Even though it’s a bye week for Virginia Tech, Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster isn’t taking any breaks.
“I’ve got some yard work to catch up on,” Foster said. “I haven’t been home since about the first of August. But we’ll take a look at those guys. We’re going on the road, recruiting. A lot of guys, several are leaving tonight, there will be several who leave tomorrow. I think all of us are out on Friday. Won’t be getting home until late, some guys won’t be getting home until Saturday.”
In addition to recruiting, Foster said that the coaching staff will try to accomplish several things this week.
“We’re doing a little bit of self-scouting right now,” Foster said. “We haven’t got the final results yet, but as we’re doing that, we’re working on the opportunity to look at North Carolina, get a jump start on them. These practices (Tuesday) and (Wednesday), we’re working our first group and keeping them sharp and keeping the timing. We’re also getting the opportunity to work on some of the second-team guys and third-team guys, give them a little bit more opportunities, maybe more than they’ve had.”
One of the reasons the defense has been better this season is the play of Ken Ekanem, who was named defensive lineman of the week for the ACC. Ekanem has tied last season’s sack total of 4.5 in just four games.
“I think we’ve been able to get people behind the sticks a bit more in longer yardage situations, which allows our guys to pin their ears back a little bit,” Foster said. “I do know this, (Ekanem) has worked extremely hard this offseason with his explosiveness and ‘get-off’, which are all critical on third down situations.”
Another defensive end who’s played well in limited time is Trevon Hill, a redshirt-freshman. Hill, who’s registered 2.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries, has admittedly played more than he originally expected to.
“I expected to get like 20 plays, now I’m getting like 25-30 plays,” Hill said. “Being behind Ken (Ekanem), it’s great. I learn everything from him and Coach Wiles, from pinching to techniques. My redshirt year was great for me, even though I tore my ACL. I didn’t want to redshirt, but I loved it.”
Foster said that Hill’s abilities and level of play have allowed him to serve as the third defensive end, behind Ekanem and Vinny Mihota.
“I see a guy with a lot of potential,” Foster said. “A guy with a very good skill set, very explosive, has the ability to rush the passer, has the ability to be physical at the point of attack, athletic… I like how he’s progressing right now. Charley (Wiles) has his thumb on him the right way and getting him going the right way. He was a little undisciplined in the first part of the season in the first game or two. You’ve seen him able to make plays in the last couple of games. Like I’ve said, the best teacher is experience and playing, and obviously he doesn’t want to let his teammates down.”
Hill feels like he’s been much better the last two games, knowing his assignment and staying home.
“The first couple games, I wasn’t doing my assignment right,” Hill said. “I was chasing the dive. Now, we focus on being disciplined and paying attention more. It means studying what I need to do better and studying the opponent and doing my job.”
Wiggins says young receivers coming along
Hill is one of many younger players seeing the field in large chunks this season. At wide receiver, Virginia Tech has played CJ Carroll, Jaylen Bradshaw, Divine Deablo and Eric Kumah, all of whom are young players who haven’t played a significant role before.
Head Coach Justin Fuente said that the coaches aren’t comfortable with the depth at that position and Wide Receivers Coach Holmon Wiggins agrees.
“It continues as the season progresses,” Wiggins said. “You figure out what they can and can’t do and where they can help you at. I’m never satisfied, so we’re going to continue to pluck away and these guys are starting to follow suit and kind of figure out what we’re trying to do and how fast we’re trying to go and what’s expected.”
Wiggins said that Deablo and Kumah, who are both true-freshmen, made big strides this offseason in order to break into the rotation.
“If you had asked me in the spring, I probably would’ve said no, because it was a slow spring for those guys and it’s a good thing that they did graduate early, because the spring actually helped them with the experience, the speed of the game and kind of what to anticipate and how fast we were going and kind of the speed of college football,” Wiggins said. “Then fall camp came and you could see it kind of sink in a bit and things starting to slow down for them a little more.”
The two receivers who have played the most are Bradshaw and Carroll, who serve as the backups to Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips. Even so, Bradshaw and Carroll have combined for just seven catches and 73 yards.
Wiggins said that fans can expect to see Bradshaw and Carroll on the field more as the season progresses.
“(Bradshaw)’s progressing a whole lot, that’s why you’re starting to see more of him,” Wiggins said. “Every day he gets a chance to go out there and either show that we can trust him or show that we can’t trust him. He’s doing a better job of being consistent and understanding what we’re doing, what’s expected, and he’s actually going out there and making some plays.”
“(Carroll)’s a guy that has some tools, has some ability and he’s taken advantage of those opportunities,” Wiggins said. “I trust him, he knows what we’re doing, he plays fast and he’s doing a good job when he does get those reps of showing that he belongs out there.”
Ford said that both Bradshaw and Carroll have played “hungry” and that he helps them whenever he can.
Receivers who’ve yet to play this season are Dominic Benson, Sean Daniel, Samuel Denmark, Kevin Henry, Jordan Jefferson and Phil Patterson, all of whom are true-freshmen.
“The one thing, when you bring those guys in, you make sure they’re able to hold up, especially academically, physically, mentally, all that kind of stuff,” Wiggins said. “It’s going to be a long season. Some guys kind of pick it up a little faster than some. For some of them, there’s a little more reps to be taken, little more experience to be had.”
Wiggins said that if everything goes right, the team will be able to redshirt that group.
“You hope to get to that point,” Wiggins said. “When you get about halfway, you kind of got a general idea of who you’re using and what you have, knock on wood that nothing drastic happens and we are fortunate enough to be able to do that.”
“Every time they come off the field, I’m in their ear, trying to tell them the things I see and when I see some of the mistakes they make that I made when I was a freshman,” Ford said. “The future is really bright for them.”