When you hear Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, what's the first thing that comes to mind? For me it's the tough, physical defenses. Alabama and Virginia Tech both had great defenses last year and will have great ones thing year.
Virginia Tech's Bud Foster is the best defensive coordinator in the country and provides VT with an advantage, but is it enough?
This is part two of my preview series. Part three will review coaching, special teams, and a prediction!
Link to Part 1: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/200481-alabama-vs-virginia-tech-previewing-the-offense
A perceived strength for Virginia Tech is their defensive line. They are the best group in the ACC and are ranked as the No. 4 defensive line by Athlon Sports for this upcoming year. They return starter Jason Worilds who led the team last year with eight sacks. (He played with a separated shoulder last year!)
Virginia Tech returns 282 pound DT John Graves. Graves could start at defensive end this year depending on how the fall practices play out. DEs Nekos Brown and Steven Friday are the other contenders for the other DE spot.
One DT spot is taken up by Cordarrow Thompson, a returning starter. The other one is up for grabs because of the issue of which position John Graves will play.
Graves started at DT last year. If he were to play DE then Demetrius Taylor would fill in his spot at DT. VT's defensive line has some depth issues. Nekos Brown and Steven Friday are solid backups, but the back-up DTs are all inexperienced.
Alabama runs a different system from VT on defense. (Alabama runs a base, versatile 3-4 and VT runs a base 4-3 over defense.)
Alabama's DEs and DTs are huge, which makes for a big advantage. Terrence Cody anchors this line. He weighs in at 6'5" 365 pounds.
He's a big talent, but for being so huge (literally) he only had 24 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and 0.5 sacks last year. That may not seem like a lot, but Alabama runs a less aggressive style of defense than VT, and Cody's main objective is to take up blocks and to free up Alabama's linebackers to make plays.
At the DEs Alabama has Brandon Deaderick and Lorenzo Washington. They aren't play makers, but like Cody, they are big enough to take up blockers and free up the linebackers. Deaderick had four sacks last year and Washington had three sacks as a starter in 2007. Those numbers aren't too impressive, but in a 3-4 they aren't meant to get sacks.
This is a tough one to give and advantage too. Terrence Cody is one of the best DTs in the country and Alabama also has two DEs who are also very large (Deaderick is 6'4", 287 pounds and Washington is 6'5", 275 pounds) and fit well into their 3-4 scheme.
However, VT has underrated play makers in Jason Worilds and John Graves. They also return Cordarrow Thompson who played last year.
I'm going to put this one at a PUSH, because Alabama has Mount Cody who is mainly a run-stopper and hole-filler. VT, on the other hand, has Jason Worilds who is more of a play maker. The rest of the Defensive lines are good, but not great.
Virginia Tech had to replace two linebackers last year and will have to do so again this year to replace seniors Brett Warren and Purnell Sturdivant. Their replacements are likely to be Barquell Rivers and Jake Johnson.
Both are inexperienced. however, Barquell did have his first start in the Orange Bowl. He stopped Cincy QB Tony Pike on the goal line on 4th-and-goal. He and Jake Johnson should have some early troubles against Alabama.
The bright spot for Virginia Tech at linebacker in the WHIP position. A huge position for the Hokies, VT has Cody Grimm and Cam Martin to play here.
Martin was injured last season, but was very good seasons prior. Grimm although small, 5'11", 207 pounds, is one of the quickest player on the team (literally!). Grimm accumulated 71 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks last season.
Alabama has a very big and talented linebacking core. They have four linebacker positions: JACK, SAM, MIKE, and WILL.
The best linebacker for Alabama, Rolando McClain, lines up at the WILL, which is a middle linebacker. At the other middle linebacker spot, the MIKE, Dont'a Hightower starts and is a very solid player at that spot.
The outside linebackers are both experienced, but not quite the play makers that Hightower and McClain are.
At SAM Cory Reamer is the starter and is a solid player for the Tide there.. Brandon Fanney has requested permission to transfer so this opens up a hole at the JACK LB spot. Courtney Upshaw or Dont'a Hightower would be the likely replacements.
The JACK is a very versatile defensive position for the Tide and Alabama is lacking a big-time play maker at that position.
VT is inexperienced at two of their LB spots. The WHIP linebacker spot, however, is a major strength for this defense.
Alabama is experienced throughout its linebacking crew and has stars such as Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower there. The EDGE goes to the Tide.
Virginia Tech returns three starters to their defensive secondary from last year. Returning is FS Kam Chancellor, Rover Dorian Porch, and CB Stephan Virgil.
Kam Chancellor is a physical specimen at 6'4" 226 pounds. He is a big hitter, who will lead the VT secondary. Next is CB Steven Virgil who tied for the team lead with six interceptions. He is a very good CB.
The other CB, the lone new comer to the secondary, is Rashad Carmichael who played in limited action last year.
At Rover, another very important defensive position for the Hokies, Tech has an interesting situation. Their is an intense battle occurring between senior Dorian Porch, who played most of the season, and sophomore Davon Morgan, who played in five games last year before suffering a season ending injury.
This battle will be decided in the fall, but both are good options for the Hokies.
The Crimson Tide also return three starters from last year. Also, their best player from last year's team, Rashad Johnson, graduated, just like Virginia Tech and Macho Harris.
In the secondary, Alabama will start CB Javier Arenas, CB Kareem Jackson, SS Justin Woodall, and FS Ali Sharrief or Robby Green. The newcomer is Ali Sharrief or Green.
Javier Areans is most known for his punt returning abilities, but is also a good CB. Jackson is another solid option at CB.
At safety Woodall took in four interceptions last year and is a very good player. Ali Sharrief is short for a FS at 5'9" and racked up a modest 20 tackles last year as a backup. He will probably be tested by most by opposing defenses. Green was a top recruit and is bigger and should start over Sharrief
These secondaries are very even and both very good. Virginia Tech's is ranked No. 5 by athlon sports, whereas Alabama's is ranked No. 6. That shows just how even they are.
Both teams lost their best player last year, both were in the secondary, and both return three starters in the secondary.
I'm going to give a SLIGHT EDGE to Virginia Tech on this one because I feel Kam Chancellor is a physical freak and the new comer for the Hokies, Rashad Carmichael, will perform very well for the Hokies.
Defensive Line: PUSH
Linebackers: EDGE ALABAMA
Defensive Back: SLIGHT EDGE VT
In review the defenses are also very even. This game should be a very physical, tough football game that will showcase two of the best defenses in the country.