In the days leading up to the beginning of practice, we’re bringing you ten critical questions that will have an impact on Virginia Tech’s football season. Today we’ll start with Ronny Vandyke .
Can Ronny Vandyke be a full-time whip?
We ask this question every year…will Virginia Tech have a full-time whip linebacker, or will they be forced to go back and forth between a whip and a nickel back depending on the matchup?
Playing whip in Virginia Tech’s scheme is not easy. A player is required to possess outside linebacker skills, yet also be able to defend slot receivers in pass coverage at times. The whip always aligns to the wide side of the field, which means he has to be able to tackle in space, as well as handle pass coverage in space.
Here’s a quick list of the things a whip needs to do well:
1: Take on the outside running game.
2: Tackle well in space.
3: Defend the wide side flats in pass coverage.
4: Occasionally play man coverage against the slot receiver.
5: Blitz the quarterback effectively.
Very few players possess all of those skills, which is why it has been difficult for Bud Foster to find a full-time player at that position.
James Anderson was a great whip for the Hokies in 2004 and 2005, and Brenden Hill did a good job in 2006. Cody Grimm was outstanding in 2008 and 2009. However, from 2010 through 2012, Virginia Tech hasn’t been able to put a full-time whip linebacker on the field. At times they’ve used whips such as Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Alonzo Tweedy, and at other times they’ve used defensive backs as a nickel back instead. Those players include Antone Exum, Kyle Fuller and Detrick Bonner.
Why is it important to find a full-time whip? Because finding a guy who can play whip full-time means that Bud Foster will never have to change his defensive personnel to match up with different offensive formations. Having an outside linebacker type of player at whip – rather than a DB type of player – will give him a better blitzing option as well.
Ronny Vandyke (6-3, 211, r-So.) started two games at whip a year ago. In 13 games, he played 152 defensive snaps. That’s as much time as a r-freshman has received at whip in a long time (maybe ever), so it’s a testament to his potential at that position.
Vandyke was a 4-star recruit and one of the top 10 recruits in the state of Virginia coming out of South County High School. He has the size and frame to take on the outside running game, and he has the athletic ability to tackle in space, defend the wide side flats in pass coverage, and blitz the quarterback effectively.
Can Vandyke cover a slot receiver in man coverage? It probably depends on the receiver. Overall, he has the physical ability to be a very good whip for the Hokies. However, it generally takes awhile for a player to pick up the position mentally. Cody Grimm did not stand out until he was a r-junior, just like James Anderson. Brenden Hill was a rover/free safety who didn’t get moved to whip until his redshirt senior season. Vandyke will be only a r-sophomore this year.
I believe Vandyke will get a lot more playing time this year, and he’ll be used even more against bigger, more physical teams such as Alabama, North Carolina and Pitt. For teams that like to run a lot of spread offense, Bud Foster might elect to employ a nickel back. If Vandyke can develop into a full-time whip this year, look for this defense to be even better than expected. It will give Foster more coverage and blitzing options.
Will Stewart’s Take: It’s always interesting to talk about James Anderson, the prototypical whip linebacker. Anderson was an inside linebacker (at the backer position) through his redshirt sophomore season, then was moved to whip as a redshirt junior.
He wasn’t a very good inside linebacker. The game that really stands out to me is the 2002 Syracuse game, a horrific 50-42 triple-overtime loss in the Carrier Dome in which the Virginia Tech defense never showed up … especially Anderson. Syracuse ran 100 offensive plays — that’s not a typo — and Anderson was credited with just six tackles. He basically ran from sideline to sideline and watched the action without getting involved very much. (By contrast, fellow inside LB Mikal Baqee had 17 tackles.)
That was his redshirt freshman season. The coaching staff took him out of the starting lineup after that game, and he played mostly special teams through his redshirt sophomore season, not starting again until they moved him to whip linebacker as a redshirt junior. The rest is history. He was an excellent whip. Sometimes you just have to find the right position for a guy.
Probably the signature James Anderson play is his forced fumble against Miami in the 2004 game down in Coral Gables. Anderson shows the ability to play in space, close quickly, and tackle hard when he arrives on the spot. (Check the video at the 3:44 mark)
If Ronnie Vandyke can turn into a James Anderson-Cody Grimm type, it will be a big step towards returning Virginia Tech’s defense to the top ten, a place they have been only once in the last four seasons, after being a mainstay in the mid-2000s.