Throughout his 15 years as defensive coordinator of the Virginia Tech Hokies, Bud Foster has garnered a reputation of building nationally-ranked defenses.
However, this year could be a challenge for Foster, as he will be trying to continue his success with a defense that lost seven of its starters last season — including star linebacker Cody Grimm.
The one area where most pundits believe the Hokies will be impressive immediately is in the secondary. This is no surprise for a Foster defense, which routinely produces cornerbacks such as DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Flowers and Macho Harris — all of which have started on an NFL team.
Returning at boundary corner will be redshirt senior Rashad Carmichael, who led the team with six interceptions last season.
At the boundary corner spot, Carmichael will be put on an island with the opposition’s best receiver — a task that he is looking forward to.
“It’s the kind of football I like, playing on that boundary. It’s more one-on-one,” Carmichael said. “That side of the field is smaller, so you know quarterbacks are going to try you because you’re going to be in one-on-one situations and I like to put that pressure on myself.”
Returning in the secondary with Carmichael will be rover Davon Morgan, who earned the starting job in 2009 but missed most of the season because of injury.
In addition to Carmichael and Morgan will be newcomers Eddie Whitley and Jayron Hosley, who will complete the Hokies pass defense.
Whitley will be the free safety, replacing Kam Chancellor, and has impressed with his play in the spring and fall practices.
On the other side of Carmichael at field corner will be Hosley, although it isn’t a sure thing. Hosley has missed much of fall practice with nagging injuries and junior Cris Hill seems to be making his case to perhaps take the spot for himself.
Though Whitley, Hosley and Hill are newcomers to the secondary, Carmichael is doing all he can to make sure that their inexperience won’t turn into a lack of communication.
“I like to be a big brother to these guys. If they feel comfortable with you off the field — you helping them out and doing what you can for them — then it’s easier to translate that chemistry on the field,” Carmichael said.
While the secondary is seen as the strongest dimension of the Hokies defense, the defensive line is where the biggest questions lie.
The line will have a huge task on its hands getting to the quarterback without stalwarts Jason Worilds and Cordarrow Thompson leading the way.
The only returning starter in the trenches is defensive tackle John Graves, but he was limited for most of last season because of an injured ankle.
However, Graves still looks to be the leader of the group, coming off of a spring in which he was named the defensive MVP.
Joining Graves at defensive tackle will be Kwamaine Battle, whose play this fall has separated him from a pack of tackles including Antoine and Derrick Hopkins, who figure to get snaps as well.
At defensive end, converted tight end Chris Drager and Steven Friday will be in charge of applying pressure from the outside. The difference between the end spots and those at defensive tackle is that Foster isn’t as confident in the depth at end. In fact, he said J.R. Collins would be the only other defensive end he is comfortable sending out there at the start of the season.
That lack of depth is Foster’s biggest concern coming into the season.