Even though 2012 was nothing short of a train wreck for the Hokies, the defense, as always, still gave fans a reason to tune in or come out to each game.
Against Georgia Tech, the defense intercepted Tevin Washington in overtime to seal the game. In the bowl game against Rutgers, it allowed less than 200 yards of offense and quarterback Gary Nova completed just 42 percent of his passes. The Hokies also avoided a scare from Virginia with a timely interception and allowed only one offensive touchdown.
In short, the defense consistently bailed out a sputtering offense and gave the team a chance to win.
But this has been the story for years, and it’s not going to change in 2013. Tech’s defense has always been the identity of the team. With the offensive side of the ball receiving a complete makeover, the defense will remain groomed and ready to go.
The new-look linebackers are the unit that will have the biggest shakeup, mostly due to Bruce Taylor and Alonzo Tweedy graduating.
Taylor and his All-ACC play will absolutely be missed, but his departure leaves an opportunity for guys like Ronny Vandyke and Tariq Edwards to step in.
Edwards was the landmark of consistency before being plagued by injury last season, but should he return to form, he’ll be back in the starting lineup.
And while Vandyke’s still unproven after only playing in a limited role last season, there might not be a player on Tech’s roster with a ceiling as high as his. He now has a chance to prove why he was so sought-after coming out of high school.
Jack Tyler has ascended from being a walk-on to team leader. With Taylor gone, Tyler will anchor the linebackers after his great 2012 season.
The Hokies have long controlled games by dominating the line of scrimmage, and with guys like Derrick Hopkins, James Gayle and Luther Maddy coming back, the defensive line should be in good shape.
When Gayle announced he would put the NFL on ice for one more year, ACC offensive tackles cringed, while Hokies fans rejoiced. Not only will the defensive line be a strong suit for the Hokies, it’ll also house plenty of veteran leadership.
Just like last season, the secondary will be the most interesting bunch to watch, except this time around there should be less position changes.
Cornerback Antone Exum joined Gayle in announcing he’d be coming back for his senior season, and he’s now added a year of experience at corner and discarded all the growing pains that came with the drastic position switch.
Exum went from being targeted by opposing quarterbacks on passing downs (see the Cincinnati game), to being put on an island with a team’s top wide out (see the Florida State game).
Playing opposite Exum will be Kyle Fuller, a name that wasn’t called very frequently in 2012, mostly because opposing quarterbacks didn’t look his way very often. An early shoulder injury hindered his play last year, but Fuller has the potential to be a complete shutdown corner.
Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett are the expected starters at safety and rover, respectively. At this time last year, Bonner had essentially swapped positions with Exum, and therefore he went through the expected struggles at his new position, but similar to Exum, he improved down the stretch.
Jarrett just always seemed to be around the ball last season and definitely plays bigger than his 5’11," 195-pound frame suggests. Jarrett’s played in every single game since arriving at Tech and could be one of the team’s best players going forward. He’s cut from a unique breed of safety that can defend the run and pass equally well.
While the offense will have a completely new look both on the field and on the sideline next year, the defense should provide some comfortable familiarity for Hokies fans. There are a few question marks at each level of the defense, but the key players are there to lead Bud Foster’s unit to another strong year.