Virginia Tech’s disappointing 2012 season came to end with last Friday’s 13-10 win over Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Much like most of this season, Bud Foster’s defensive unit carried the team. The Hokies held the Scarlet Knights to 196 total yards. Quarterback Gary Nova had only been sacked eight times all season, but the Hokies got to him four times and forced three turnovers.
Last week we looked at the potential offensive depth chart for 2013. In this article we will focus on the defense. Pending the return of two juniors, who may opt to depart a year early to the NFL, this group looks to be in very good shape next season either way.
The Hokies only started one senior in the Russell Athletic Bowl (linebacker Bruce Taylor). Cornerback Antone Exum and defensive end James Gayle, both juniors, may or may not be back in 2013, but here is a look at what the Hokies’ depth chart may look like if both return.
Defensive End: SR – James Gayle (6’4”, 269), JR – Corey Marshall (6’1”, 267)
Reserves: SR – J.R. Collins (6’2”, 261), SR – Tyrel Wilson (6’1”, 228)
This is a deep position whether Gayle returns or not. However, a player of Gayle’s caliber can lift the entire group. Gayle is so talented athletically yet plays the game like a walk-on. He has the ability to be one of the best defensive ends in school history.
Marshall has experience at both end and tackle. He is very strong, yet quick. He has shown the ability to rush the passer from inside or outside.
Wilson is undersized but has shown a knack at getting to the quarterback in limited opportunities. Coleman is a former starter who struggled at times in 2012.
There is more talent on the way with heralded freshman Ken Ekanem, who redshirted this season.
Defensive Tackle: JR – Luther Maddy (6’1”, 290), SR – Derrick Hopkins (6’0”, 306)
Reserves: SO – Kris Harley (6’1”, 285), FR – Alston Smith (6’3”, 275)
Maddy had a terrific sophomore season in 2012. He was injured in the season-opener against Georgia Tech but played through it, therefore limiting his effectiveness. When Maddy returned to full health, the entire defensive line got better. He is not only a talented pass-rusher but strong against the run as well.
You won’t find many more players as dependable and experienced as Hopkins. He has been a good player for his entire career in Blacksburg and is solid in all aspects of the game.
Harley, one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the country two years ago, is being counted upon to make an impact in 2013.
Smith is the son of NFL all-time sacks leader and Hokie legend Bruce Smith.
Mike (middle linebacker): SR – Jack Tyler (6’1”, 236), JR – Chase Williams (6’2”, 235)
Tyler, a former walk-on, has been a standout for two seasons. He doesn’t miss tackles and is surprisingly strong in coverage. He is the type of player head coach Frank Beamer built the program on.
Williams, a rising junior, is the son of former NFL coach Gregg Williams. He played some defensive snaps in 2012 and was solid. He is strong on special teams and is a good athlete. The Hokies will find ways to get him on the field in 2013.
Backer (outside linebacker): SR — Tariq Edwards (6’2”, 237), JR — Chase Williams (6’2”, 235)
Edwards had a terrific sophomore season in 2011 and many things were expected of him in 2012. A leg injury robbed him of most of the season and he may play his former position at the whip linebacker spot.
He is one of the best overall athletes on the team and has shown marked improvement in each of his seasons on campus. If he stays healthy, this position will be in good hands.
Williams may also be the top backup at this position as well. He is extremely smart and has the type of athletic ability to be able to play multiple positions.
Whip (outside linebacker): SO — Ronny Vandyke (6’3”, 215), FR — Deon Clarke (6'3", 205)
Vandyke played a lot this season and showed why everyone is so high on him. He runs like a defensive back, hits like a linebacker and possesses a nose for the ball. He is the prototype for what Foster wants in a whip linebacker.
Clarke was one of the Hokies' top recruits in 2012, but he redshirted. He possesses many of the same skills as Vandyke and is one player to watch on defense in 2013. He should find his way on the field.
Cornerback: SR – Antone Exum (6’0”, 224), SO – Donovan Riley (5’11”, 200)
Exum is weighing his options as it pertains to the NFL, and the Hokies should know soon whether he will return for his senior season. There is great optimism around Exum as he is the kind of big, strong and fast cornerback the NFL loves.
He has played safety in the past and has only played corner one season. Exum had his struggles early in the season but finished strong in the second half. He has the potential to be an All-American if he returns.
Riley was pressed into service in 2012 due to the lack of depth in the secondary. Riley had his moments, but he clearly wasn’t ready.
Cornerback: SR – Kyle Fuller (6’0”, 193), SO – Donaldven Manning (5’9”, 155)
Fuller is essentially a coach on the field and one of the more versatile players in the ACC. As a sophomore in 2011, Fuller split time between corner and whip linebacker and did a phenomenal job at both positions.
He had a solid season in 2012, especially once the defensive line returned to full health. Fuller has a good future ahead of him as he is not only strong in coverage but also one of the best run defenders at corner in the country.
Manning, like Riley, was pressed into duty before he was ready. He was an early enrollee last year, which helped him avoid being redshirted. Manning could develop into a good corner with more experience.
This group will get a talent infusion in 2013 with the addition of Kendall Fuller, Kyle’s brother, who is one of the top 10 players in the country. It is doubtful Beamer and Foster would decide to redshirt Kendall Fuller because of the kind of talent he is.
Free Safety: JR – Detrick Bonner (6’0”, 198), SO – Desmond Frye (6’2”, 185)
Bonner, a former cornerback, moved to free safety in spring practice. He struggled at times with the transition but showed enough promise to enter 2013 as the starter. His tackling could stand to improve, but as you would expect from a former corner, he is solid in coverage.
Frye is a talented sophomore from Chester, Va., who saw extensive playing time in 2012, especially later in the season. He is a player to watch in the future as he could play both safety spots and even fill in at whip linebacker once he puts more weight on.
Rover: JR – Kyshoen Jarrett (5’11”, 198), SO – Michael Cole (6’1”, 202)
This position is in good hands for the foreseeable future. Jarrett, also a former cornerback, made a smooth transition to rover in 2012. Playing near the line of scrimmage, Jarrett showed he was ready to make plays in the running game.
Jarrett is a big hitter, but he is also a good tackler. Younger players generally have a hard time finding that balance. Jarrett will be even better in 2013.
Due to a lack of cornerback depth, Cole often played in the nickel and dime packages with much success in 2012. He is an extremely smart player who could fill in at any of the secondary spots if needed. He also brings good size to the position.