Foster faces empty spots on defensive depth chart
March 30th, 2006
by Charles R. Barrineau
The Virginia Tech football team lost five starters on the defensive side of the ball over the winter and has some holes to fill if the unit hopes to remain among the best in college football.
"You're not going to see a drop off of any, I hope, from our group last year," said defensive coordinator Bud Foster. "Does that mean we're going to be the No.1 defense in the country again? I don't know, but what we've got to do is create some depth right now, and that's what spring ball is all about."
One of the biggest blows to the defense was the loss of star defensive end Darryl Tapp.
"Darryl was a big-time playmaker," Foster said. "But, so (are) Chris (Ellis) and Noland (Burchette), so we haven't lost much there. Now what we've got to do is create some depth at that position."
Coaches hope redshirt freshman William Wall will add depth behind Burchette and Ellis.
Wall doesn't mind playing behind Burchette for now, and approaches being number two in the lineup as a learning experience.
"I get to learn a lot while I'm out there," Wall said. "(I'm learning) little knacks with my technique. The coaches teach it to us real well, but when you've got somebody out there who's doing it at the same time, he can tell you a little bit more (about) fine-tuning your technique."
But as with most talented athletes, Wall has his sights set higher than second place.
"My goal is to be number one," Wall said. "Sometime (in) my career I want to be number one, but right now I'm at the learning stage."
Wall plans on moving up the depth chart via hard work.
"I'm (going to) play every down hard," Wall said. "There's going to be a few mistakes here and there, but, for the most part, you're going to see a hardworking football player."
Moving further off the ball, the Tech defense also lost the services of whip linebacker and resident artist James Anderson.
Senior position journeyman Brenden Hill is currently at the top of the depth chart at the whip linebacker position.
"So far, I'm real pleased with Brenden," Foster said. "He's a smart guy (and) has got a good football IQ; (he's a) tough guy and has some ability. Through four days of practice, I've been real pleased with what he's doing right now."
However, Hill isn't an outright lock for that starting position just yet; he is being challenged by redshirt junior Corey Gordon.
"Corey Gordon is a guy that's right there with (Hill)," Foster said. "Corey has really improved ... Corey has a physical size, more like a James Anderson in that he's a 6'2" 225-pound guy. Brenden's probably more of a strong, bigger, safety-type guy. But both are good football players, and there's good competition right there."
The new whip linebacker will join an experienced corps already consisting of redshirt juniors Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall.
"They're a strong part (of our defense)," Foster said. "I'm real pleased (with) where they are right now. They're getting better. As good as they've been, they've got a little area to improve to be complete linebackers, and they're doing that."
Fans will also notice some new faces in the Hokie secondary this fall, and not just on the field.
"It's surreal," said Torrian Gray, the new defensive backs coach. Gray played for Tech from 1992 to 1996 and later played for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. He has also coached in the NFL and college. "It's just an exciting atmosphere to be back in," he said.
The biggest hole in the secondary was left by the departure of cornerback Jimmy Williams.
"I didn't get to coach the caliber of a Jimmy Williams," Gray said. "I'm sure he's a big loss -- you don't have a guy that big and that talented at the cornerback position come around that often, but we have some guys here we can work with and as long as we play as a unit, we'll still be pretty good."
Currently topping the depth chart at the boundary corner position is redshirt sophomore Brandon Flowers.
"I'm most impressed with Brandon Flowers (thus far)," Gray said. "He just comes out and he just works hard."
Right behind Flowers is redshirt freshman Jahre Cheeseman.
"Cheeseman is practicing, and he's getting better each practice," Gray said. "I think he's just trying to get a feel for (the position) to be more natural in his movements and his assignments and things like that. And I'm pleased with how he's progressing up to this point."
Foster shares Gray's feelings towards Cheeseman saying he is seeing the Vorhees, N.J. native improving every day at practice.
Adding depth at the free safety position behind junior D.J. Parker is redshirt freshman Cam Martin, who is out with an injury.
"He got injured the second day of practice," Foster said. "(He) has a hernia. He's probably going to miss the rest of spring ball, but (he) had a great winter."
Look for the Hokie defense to again be among the best units in the nation if it can adequately fill the vacancies left by its departed players.