BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech opens preseason football practice today, and we continue our look at the Hokies, position by position, with today’s preview of the defensive line. (We covered quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends and offensive line last week. This week, we did the defensive line) Now, we’ll move to the linebackers, where Tech must replace a pair of productive seniors in Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards.
The Hokies will look to the athletic-but-raw Deon Clarke and the veteran but unproven Chase Williams.
At the whip (outside linebacker) position, Tech returns Ronny VanDyke, coming off shoulder surgery that cost him last season.
KEY RETURNERS: Deon Clarke, Chase Williams, Ronny VanDyke
KEY LOSSES: Jack Tyler, Tariq Edwards
NEW FACES: Andrew Motuapuaka (redshirt freshman), Dahmon McKinnon (sophomore)
OUTLOOK: Both inside linebackers, Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards, are gone from the middle of last year’s defense. Tyler led the Hokies with 100 tackles in his senior season and Edwards was second on the team, with 74. Chase Williams, a senior, has been waiting for his chance to rise to the top of the depth chart. He opened fall practice competing with little-known sophomore Josh Eberly for one position. Deon Clarke, a junior, gives Tech an upgrade in athleticism and speed over Tyler, but his lack of experience is a concern.
Having two unproven linebackers in the heart of the defense might sound like a major issue, but with Tech’s track record for producing effective linebackers, and the fact that defense coordinator Bud Foster personally coaches the position, there’s reason to think the Hokies will be okay there.
Ronny VanDyke missed all of 2013 after suffering a shoulder injury in the preseason. Tech hasn’t used the whip position as much the past few years as it used to. That’s in part because opposing offenses have gone to more four-receiver sets, spreading out defenses and forcing the Hokies to play more of its nickel package.
COACH’S TAKE: “I think we’ve got faster guys. Now I don’t know if they’re going to play as well as those guys. But having talent, and then having Bud as their coach, that’s about as good as it gets,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said during ACC media days.