HokieHaven.com is continuing its series of breaking down Virginia Tech's coaching staffs and specifically, what they can look for at their positions.
Yesterday, we examined the defensive line and outside linebackers. Today we'll look at inside linebackers, secondary and special teams and see what challenges each coach will face during summer practices and the 2012 season that will have the most impact on this team.
Virginia Tech is turning into DB-U and a lot of it is because of Gray. Virginia Tech's secondary has been putting a lot of talent into the NFL.
Gray started off spring practice with a twist by moving honorable mention All-ACC safety Antone Exum to cornerback and moving Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett from cornerback to safety. Those moves were made in order to create flexibility in the secondary because depth is a major concern.
No backup has stepped up at either safety or cornerback position and an injury to this secondary would be a nightmare. Exum and Kyle Fuller will man the cornerback positions for the Hokies and are two of the better players in this defense loaded with talent. Exum led the team in tackles a year ago while Fuller was fourth on the team in tackles and a second-team All-ACC selection at cornerback. Both of these players can tackle well in space and cover well and should have great seasons.
Exum was also moved to corner because his tackling prowess will offset a lot of offensive blocking schemes these days, which are designed to funnel the running game towards the cornerbacks.
Bonner filled in for an injured Jayron Hosley last year and continued to get better as the season progressed. Look for him to take a big leap this year as most players under Gray do after their first year of playing time.
Rounding out the secondary is Jarrett who was a prized recruit in the 2010 class and should become a playmaker quickly under the tutelage of Gray. All four of these guys can play and will create a strong starting unit with the only concern being an injury.
The main backup at cornerback currently is Donaldven Manning, a true freshman at 5'9" and weighing 155 pounds soaking wet. The backup at Rover is Boye Aromire and the backup at free safety is Michael Cole, two players who have a lot of potential but have yet to prove it in a game.
There are a handful of freshman reporting to camp at the beginning of July who better come ready to compete because they will have a chance at cracking the depth chart without a redshirt year. Gray will spend his summer with the new safeties helping them make calls and communicate the defense while also looking at all the backups and seeing who is ready to step in should an injury occur.
Prediction: The top four players are set in stone, even if the positions are not finalized, so there will not be much to look for as far as the starters are concerned. Nickel should be used a lot less this year since the Hokies don't have a third corner they feel great about in game situations.
Aromire is the sleeper pick here as he almost battled for playing time last year before an injury derailed his summer practices. This kid has a load of potential and all the measurable to be one of the great Virginia Tech defensive backs down the road.
Bud Foster - Defensive Coordinator and Inside Linebackers Coach
Foster's name is synonymous with Virginia Tech and it should be. He's been the maestro for one of the most feared defenses in college football for the past decade.
Foster's defense has saved the Hokies from offensive struggles for quite some time and this year should be no different.
Virginia Tech returns eight starters (if Bruce Taylor and Tariq Edwards are back to full health and if Winslow does not start) and should be poised for another dominating year. The biggest challenge facing Foster this year at inside linebacker will be trying to determine how ready Taylor and Edwards are.
Taylor went down with a season ending injury in the eighth game of 2011 and was still seventh on the team in tackles. He's a tackling machine and has the ability to play on Sundays. Taylor holds down the middle of the field and with him in the game it adds a different dimension to an already fierce defense.
Taylor says he will be ready to go by the start of the season but you can never be sure. If he is not back to 100% then Jack Tyler will slide into that Mike role and Tyler has proven he can do an extremely solid job.
Edwards missed all of spring practice because he needed surgery on his leg after injuring it before the Orange Bowl. All signs point to him being fully ready for summer and for the season.
Foster will spend his summer evaluating Taylor (if he participates) while also looking at the progress Brian Laiti and Chase Williams have made at the Backer and Mike positions. Foster will also have the challenge of figuring out what to do with the nickel package he used frequently the past two seasons due to lack of depth in the secondary.
Prediction: Edwards should be back to full health by the opening game and pick up where he left off after a solid season last year. Taylor is more of a question mark because even if he does return the question is if he can be the same player he used to be.
Look for Tyler and Taylor to split time. Unless Taylor is clearly 100% healthy, Foster will not be able to take him off of the field. Foster will not be forced to blitz as much this year with the added pressure the defensive line should create on its own while also having a playmaker at Whip. That will allow Foster to be more creative with his already complex coverage schemes. Look for lots of sacks and lots of turnovers this year out of this Foster led defense.
Beamer is famous for coaching the special teams himself and he has a large task on his hand this year.
"Beamerball" has fallen on tough times lately as the Hokies blocked one punt/kick last year, against FCS member Appalachian State. To make matters worse the punting situation was one of the worst in the country until Danny Coale saved the day and before the Sugar Bowl the starting place kicker was arrested and thrown in jail.
This will be an interesting summer as far as special teams goes because all signs point to Cody Journell being reinstated and regaining the starting kicking role. If Journell does not get reinstated, look for incoming Freshman Brooks Abbott to battle Michael Branthover for the starting job.
Abbott was an Army All-American selection and has a five-star rating from Kohl's Kicking, the premiere ranking website for kickers and punters.
The punting situation could be won outright also by a true freshman in A.J. Hughes from Indiana. Hughes has a dive-star rating from Kohl's as well and will come in and compete for the starting role right away.
All summer, Beamer will be watching his specialists to see who can punt and kick consistently because he has a lot of bodies to choose from. Look for summer to start off rough in regards to special teams but there is more than enough capable bodies to turn this situation around by the time the season starts.
Prediction: Journell gets reinstated and easily wins back the starting kicking role. If reinstated, there is no doubt Journell will start. Expect Hughes to come into summer camp and really impress the coaches and win the starting punting role. Kick returns should fall to Dyrell Roberts and Demitri Knowles while you could see a combination of Kyle Fuller and Kyshoen Jarrett returning punts.
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