The whip linebacker position is one of those specialized hybrid roles Bud Foster loves.
Like the rover/safety variant, the whip is sparsely used outside of Blacksburg, but the Hokies use it well and often.
The whip is part 3-4 linebacker and part nickel cornerback, so it requires a certain type of athleticism. Ronny Vandyke was set to be the full-time starter at whip, but was lost to injury before the season started.
Initially, Bud Foster and outside linebackers coach Cornell Brown plugged in Josh Trimble to fill in, but Foster and Brown have since put in a revolving door at the position.
Each week they trot out a new and equally dangerous player to play the role, kind of like how Oregon can seemingly showcase a different offensive player each week to torch opponents.
One has to imagine that whichever player gets assigned the whip each week is ecstatic because it seems that whoever it is, they have a free pass to follow their instincts.
Against Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense, Kyle Fuller played the whip and caused all sorts of problems. Fuller tried to time his blitzes perfectly at the snap, and as a result he was often in the backfield before Georgia Tech’s linemen were out of their stance. He also jumped offsides a few times, but that didn’t stop Foster from continuing to give him the green light to try and guess the snap count.
With a very crowded and talented secondary, there was concern that blue-chip recruit Kendall Fuller wouldn’t see much of the field, but he’s found a bit of a niche at the whip. Against teams that run the option and have shifty slot receivers, Kendall’s quickness and ability to tackle in the open field make him a capable whip.
But no player was more fun to watch at the whip than Dadi Nicolas.
Nicolas, a defensive end in most instances, took his hand off the ground against Pitt and ran all over the Panthers, both laterally and as a pass-rusher.
Ahead of the Pittsburgh game, Foster praised the Panthers’ offensive line’s ability to run block but said if they had a weakness, it might be in pass protection. Accordingly, Foster unleashed Nicolas to go ahead and get to the quarterback by any means necessary.
“I’m just thankful for getting the opportunity from coach (Bud) Foster putting me in the right position to make these types of plays,” Nicolas said.
People love to compare Nicolas to New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul due to their Haitian roots and raw ability with little football experience, but it seems Nicolas is starting to establish himself as his own player.
“He’s kind of found his niche. You can see that he’s a heck of player and he’s only going to get better once the whole mental side catches up to his physical ability,” linebacker Jack Tyler said.
Fellow defensive end and clairvoyant James Gayle is less than surprised about Nicolas’ breakout.
“I warned the media about him early. I was like, 'He’s going to be one of the better players in the ACC.’ He showed them,” Gayle said.
Whenever you hear about a team going to a position “by-committee,” it usually means they lack one standout player who can carry the load, but it’s the contrary for the Hokies. Due to their depth at corner and linebacker, Brown and Foster now have the luxury of specializing the whip position per opponent.
With the whip position, Brown and Foster are able to give a lot of different looks with a lot of different players, and they’ve done a remarkable job of getting their most talented players involved with the position.
This shouldn’t change against a Duke team that loves to run with both their quarterback and running back.