Spring Practice Review: Defense

Bud Foster and Charley Wiles (Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech got some good work done on the defensive side of the ball this spring. I was happy with the depth they appear to have built at linebacker and in the secondary, and while I’m still somewhat concerned about the defensive line, things should improve there in August.

Defensive End: Thin for Now, but Deeper in the Summer

Virginia Tech didn’t have many defensive ends available for spring practice. Here’s a list of the current scholarship defensive ends on the roster.

Vinny Mihota (r-Jr.)
Raymon Minor (r-Jr.)
Trevon Hill (r-So.)
Houshun Gaines (r-So.)
Xavier Burke (r-So.)
Jimmie Taylor (r-So.)
Emmanuel Belmar (r-Fr.)

The list above is based on seniority, but Virginia Tech’s top three defensive ends on the depth chart (Mihota, Hill, Gaines) did not participate in spring practice. Of the guys who did participate, here’s a quick bio…

Raymon Minor: Minor could not stick at Backer or Whip, and then briefly quit the team last August.

Xavier Burke: Burke is a converted tight end who is getting his first work on defense.

Jimmie Taylor: Taylor was listed as a defensive tackle at the beginning of the spring, but because of the lack of numbers at end, he played on the outside.

Emmanuel Belmar: Belmar played linebacker for most of last season, but converted to defensive end this spring. This was a move that the defensive coaches always expected to make.

Of those four guys, the coaching staff seems the highest on Belmar. One of those four players will combine with Vinny Mihota, Trevon Hill, Houshun Gaines and likely incoming true freshman Zion DeBose in the playing rotation this year. Usually Charley Wiles doesn’t play more than four defensive ends, so one of those guys might have very limited playing time.

Defensive end play was pretty rough at times this spring, but it should be much better when Mihota, Hill and Gaines return this summer, and Zion DeBose is added to the mix. There are enough bodies that Wiles should be able to form a solid two-deep. I’m less high on guys like Minor and Burke at end, but at the very least they should be able to supply depth and perhaps help on special teams.

The best thing about this group is that none of them are seniors. Every single player is eligible to return for 2018, and all but Mihota and Minor are eligible to return for 2019 as well. I like the future of the defensive end spot.

Defensive Tackle: Stronger Starters, but Depth is a Question Mark

Virginia Tech’s defensive tackle depth in the spring looked like this…

Ricky Walker (r-Jr.)
Tim Settle (r-So.)
Darius Fullwood (r-So.)
Jarrod Hewitt (r-Fr.)

Beyond that, the Hokies didn’t have anything on the inside.

Virginia Tech looks strong in the starting lineup. Ricky Walker and Tim Settle reportedly had very good offseasons on top of their good work in the spring. They combined for 13.5 tackles for loss last season in mostly backup roles, and that production should increase this season. They could be the most talented duo that Charley Wiles has had at tackle in a long time.

Unfortunately, depth behind them is a major question mark. Fullwood and Hewitt are young players, and the staff doesn’t know how much they are ready to help. Fullwood is a converted defensive end who I always assumed would move inside to tackle. Even at tackle, I’m not sure about