Bud Foster is known for having elite defenses, but that hasn’t been the case in the last two seasons.
Last year, Virginia Tech ranked just 44th in the country in total defense. In 2014, Virginia Tech ranked 21st in total defense. 2013? The Hokies ranked fourth.
This offseason, Foster has talked about being more versatile in his coverages and schemes, something he hasn’t been able to accomplish over the last two seasons.
“I want to get back to doing those things where we aren’t just playing man all the time,” Foster said at Virginia Tech’s Media Day. “I want to get a few more eyes on the ball. I want to play a little bit more and show a little bit more. Even though we might be playing a little bit more man, we also want to be doing some more disguise plays, which we have done in the past. I think the biggest thing is getting more eyes on the football. There can be a play where there may be a crease in the defense with the way offenses are nowadays, but if there are eyes on the ball, then it’s not going to be a big play.”
Der’Woun Greene, a redshirt senior at safety, says that playing more zone helps to take pressure off of the defense.
“It just takes a lot of stress off of our defensive lineman,” Greene said. “They don’t have to pressure as hard, even though we obviously want them too. We don’t have to cover as long, being in a zone with each person playing their own zone. It’s Bud’s defense though, so you know if anything goes wrong, we’ll be back in man.”
Hokies still searching for depth on defense
Foster’s biggest problem however hasn’t been transitioning to more zone coverage, but instead finding depth at defensive back and linebacker.
“We need to find a fourth guy in a lot of spots right now,” Foster said. “If we have two positions, we have three guys and need to find a fourth guy. We want to feel comfortable so we can compete and perform at a high level. That’s kind of where we are right now. We are still at the developmental stages with some young guys that we are hoping will develop sooner rather than later. This week in particular is going to be a critical week as far as our development.”
Taking a look at the defense, it’s easy to see why Foster is looking for younger player to step up. Both defensive tackle and defensive end have a lot of talented and experienced guys, but linebacker is a different story. Behind Andrew Motuapuaka, Tremaine Edmunds and Sean Huelskamp, none of the linebackers have played much, if at all.
While Foster believes that Edmunds has a lot of potential, he wants to see more from Edmunds.
“Is he where he needs to be right now? No, he’s still learning to play the position and play the position at a high level, but he has all those skill sets. He is a willing kid. He proves that to us every day. He is one of the guys. He is very coachable and he will take what you coach and try to implement it on the field. I have high expectations for him, but he is going into his sophomore year.”
In the secondary, even more depth is needed. As more and more teams deploy spread offenses, the whip linebacker position in Foster’s defense has often been replaced with another safety or cornerback, who is better in coverage.
“That position is slowly phasing out but at the same time, it’s still a critical position for us,” Foster said. “We are going to play some teams that are going to be physical and want to get into multiple backs and multiple tight ends. We need a guy that can be firm at the point of attack.”
Foster says that Mook Reynolds, Greg Stroman and Anthony Shegog have all worked at that nickel/whip position.
Versatility should help Virginia Tech secondary
Fortunately enough for Foster, he has a few guys in the secondary who are able to play multiple positions. Terrell Edmunds could easily slide back to cornerback from rover, Adonis Alexander could move back to rover from corner, while Reynolds has seen time at corner and has been working at safety this offseason.
It also helps to have a couple of seniors back there to sure things up. Chuck Clark has started 26 games in his career, playing safety, nickel and corner, while Greene has seen some playing time in his three seasons. Greene has primarily made an impact on special teams, but has also been the first or second safety subbed into games.
Greene and Clark’s relationship on the field and in the meeting room has helped to solidify the secondary.
“If he needs something I tell him, if I need something he’ll tell me,” Greene said. “That’s the good thing about having two seniors backing up each other. We help each other out and help the young guys out.”
Greene, who’s started just one game in his career, is hoping this is the season he can help bring back the vaunted Bud Foster defense.
“It’s my time and the team’s time,” Greene said. “I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve seen teams with expectations, preseason expectations and I’ve been on teams when we didn’t have any expectations. I think this team, it’s our time now to bring Virginia Tech back.”