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April 7, 2009

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster and his staff are anxious to see how new pieces fare this spring

By: Jimmy Robertson

The Tech football team began practice on April 1. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster sat down and answered some questions about his unit days before spring ball began.

Q: So in looking at the depth chart, how are things going to shake out at the mike linebacker and backer positions?

BF: “That would be nice to know. I wish I knew myself [laughing]. Right now, that’s the big question for us. Over the last two years, we’ve lost back-to-back starters, so it’s wide open.

“Barquell Rivers stepped in during the bowl game and did a great job. He played his position and was productive. He was a complete player and did a lot of nice things in the passing game. That was a concern going in and he did a great job. He’s probably ahead of the curve because of the years he’s been here and he has a game under his belt. He’s taken a lot of reps in practice and he’s had a great offseason.

“The two who have separated themselves a little in the offseason are Barquell and Jake Johnson. By their 40 times, their strength numbers and what they’ve done with their bodies, they’ve had great offseasons.

“Right now, we’ve brought Bruce Taylor back. We had him there early, but then thought we might need some help at defensive end. Then he got dinged up and we ended up redshirting him. We’re going to move him to mike linebacker. He’s got a good football IQ and he’s going to create competition. Backing him up would be Mark Muncey, who’s kind of like Jonas Houseright, a guy that I trust.

“The backer spot is wide open. We’re moving Jake from mike to backer to just try and get our best players on the football field. He’s dropped some weight. He’s really leaned up his body. He ran a great time and he’s physical. His pitfall is that he goes too hard sometimes, but I’d rather have to slow a guy down. That’s a good thing. Quillie Odom and him … that should be one of the key spots to look at this spring.

“These guys are good young prospects. But we’ve got a lot of growing up to do and they know that.”

Q: How tough will it be for these younger players to grasp either the mike or backer position?

Jake Johnson played mostly on special teams a year ago, but he’s going to be battling for the starting spot at backer this spring.

BF: “Very tough. That’s why you don’t see many freshmen or sophomores playing linebacker at most universities. The linebackers have to be so involved in the running game and the gap fits, but where they have the most issues are the terminology and the coverage concepts. The high school passing game, though it’s gotten better, consistently you’re not facing a quarterback who can beat you. On this level, pretty much every week someone can beat you throwing the football. You’ve got to be disciplined in your coverage concepts and techniques and fundamentals. Your mind doesn’t need to tie up your feet, and if it does, you’re going to be a step behind and that’s not usually a good end result.

“I thought Jake really improved the last two weeks of last season. He got all the second-team reps because Brett [Warren] was out and I really saw him take a step forward. I see a guy in Jake – and not that Quillie isn’t – but Jake is really self-motivated. He’s a lot like Xavier [Adibi] from that standpoint. I didn’t have to prod Xavier to watch film or do well in the weight room and Jake is very similar. He’s a conscientious young man.”

Q: Would you consider moving Cody Grimm to backer?

BF: “We’ve talked about it, but right now, Cam Martin is out [with a knee injury]. Cody is going to miss some time with some class conflicts, too. Now, I’d take Cody in a heartbeat. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a helluva football player. He did it [play backer] for a few weeks for us two years ago and he’d be a playmaker for us. If push came to shove, I think we could work something out, but I hope we don’t have to go there. We’ve talked about it, but we don’t have that luxury this spring.”

Q: What are some other concerns for you this spring?

Stephan Virgil made several big plays as a field cornerback last year and he’ll be taking over at Macho Harris’ old spot - boundary corner - this spring.

BF: “We’ve got to develop a playmaking corner. We’ve got one in Stephan Virgil and we’re going to take him and move him to our boundary corner. But we’re going to see how [Rashad] Carmichael, [Cris] Hill and [Eddie] Whitley do at the other corner. We’re going to find out who is going to take that spot.

“After that, we need develop some depth in our front. When we’ve been really good is when we’ve been able to rotate some people. I think it’s time for a guy like Steven Friday to take a step forward and we’re going to look closely at those redshirt kids, like Isaiah Hamlette at defensive end.

“We’re going to take John Graves and move him to defensive end this spring. Nekos [Brown] is going to be out some because of class conflicts and Jason Worilds is out [with a shoulder injury]. If a bunch of people got injured there, John would have some reps. We know he can play at tackle.

“That gives us an opportunity to rep guys like Antoine Hopkins, Courtney Prince, Dwight Tucker and Kwamaine Battle. Those four guys are going to create competition. We need them. That’s a position where you get beat up and we were very fortunate that we stayed away from the injury bug last year, other than Jason. Moving John can actually help us to create depth.”

Q: Who are you looking at closely among those young defensive linemen?

