2010 Virginia Tech Preview – Defense
Virginia Tech CB Rashard Carmichael
Virginia Tech CB Rashard Carmichael
Posted Jun 8, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Virginia Tech Hokie Defense

Virginia Tech Hokies

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: It's a good thing for Hokie fans that coordinator Bud Foster resisted offers to relocate, deciding to remain in Blacksburg for another year. They're going to need his coaching expertise in order to retool a defense that returns just four starters. Virginia Tech was oppressive in 2009, yielding an ACC-low 15 points and less than 300 yards a game. However, most of the key parts of that unit are gone, leaving behind a new wave of Gobblers with a chance to supercharge their careers. Along with the mainstays, like DT John Graves and CB Rashad Carmichael, are a bunch of talented young players about to get put under the microscope. Although you may not know DT Antoine Hopkins, LB Lydell Gibson, and CB Jayron Hosley today, that could change by October. As usual, Foster has access to plenty of talent. His objective in the summer will be to get all of it on the same page and playing like a cohesive unit.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Barquell Rivers, 96
Sacks: Steven Friday, 3.5
Interceptions: Rashad Carmichael, 6

Star of the defense: Senior CB Rashad Carmichael
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Steven Friday
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Jayron Hosley
Best pro prospect: Carmichael
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Carmichael, 2) Senior DT John Graves, 3) Senior rover Davon Morgan
Strength of the defense: Pass defense, third down defense, red zone D, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: The rebuilt front seven, uncertainty with the pass rush, inexperience

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: If any one unit trips up the Hokies in 2010, this could be it. Three starters are gone, including speed rusher Jason Worilds, who left early for the NFL Draft. The lone regular back in Blacksburg is 6-3, 283-pound senior DT John Graves, a two-year starter who'll be the veteran anchor of the front four. Playing with a gimpy leg in 2009, he had just 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, and 10 hurries. When at 100%, he goes full tilt on every play and has the quickness and rush skills of an end.

At the other tackle spot, 6-0, 296-pound sophomore Antoine Hopkins is in contention for a starting job. No one doubts his raw physical ability, but he needs to commit to bringing it on every down. He's explosive as a penetrator, clocking in at a sub-5.0 forty, and is a difficult assignment for opposing blockers. As a reserve last season, he got his feet wet with 16 tackles and four batted balls.

Tech is putting out an APB for consistent edge rushers. One lineman who looks capable of answering the call is 6-4, 235-pound senior Steven Friday. Purely in terms of the measurables, he has the best package of quickness and strength of the group, blending a strong upper body with 4.6 speed. As a situational pass rusher, he had 11 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and seven hurries, but needs to prove he can defend the run and be an every-down player.

The veteran competing for playing time on the other side is 6-3, 260-pound junior Chris Drager, a converted tight end still adjusting to this side of the ball. Unlike the flashier Friday, he's more of a blue-collar battler, who's added considerable weight to become a more effective run defender. As a reserve last season, he played well, making 22 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

Projected Top Reserves: If Hopkins can't seize the opportunity at tackle, 6-0, 297-pound junior Kwamaine Battle will be the beneficiary. Slowed by multiple shoulder surgeries in the past, he's hoping to finally be healthy enough to have a more prominent role in the rotation. A wide-body, with excellent strength and a low center of gravity, he had seven tackles in 11 games a year ago.

In an attempt to ignite the pass rush, the staff is moving former LB Jake Johnson up a level to defensive end. He started eight games in the middle last year, making 55 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. A rugged and tireless worker on and off the field, he's still just 6-2 and 232 pounds, which will cause problems when he gets locked on to opposing tackles in tight spaces.

Watch Out For .... the development of redshirt freshmen ends J.R. Collins and James Gayle. Both represent the future of the Hokie pass rush, but how much will they impact the present? Gayle, in particular, appears ready to answer the bell after dominating with his speed throughout the spring, and sending a notice that he could be ready to start immediately.
Strength: Athleticism. The tackles move like ends and the ends are built like outside linebackers. As is often the case, all of the Hokie linemen move well laterally, which should provide a confidence boost to the pass rush, especially from the quick tackles on the inside.
Weakness: Sure-things at defensive end. On the outside, Tech is flush with uncertainty now that Worilds has departed and Nekos Brown has graduated. Neither Friday nor Drager has ever been under the spotlight as a starter, and Johnson on the line comes with plenty of question marks.
Outlook: Tech has always been able to regroup from graduations, but this year's challenge could take some time to overcome. Three starters are new and depth in the rotation is going to be thin unless the underclassmen emerge. One of the bright spots will be Graves, who's going to flourish in leading role and command some attention from NFL scouts.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: Cody Grimm had a fantastic final season at whip linebacker, leaving a massive void that will not be easily filled. First in line to fill his sizable cleats is 6-2, 210-sophomore Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, a former rover who appeared sparingly in eight games and had three tackles. At a position that demands range and playmaking skills, he has the instincts, pop, and sure-tackling in the open field to be a worthy successor once he logs more time on the field.

