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April 12, 2010

SORTING THROUGH THE PIECES - Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been taking a close look at a lot of younger players this spring

By: Jimmy Robertson

Bud Foster

Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit went into spring practice a year ago with some question marks, and yet that unit developed into one that finished in the top 12 nationally in four defensive categories (pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, pass defense and total defense).

Can the same thing happen this fall? Foster sat down and answered some of the questions about his 2010 unit.

Q: First, were you surprised at how well your group performed last year after having so many question marks going into the season?

BF: “Yes and no. I thought we had a chance to be decent up front. It was nice to see some guys step up. We needed some depth and we had some guys who stepped up for us, like Chris Drager, Demetrius Taylor and Steven Friday. With our linebackers, we went around and around at backer, but finally settled on a guy [Lyndell Gibson]. That group probably exemplified us as a defense. We just got better and better as the season went along. When those guys got better, we got better as a defense.

“All in all, I thought we played very solid. The thing I was disappointed with the most was that we gave up too many yards rushing. We’re not used to that. But at the end of the year, we were a lot better than we were at the beginning of the year. But we had young kids, especially at linebacker, and we had a lot of mistakes early. We corrected those and I was pleased with how we progressed and how we finished up.”

Q: What were your thoughts when Jason Worilds decided to give up his final year of eligibility and declare for the NFL Draft?

BF: “I’m happy for Jason. Obviously, I would have liked to have had him back. He was a great player for us. I don’t know what his reasons were. We tried our best to recruit him again. But he and his family made a decision, and we’re going to support him. He was a great player for us and I’ve got tremendous respect for him and what he did for our program. He was a guy who played hurt. He was a playmaker and a leader. He was all those things you want in a player, and he was a good student and a quality individual. He’s going to be successful, and we’re supporting him all the way.”

Q: How concerned are you about the defensive line?

BF: “We’ve got three starters up front that we’ve got to replace and we haven’t done that since after the 2006 season. We’ve got to find some starters and we’ve got to find some quality back-up guys. I don’t want guys who can just finish a game. I want guys who can perform. Usually, when we’ve been good, we’ve been able to play a lot of people, especially in our front four.

“I think we’re going to be okay. Steven Friday showed some playmaking skills when he played and now he needs to be consistent. I’m hoping he’ll be like Cody Grimm, who stepped up. I trust Chris Drager. He got better as the season went along. At the end position, there is just a plethora of young kids – you’ve got Lanford Collins, James Gayle, Duan Perez-Means, Isaiah Hamlette, Tyrel Wilson; and we moved Jake Johnson there. For us, the end position is a playmaking spot. When we’re really good, those guys are disruptors and make things happen.

“My biggest concern is defensive tackle. John Graves is obviously a proven veteran, and in my mind, he’s going to be the leader of our defense and the leader of our defensive line. He’s a work-ethic guy, and he’s a solid, dependable guy. When he was healthy, like he was in the Tennessee game, he just took the game over, and he has those capabilities.

“Antoine [Hopkins] shows signs of being an outstanding player, but he’s got to perform at a consistent and high level. Kwamaine Battle showed flashes last year of playing well, but he’s like Antoine in that he’s got to do it on a consistent level. We’ve got Courtney Prince, whom we were high on last spring and then he tore his ACL. We’re hoping he can get back to that form. The other kid I like a lot because I know he’s going to give us everything he’s got is Dwight Tucker. He’s a ‘try hard’ guy, and he’s going to work hard and play hard. We’ve got to find some productive guys who are going to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage.”

Q: So you won’t move John Graves to defensive end?

BF: “I don’t think so. If we do, we’d really deplete our inside. I don’t see us doing that. I don’t see it at all.”

Chris Drager moved from tight end to defensive end before last season and will be counted on to be a leader to an inexperienced defensive line unit this fall.

Q: What led to you moving Jake Johnson to defensive end?

BF: “He’s a good kid, and he’s got a lot of tools. As you know, we’re all about getting our best players on the field, and we feel Jake is probably better off getting closer to the line of scrimmage, and we have a need there. We’ve got Barquell Rivers and Lyndell Gibson coming back, and we want to get Jake on the field. He can bench 400 pounds and squat over 600. He can be 240 pounds and run a 4.55. We think his skill set transfers well at defensive end, and we want to put all of our players in a position to maximize their assets and minimize their liabilities. He’s been great about the move. He understands what we’re trying to do. We think the move will help him and help our football team.”

Q: Losing Barquell Rivers for the spring was a tough blow, and he may miss the first part of the fall. How does his loss impact you?

BF: “That’s a concern for me because he had an outstanding season, and I was looking forward to him taking another step. He was playing with a lot of confidence and he’s a good tackler. We’re hoping to get him back for fall camp and for the first game, but if not then, shortly thereafter.

