plays in pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The one loss from the defensive line is a prominent one. End Orion Martin ran out of eligibility, taking 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks with him. The onus will be 6-2, 240-pound junior Jason Worilds to remain the pass-rushing tornado he was a year ago. In his first season as a full-timer, he went postal on opposing tackles, turning 62 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and 21 pressures into All-ACC honors. A sub-4.5 blur coming around the edge, he’s beginning to look like the second coming of former Hokie great Corey Moore.

If there’s a question mark up front, it’s on the other side, where 6-2, 252-pound senior Nekos Brown will be trying to replace some of Martin’s production. While starts have been hard to come by, there’s no doubt he has the experience and the closing speed to produce in an every-down situation. The recipient of three letters, he’s collected 44 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and five sacks over the last two seasons.

OOn the inside, Virginia Tech is loaded with talent and depth. Senior Cordarrow Thompson enjoyed a breakout year in 2008, making 27 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and 13 quarterback pressures. If he can remain in the 6-2, 308-pound range, which helped his quickness and burst last fall, he has an all-league ceiling.

While Thompson is a space-eater, 6-3, 275-pound junior John Graves is more of a three-tech guy, who’ll fall off blocks to get penetration. He actually spent much of the spring providing depth at defensive end, a testament to his quickness and athleticism. A 14-game starter on the inside a year ago, he made 26 tackles, four tackles for loss, and blocked three kicks.

Projected Top Reserves: How thin are the Hokies at defensive end? Sophomore Chris Drager was moved from tight end in the spring to bolster the situation. The 6-3, 239-pounder actually stood out throughout April, bouncing back from an ACL tear to flash the burst and athletic ability to be used as a situational rush end.

Although senior
Demetrius Taylor may only be 6-0 and 262 pounds, he’s one of the strongest, quickest, and hardest working of the Hokie interior linemen. He’ll also use his inherent advantage in leverage to get under the pads of opposing blockers and drive them backwards. He’s poised to blow past last year’s dozen tackles, becoming a nuisance, especially on passing downs.

By this time next year, 6-0, 295-pound redshirt freshman Antoine Hopkins should be fitted for a starting assignment at defensive tackle. He displayed considerable growth from his rookie year, dropping some weight and routinely beating his man in the spring with quick moves and good hands. He’s already a spot in the tackle rotation this fall. 

Watch Out For ... Graves at defensive end to be more than a spring experiment. If he wasn’t so disruptive in April, this wouldn’t be a topic for debate. However, he could be the strongside end the Hokies need, while creating an opening for Taylor or Hopkins to increase his snap count inside.
Strength: Athleticism. Inside and out, this is a very fast collection of linemen, who’ll run circles around most opposing lines and disrupt offensive gameplans. After racking up 35 sacks a year ago, Worilds and the rest of the front should be right around that number again this season.

Weakness: Depth at end. If Graves remains at defensive tackle, Tech will have virtually no experience beyond Worilds and Brown. Drager is a converted tight end coming off knee surgery and junior Steven Friday played in just a handful of snaps least season.
Outlook
: The key up front will be the play of Brown. If he can do even a fair impression of Martin, the Hokies will boast one of the best defensive lines in the ACC, if not the country. Year-in and year-out, this program always does a great job of cobbling together a unit that will stuff the run and pressure the pressure. This season will be no different.
Rating
: 8.5

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Tech coaches require their whip linebackers to be physical playmakers, who can excel in space. By that definition, 5-11, 202-pound senior Cody Grimm is an ideal Hokie. Mostly a special teams performer in his first two seasons, the former walk-on erupted in 2008 for 71 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and two picks, despite starting just a single game. He has a great feel for the game, especially in pass defense, and plays every down from whistle to whistle.

Both of last year’s inside linebackers need to be replaced. Taking over for Brett Warren is 6-0, 232-pound sophomore Barquell Rivers, a top recruit from 2007, who’s getting his first good chance to make a splash. A tough and physical run defender, he’s spent the offseason improving his conditioning in preparation for this promotion. As a reserve last year, he had 10 tackles in 10 games, starting the Orange Bowl.

In the eyes of the Hokie coaching staff, the budding star of this group is 6-1, 229-pound sophomore Jake Johnson, the second inside linebacker. After spending most of last year on special teams, he took flight in the offseason, blowing past the competition with his work ethic, dedication in the weight room, and unmatched passion to get better.     

Projected Top Reserves: Right behind Grimm at whip is last year’s starter, 6-1, 215-pound senior Cam Martin, who has spent much of the offseason recovering from knee surgery. A former free safety, he has the range and the coverage skills that the staff requires in outside linebackers. A sure-tackler, he had 51 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and a team-high three forced fumbles.

Although 6-1, 225-pound sophomore Quillie Odom is not going to beat out Johnson, he will have a valuable role in the rotation. What he lacks in experience, he’ll make up for with raw athleticism, speed, and the ability to make plays from sideline to sideline.