At least for now, an injury has bumped 6-2, 252-pound sophomore Bruce Taylor to the top of the of the depth chart at middle linebacker. Although he had just six tackles a year ago, he got better as the season progressed and stronger during the offseason. He has the requisite upper body strength to shed blockers and does a nice job of diagnosing for such a young player. No matter what happens around him, he's going to assume an expanded role on this year's defense.

After making tremendous strides in 2009, 5-11, 230-pound sophomoreLyndell Gibson is poised for a breakthrough season as the starting backer on the inside. An explosive athlete, who appears to have recovered from off-field issues in the past, he has the right mix of strength and leverage to get up underneath the pads of opposing blockers. As a five-game starter, he put down a nice foundation by making 55 tackles and 2.5 stops behind the line.

Projected Top Reserves: Going neck-and-neck with Gouveia-Winslow at the whip is 6-2, 191-pound sophomore Alonzo Tweedy. Exclusively a special teamer in his first year, he made 24 tackles and showed a penchant for playing very fast and with reckless abandon. Although he has the most upside athletically, he needs to learn to channel it and become a more complete defender.

So, when is 6-0, 235-pound junior Barquell Rivers going to be available to the Hokies? The projected starter in the middle suffered a torn quad that required surgery and could keep him out until September. A key recruit from 2007, he delivered in his first good chance to contribute, finishing second on the team with 96 tackles and 6.5 stops behind the line. He has a good nose for the ball as a run defender and will deliver the payload on the impact.

Watch Out For .... Rivers' health status. Not only is he the best linebacker of this group, but he's also a key piece of the puzzle in terms of depth. If he can get back to full-strength, Taylor can pace his development and bolster the second unit. If not, it puts more pressure on some of the kids, like redshirt freshmen Telvion Clark, Jack Tyler, and Tariq Edwards to get up to speed in a hurry.
Strength: The middle. Assuming Rivers becomes available at some point this year, the Hokies should have more than one player capable of being an every-down Mike linebacker. The junior's injury allowed Taylor to get valuable reps with the first unit throughout the spring session.
Weakness: The whip. This is not to suggest that Gouveia-Winslow and Tweedy won't eventually get there, but the drop-off from Grimm will be steep and unavoidable. A vital spot on the field for the defense, the Hokies need this defender to be versatile and volatile, making plays all over the field.
Outlook: Plenty of question marks will dog the Hokie linebackers until after the season begins. The health of Rivers and inexperience everywhere else need to be addressed in September and beyond. Coordinator Bud Foster always seems to have these guys ready, but he's facing a few more hurdles than usual.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: From one of the nation's best pass defenses, Virginia Tech must replace three starters and build around 5-11, 190-pound senior Rashad Carmichael, a rock at the boundary. The fastest player on the team, he's an aggressive defender with outstanding ball skills. After turning 55 tackles, four tackles for loss, and six interceptions into honorable mention All-ACC recognition, he's on the brink of becoming one of the league's top cover corners.

The favorite at field corner and a likely candidate to be picked on is 5-10, 172-pound sophomore Jayron Hosley, who showed a lot of promise in his first season on campus. The fact that he had just 11 tackles in 13 games doesn't tell the full story of how much he grew in 2009. He's just a quality all-around athlete, with the budding cover skills to make quarterbacks pay for looking in his direction.

At rover, the staff is thrilled to be getting back 6-0, 198-pound senior Davon Morgan, who hasn't been able to put in a fill season of work in the last two years. In 2008, he was lost for the year in October to an ACL tear, and last fall, he only started the final four games, finishing with 47 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. With a chance to wire-to-wire for the first time, he has the sure-tackling ability and ball skills to put up some huge numbers.