“But him being gone allows us to work some young kids. Bruce Taylor is a good prospect and has a lot of potential. I’ve challenged him to step up to that potential. Those younger kids maybe wouldn’t get as many reps if Barquell were there. We’re going to look at Tariq Edwards and Chase Williams at backer, and I like both of those guys, and we’ll see what Telvion Clark and Jack Tyler can do at mike. They have potential.

“A negative can turn out to be a positive. It’ll give them the opportunity. We’ll have some growing pains, but we’ll improve and get better, like we always do.”

Q: With Cody Grimm having departed, what will happen at whip linebacker?

BF: “That’s a playmaking spot for us. We moved [Jeron] Gouveia-Winslow there last year, and we hope he’s going to step up for us. He’s a smart, heady guy with ability. He’s a good tackler and excited about his opportunity.

“We’re excited about Alonzo Tweedy. He did a great job for us on special teams. I think, mentally, he’s ready to take a step forward. I see a difference in his and Gouveia-Winslow’s work ethic and their commitment this offseason. They’re getting ready to play and I’m excited about that.

“We also like Lorenzo Williams. We played him at safety, but he was an outside linebacker in high school, and I’m hoping he’ll be more comfortable at whip. He’s got great numbers – speed and size and strength. I hope now that he’s going back to a position that he’s comfortable with, he’ll flourish.”

Kam Chancellor started at free safety for two years, but his departure leaves a void that Eddie Whitley (15) hopes to fill heading into next season.

Q: With Kam Chancellor having departed, how will the safety position shake out?

BF: “Eddie Whitley played it some last year, and we feel comfortable with him back there. He’s a good tackler, and he played some cornerback when he first got here. As you know, we like to start guys out at corner and then move them around. But we think that will help him from a coverage standpoint. The big thing with that position is not just playing it, but also being able to make all the calls back there. But I trust Eddie and that spot is a ‘trust’ spot.

“Antone Exum and Theron Norman are the two guys behind him. I like their potential a lot. I think both of them are excellent prospects for us. Now, will they be comfortable making the calls? That’s the question. I do like their potential, but I like and trust Eddie.”

Q: You have moved James Hopper from cornerback to rover behind Davon Morgan. What led to that move?

BF: “Hop’s [Hopper] a good tackler. He’s a physical guy. He was a good corner, but we were a little concerned with his downfield speed. I think he’ll be a better fit at rover because he’s such a tough kid and a good tackler, and we need to start grooming a young guy there.

“We also could move Antone or Theron over there. We’ll see where all these guys fit best, but I do think we have five quality guys at those two spots [safety and rover].”

Q: How big of a surprise was Rashad Carmichael’s performance last year, and what are your expectations of him heading into 2010?

BF: “He was outstanding last year, and he’s had a great offseason. He’s working hard to be a leader. He’s a guy who’s had to fight through some adversity because of the death of his father a couple of years ago, so he can teach those young kids how to battle through adversity. I’m proud of what he’s overcome and accomplished – and what he can accomplish in the future. He and Davon are vocal guys, and I’m expecting them to be our vocal leaders.”

Jayron Hosley was the Hokies’ punt returner as a true freshman, but the coaching staff has high expectations for him as a defensive back and thinks he can be a dynamic player in 2010.

Q: You’ve mentioned a lot of young players, but what about Jayron Hosley at field corner?

BF: “I think he’s really got a chance to be dynamic. Everyone has seen what he can do with the ball in his hands. He got some reps last year, and I think that whole year was a learning experience for him. He learned about work ethic and commitment and what it takes to be a great player. He understands what it takes, and he developed a thicker skin, too. At cornerback, you’re going to give up some plays. That’s just the reality of it. You’ve got a lot on you. But I’m really excited about Jayron’s skill set. He could be special.”

Q: We ask this every year, but will you change your scheme up much, particularly with so many young players, or do you just focus on fundamentals?

BF: “We do what we do. We’ll look to tweak some things, but our focus is going to be on each player learning his position, the expectations of that position and playing that position at a high level. We’re not going to get into game planning or anything like that. For us, it’s about becoming as fundamentally sound as we can be and as good with our technique as we can be. We’re as sound fundamentally as any team out there.

“I think we, as coaches, try to screw the game up. It’s still all about blocking and tackling. In the spring, I may call the same defense six or seven times in a row just to see how a particular player or players will react. I’d rather them see that on film and learn from it and develop.

“We’re young and we’re going to make mistakes. But from day 1 to day 15, hopefully we’ll grow and they’ll learn what we demand of them. Our job is to get them to do what we want by the end of spring.”