As the old cliché goes, football games are won and lost in
the trenches. Virginia Tech Head
Coach Frank Beamer, defensive coordinator Bud Foster and defensive line coach
Charley Wiles have won a lot of football games together so it stands to reason
that they know a thing or two about what it takes to put together a great
defensive line. From National
Football League Hall of Famer Bruce Smith to Nagurski and Lombardi trophy winner
Corey Moore, the Hokies have outstanding tradition when it comes to the
Despite their success, the Hokies typically don't look
like your top flight D-1 defensive line. Take
a look at the aforementioned Corey Moore who had one of the most productive
defensive end careers in NCAA history. He
was a mere 6-0, 212 lbs. Of course,
he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash and could bench press an Escalade.
Let's go over the role each of the four defensive line
positions play in Foster's scheme and take a look at who will be manning
It doesn't happen often, but there has been a season or
two where Foster's stop unit has struggled.
The common theme in those seasons was poor play at the defensive
tackle positions. If all the
offense has to do is hand the ball off and run it straight up the middle for
four yards, it's going to be a long day for the defense.
This is why it is critical to have a couple of big, stout, defensive
tackles anchoring the defensive line. The
Hokies tend to recruit DT's that are shorter than what most programs would
deem acceptable. They prefer a
stockier athlete with a low center of gravity.
The goal for the Hokies DT's is not simply to plug the middle by
holding their ground, but to get penetration past the guards and center and
begin disrupting the play at the snap. Having
shorter, stouter frames allows the DT's to play with better leverage and get
under the pads of the O-lineman trying to block them.
Last season the Hokies primarily used a three-man rotation
at DT. Departed is starter Cordarrow
"Taco" Thompson and key back up Demetrius Taylor.
The lone returning starter along the defensive line and bell cow of the
big boys is……
91 – John Graves
(6-3, 283, r-Sr.)
This is where defensive line coach Charley Wiles will have
his work cut out for him. He must
find a capable starter to line up next to
93 – Kwamaine Battle (6-0, 297, r-Jr.)
56 – Antoine Hopkins (6-0, 296 r-So.)
53 – Dwight Tucker
(6-1, 284 r-So.)
Tucker is not quite the same caliber of athlete as
One incoming freshman worth mentioning…..
No number assigned
– Nick Acree (6-5, 297 Fr)
Acree is the most physically impressive prospect I can
recall the Hokies signing. I
honestly did not know that the human body could be developed at this level
before the age of 18. Acree is all
man and already boasts a 450-pound bench press before entering a collegiate
strength and conditioning program. However,
I do not think he will be ready to contribute by Sept. 6th.
Acree is from a very small high school and did not face top-notch
competition nor did he receive top-notch coaching.
He transferred to
Now that we have answered the age-old question "Where is
the beef?" lets take a look at how VT uses its defensive ends.
The two DE positions are called the End
and the Stud.
These two positions have unique responsibilities.
The End will line up to the short side of the field.
His primary responsibility is to secure the edge against the running
game. He must be very strong at the
point of attack and cannot allow himself to get pushed off the line of scrimmage
or advance too far up field, opening up running lanes.
Both defensive ends will be asked to drop into short pass coverage at
times as well when Foster dials up a zone blitz.
So, it is not sufficient for the End to simply have brute strength.
He must be a capable athlete as well.
Last year's starter Nekos Brown has graduated.
Replacing him will be…..
3 - Chris Drager
(6-3, 260 r-Jr.)
Drager is another one of the type of players that coaches
love. The Hokies had serious depth
issues at DE heading into last season. Despite
having a standout 2009 spring at tight end, Drager made the move to DE at the
conclusion of spring practice for the good of the team.
To give you some perspective on what type of an athlete he is, Drager
would be the Hokies starting TE this year had the move not been made.
Chris saw action in all 13 games last season as a backup.
He recorded 22 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks.
Not bad for a guy who only had one fall training camp to learn the
position. The light really started
coming on for him at the end of last season, and he became a consistent
playmaker down the stretch. Drager
will be asked to shed a few pound to get him back to his more natural
size--around 245 – 250 lbs.
Developing depth behind Drager will be a major priority for
99 - James Gayle (6-4, 246 r-Fr.)
Gayle turned a lot of heads this spring and made it a little bit easier for Coach Wiles to sleep this summer. He is a high motor type player who is extremely athletic. In fact, he is so athletic they he will probably get reps at both the End and Stud position. Like all freshmen concentration and consistency are the major concerns here. He had a couple of mental lapses in the spring game. That will need to be corrected before Labor Day.
42 – J.R. Collins (6-2, 255 r-Fr.)
Collins played well last fall in scrimmage situations.
However, he came to school a bit on the thin side.
He has since put on the necessary weight to compete at the collegiate
level, but he is still getting used to his new frame.
He has good instincts and playmaking ability. He just needs reps to put
the package together. Off-season
workouts and August practice will determine how much Collins contributes this
Finally, that leads us to the Stud position. The Stud
will line up to the wide side of the field and will have attributes of a typical
pass rusher. He receives some help
to the outside from the Whip linebacker with respect to stopping the running
game. This allows him to be a little
more aggressive in attacking the backfield than his counterpart the End.
Jason Worilds (6-1 254 lbs.) departed early for the NFL.
Worilds was a phenomenal player for the Hokies, but had a chronic issue
with his shoulder popping out of place. I
can personally attest to Worild's toughness as I was sitting front row behind
the Hokies' bench at the 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and
saw the trainers pop the shoulder back in the socket.
Worilds finished that game on the field and helped the Hokies win the ACC
title. The biggest downfall for the
Hokies was that his bum shoulder had to remain on the outside of the offensive
line. Thus, the Hokies could not
flip flop their defense ends as they normally due to get their best pass rusher
on the wide side of the field. While
Worilds talent will be missed, Foster's system will be in better shape because
it will no longer be compromised due to Worilds injury.
So who will be replacing Jason at the Stud
82 – Steven Friday
(6-4, 235 r-Sr.)Friday was named the most improved defensive player of the
spring and for good reason. He
consistently made plays in every scrimmage.
Sacks, forced fumbles, tackles for a loss, you name it Friday was getting
it done this spring. He played in 12
games last year recording 3.5 sacks and 6 QB hurries.
Not too bad considering how infrequently Worilds came of the field.
Friday would have been a more of contributor earlier in his career but he
has had a very difficult time keeping weight on his long athletic frame.
He has always been a talented pass rusher, but could not always hold his
ground against the opponent's rushing attack.
His body has finally matured allowing him to be an every down player.
My bold prediction for this season is that Friday will record double
digit sacks as the starter at the Stud end.
Behind Friday the Hokies are very inexperienced at the Stud
positions. As previously mentioned
James Gayle will probably be the top backup for both end positions.
The Hokies will give a couple of youngsters a shot to crack the two-deep
early in their career.
90 – Duan Perez-Means (6-4, 240 Fr)
Perez-Means came to camp with the Hokies last fall, but
suffered an early shoulder injury. He
deferred his enrollment until this past January in order to save a year of
eligibility. Duan practiced with the
team this spring and impressed the coaches enough that he is being considered to
forgo a redshirt season. A talented
TE/WR in high school, Perez-Means has the athletic ability to be a playmaker at
the Stud position. The Hokies must
determine how soon they will expect him to contribute.
No number assigned
– Zack McCray (6-5, 235 Fr)McCray is a player that Hokie fans have been
waiting to see donning the
As you can see, there is a common trend here.
The Hokies will have four solid starters on the defensive line.
The backups for those players are young and inexperienced.
Wiles and Foster will be developing capable backups over the next few