BF: “All of them. Kwamaine Battle has shown some signs. We redshirted Courtney and he’s changed his body, and so has Dwight Tucker. Antoine is a guy we looked at playing last fall. He’s got great twitch and great pop. But all those guys have to learn to play the game at high level. They’ve got to learn to play with a high motor. That’s the one thing they didn’t do consistently in the fall, but they’re freshmen and that’s normal. They’ve all done things to lose weight and change their bodies and I think they’ve had good offseasons. It’ll be a big spring and a big summer for those guys, and hopefully they’ll take that step forward.”

Q: Do you expect Stephan Virgil to perform the same way as Macho Harris did?

BF: “I think Stephan will do very well. He’s shown he has playmaking skills and he’s got good ball skills. He’s a good tackler. You look at our tradition and that guy right there [at boundary corner] has been the guy to go to the next level. I think that excites Stephan.

“All those guys play both [cornerback spots], but we’re probably going to keep Stephan at the boundary corner because that position demands so much. We bring that guy on corner blitzes and offenses often try to attack that side of the field. There are some things we do differently with that guy than we do with the field corner, and the boundary corner has to be one of our better players on defense. He’s a lockdown guy and a big, run-support guy. He needs to be a good tackler and a physical player.”

Q: How much better do you think Kam Chancellor will be at free safety this season?

BF: “I think he will much better. The media was saying he wasn’t performing well, but our free safety is a lot more involved in coverage whereas the rover spot is more of a free hitter. He’s [the rover] not being tied up in coverage as much as the free safety. He’s roamer, and Kam was a playmaker at rover.

“Actually, Kam was playing well most of last year. It’s just a different position. We tie him up in coverage more. You always notice the rovers and the whips because they’re free guys. They need to be good football players and Kam was that, but we needed a leader at free safety and Kam is that. He wanted that role. I was really pleased with how he played down the stretch. He played with a lot more confidence at free safety down the stretch. He was making all our calls and all our checks. There’s a lot of responsibility with that guy. He played a great bowl game and a great ACC championship game.

“I think he’s going to have a big year. We’re going to try and do some things this spring with a couple of pressures to get him more involved just because he is a playmaking guy. We need to do some things to free him up at times.

“As far as the backup, we’re going to look at Lorenzo Williams. He was really coming on last year until he hurt his knee. Torrian [Gray] likes him and I like him. He improved down the stretch, too.”

Q: Will you juggle Davon Morgan and Dorian Porch at rover or maybe get one some work at the safety spot?

Dorian Porch (24) excelled at rover last season in place of an injured Davon Morgan and will be counted on to be a leader on Tech’s defense this fall.

BF: “Well, Davon is not going to participate in contact drills [because of his knee]. We’ll get him out there in some pass skeleton drills. He did the mat drills during our 6 a.m. workouts and I’m anxious to get him back.

“I feel good about that rover spot. I thought Dorian came in and really did a good job for us. We’re going to take Ron Cooper and move him [from safety] to rover and we’re going to take [Jeron] Gouveia-Winslow and look at him as a whip. He was impressive in our scrimmages and he has a knack. I know he can play rover. I just want to see if maybe he can play whip.

“We’re probably not going to move Davon back to safety. We like Lorenzo [Williams] and want to give him a look and we’ve got some freshmen coming in, like Antone Exum and Theron Norman, that I really like. Those are guys who might could come in and help us if we need it.”

Q: Will you change anything scheme-wise or implement any new stuff? How leery are you of doing that considering your success?

BF: “We always tweak stuff and we’ve got a list of items of things we want to look at. We went to visit the University of Georgia’s staff and there’s a lot of carryover there. They wanted to talk about Georgia Tech and they play Alabama, so we wanted to talk to them about that. And we do a lot of things similar scheme-wise. We got some things from them that I like that may be able to help us in certain situations.

“There are some schematic things that we’re looking at, but nothing big. What we do is good. We have a lot of confidence in it and we know how to adjust, but we’re always looking to tweak and improve if we can. You’re not going to see us go to a 3-4 or anything like that. I don’t see any need to. We’re good at what we do and I want our kids playing fast.

“The one thing I know is how, when people change against us, I can adjust. When you create a new defense or a new scheme, you don’t have that. I know how teams handle our blitzes and pressures, and if they make a change, I know what I can come back with to counter that. That’s why I like what we’re doing.

“We’re efficient. We disguise well and we can pressure people with blitzes and with coverage. We’re more multiple now and can do things in a multitude of ways. We’ll continue to do that and we’ll continue to tweak things to improve ourselves.

“What we do, everyone else is doing. I think we have a tendency as coaches to screw the game up. It still comes down to fundamentals and we’re always going to be fundamentally sound and be multiple enough in our packages. We’ll find ways to bring pressure and outnumber people and hopefully we’ll continue to keep offenses off balance.”