Free safety is a hazy situation that could eventually be solidified by 6-1, 191-pound junior Eddie Whitley. One of the team's most versatile defensive backs, he's played some corner and might get some looks at rover as well. Not only does he possess all of the necessary physical tools to excel at the position, but he brings a great attitude and an unmatched work ethic to the D.

Projected Top Reserves: Hosley's stiffest competition and the first corner off the bench will be 5-11, 181-pound junior Cris Hill. After lettering in his first two seasons and making 11 stops a year ago, he's ready for an expanded role. Now that he has a little experience, he possesses the right combination of speed, toughness, and soft hips to challenge for a starting job.

With his redshirt season behind him, Tech can't wait to get their first good look at 5-11, 207-pound redshirt freshman Antone Exum, Whitley's biggest threat at free safety. A former quarterback in high school, he was a blue-chipper from a year ago, with the explosive speed and acceleration to eventually force his way on to the field.

Watch Out For .... the competition at field corner. While Carmichael is set at the boundary, Hosley and Hill are going to lock horns right up until the opener with Boise State. The two players are capable of handling the job, and the tight race could end up benefiting both.
Strength: Cover skills. Yes, even without three of last year's starters, Tech is still going to have one of the ACC's stingiest pass defenses. It always does. Last year's team yielded just nine touchdown passes, which will be tough to duplicate, but with Carmichael on one side and elite athletes everywhere, it'll still be a chore throwing on this unit.
Weakness: Experience. About the only knock on the Hokie secondary is that it's rather young in key areas. Hosley is just a second-year sophomore and Whitley has limited relevant experience. Both could be in the starting lineup for the opener.
Outlook: Virginia Tech had gaps in the secondary last year, yet still wound up No. 8 nationally in pass efficiency defense. In other words, it'll find a way to tighten up some of the loose ends and seal off potential leaks. The Hokies have a great starting point in Carmichael and a supporting cast that'll improve as the season progresses.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: For the fourth straight year, Virginia Tech is searching for a new placekicker. Making matters worse, it needs to find a replacement for P Brent Bowden as well. The placekicking competition is wide-open, featuring senior Chris Hazley , junior Justin Myer , and redshirt freshman Cody Journell. Hazley is a lot like the last few Hokie kickers, a mature veteran of the system, who has patiently waited for this opportunity.

Myer has handled kickoffs the past two seasons and will continue to do so. However, he'd like to add a new job title to his resume this fall. He has a strong leg and is the quickest into the ball among the kickers, but needs to improve his accuracy.

While Journell is the youngest of the contenders, he also has the highest ceiling. The rare placekicker to receive a scholarship in 2008, he has good technique and the leg whip to reach the uprights from 50 yards out. He needs to prove in the offseason that his time to contribute is now.

The situation at punter is a little less hazy, with seniorBrian Saunders in the driver's seat. A dutiful backup for the last three seasons, he learned behind Bowden and has the maturity to step into the spotlight without a hiccup.

In junior Dyrell Roberts and sophomores David Wilson and Jayron Hosley, the Hokies have three outstanding options in the return game. Roberts was No. 4 in the nation in kickoff returns, Hosley was No. 4 in the ACC in punt returns, and Wilson is an explosive option whenever he has the ball in his hands.

Watch Out For… the placekicker battle. This is going to be one of the tightest competitions that Virginia Tech hosts this offseason. Although Hazley has seniority and Journell has the most raw physical ability, no one has stood out enough to pull ahead and end any debate.
Strength: The return game. Even after losing Victor Harris to the NFL, the Hokies did a marvelous job of regrouping in this area. Roberts was a boon to the offense, averaging 32 yards a kickoff and Hosley stepped up nicely after Ryan Williams muffed a punt in the opener.
Weakness: Uncertainty with the kickers. Tech has overcome the loss of its placekicker in each of the last three years, but losing Bowden as well is a new challenge. The Hokies will take a new punter and kicker into the opener with Boise State, which will create some uneasy feelings.
Outlook: Despite the turnover, Frank Beamer and his staff always find a way to cobble together a solid special teams unit. This season will be no different. Both a punter and placekicker will live by the next-man-in credo that permeates throughout Blacksburg, and the return game will once again give an assist to an already potent offense.
Rating: 8

- 2010 Virginia Tech Preview | 2010 Virginia Tech Offense
- 2010 Virginia Tech Defense | 2010 Virginia Tech Depth Chart
- Virginia Tech Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006