Watch Out For ... Johnson to begin developing somewhat of a cult following around Blacksburg. He’s got a certain look, not unlike a well-inked professional wrestler, that’s an instant attention-getter. Plus, he plays with the passion and reckless abandon that’s sure to make him a fan favorite.
Strength:
Fundamentals. While this was not the most celebrated group of linebackers coming out of high, it has been well-schooled since arriving at Virginia Tech. And it shows. The Hokies tackle well, cover plenty of ground, and rarely take poor angles. They’re a big—and often overlooked—reason why Tech is so stingy versus the run.
Weakness
: Elite talent. In terms of next-level talent, there isn’t a Vince Hall or Xavier Adibi that can just be penciled on to the All-ACC team. The most productive players are overachievers and the best athletes are still rather raw and unproven.
Outlook: The Hokie linebackers just make plays, which is good enough for the program and the defensive coaches. While it’s true that none of these guys may ever don an NFL jersey, they know the system and function within it exceptionally well. At the all-important whip, Tech is in great shape, provided Martin makes a full recovery from knee surgery.
Rating
: 8

Secondary

Projected Starters: For the second straight season, the Hokies are in a position to be replacing an All-ACC defensive back. Thanks to some outstanding recruiting, they should be fine, even though Victor Harris is now a Philadelphia Eagle. Everyone else returns, including 5-11, 189-pound senior Stephan Virgil, who’s slated to take over at boundary corner. He sparkled in his debut, starting all 14 games and making 43 stops and tying Harris with a team-high six interceptions. A physical defender, with long arms, he’ll make his man earn every reception.

While it remains a fluid situation, 5-10, 192-pound junior Rashad Carmichael is the favorite to take over at Virgil’s old field corner position. While he’s lettered in each of the last two seasons and has the requisite speed for the position, he’ll need to continue making strides in pass defense to hold off stiff competition. He needs to develop a better feel for the position, which will only come with more reps.

One of the anchors of the secondary is massive senior Kam Chacellor, a third-year starter with something to prove in his final NFL audition. He had 52 tackles and a pair of picks in 2008, but struggled in his transition from rover to free safety. At 6-4 and 226 pounds, he’s a uniquely constructed defensive back, covering ground like a cornerback and hitting like a linebacker.

In the hotly-contested battle at rover, 5-11, 212-pound senior Dorian Porch exited spring with a grip on the pole position. A nine-game starter last fall, he delivered 48 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a pick. A consistent open field tackler, who can jump out of Lane Stadium, he’s being asked to take on an even bigger role in 2009.

Projected Top Reserves: Porch’s playing time spiked when 6-0, 196-pound junior Davon Morgan was lost for the year to an ACL injury in the fifth game. At that time, he’d made 18 tackles and taking on more of a leadership role in the defensive backfield. A positive personality and excellent all-around athlete, he’s hoping to be able to compete at rover in the summer.

That heat on Carmichael’s neck is being applied by 5-11, 185-pound sophomore Cris Hill, one of the up-and-coming stars of the secondary. It was no fluke that he played in all 14 games as a rookie, making 15 tackles and laying the foundation for a promising career. While there are wrinkles to be smoothed out, he’s got the hips and the speed to be a full-timer before too long.

The heir apparent to Chancellor at free safety is 6-2, 212-pound sophomore Lorenzo Williams. One of just nine true freshmen to dress in 2008, he was beginning to find a groove when a knee injury slowed his development. At his size, he has the speed, wrap-up tackling, and change of direction to blossom once Chancellor is playing on Sundays.         

Watch Out For ... Chancellor to quickly shake off last year’s tepid performance. Chalk it up to the adjustments that were needed at a new position. He’s already looked more comfortable in his second year at free safety, and will be playing for a lucrative contract in 2010.
Strength:
Cover skills. If you’re going to move the ball through the air on the Hokies, you’re going to earn it. Even without Harris, Tech boasts one of the nation’s premiere pass defenses, allowing opponents to throw just a dozen touchdown passes a year ago.
Weakness: Big plays. When opposing passers did complete throws on the Hokies, too many went for considerable yardage. In fact, the 13.5 yards per completion they yielded in 2008 higher than all except Duke in the ACC. With a new pairing at cornerback, that’ll need to be addressed.   
Outlook: Regardless of the holes that need to be filled, Virginia Tech always seems to have the answer in the secondary. There’s enough depth and talent everywhere to fill out one of the league’s most impressive two-deeps. If there’s an issue, it’s at field corner, where Carmichael and Hill must quarterbacks pay for picking on them.
Rating
: 8.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
: For the third straight year, Virginia Tech is spending the offseason hunting for a new placekicker. The graduation of Dustin Keys has created an opening that Penn State-transfer Matt Waldron is hoping to fill. While the senior didn’t get any opportunities to kick a year ago, he showed enough accuracy and has the best technique to be considered the front-runner. Sophomore Justin Myer has a little more pop in his leg, and did not shrink from the competition in spring, setting the stage for more battling in August.

There’s no such uncertainty at punter, where senior Brent Bowden returns for his third season as the starter. He did tail off a bit last season, averaging 40.4 yards per punt, but was effective in the clutch and does a nice job angling his kicks.

Looking to fill the sizable void at punt returner left by the departure of Victor Harris is electrifying redshirt freshman Ryan Williams. Sophomore Dyrell Roberts will be the primary kick returner after finishing sixth in the league with a 24.7-yard average.

Watch Out For ...
incoming freshman PK Cody Journell. The Hokies don’t offer scholarships to just any kicker, so you know that Journell was signed to compete right away. One of the tops at his position coming out of high school, he has the leg speed to connect from well beyond 50 yards.
Strength: The return game. No, you don’t get better by losing Harris to the NFL, but the Hokies have the right mix of playmakers, like Roberts, Williams, and Cris Hill, to still harbor one of the most dangerous return units in the ACC.
Weakness
: Punt coverage. For all the chatter about Tech’s impeccable special teams unit, it was uncharacteristically leaky covering punts, which needs to be addressed. The Hokies ranked 103rd nationally, allowing three touchdowns and a plump 12.4 yards a return.
Outlook: Just because it’s Virginia Tech does not mean it should get a free pass here. A new placekicker and punt returner must be mined, and the coverage units have to be fine-tuned. Don’t be shocked if Waldron becomes the third consecutive fifth-year senior to excel as the Hokie placekicker.
Rating
: 7.5