Though Virginia Tech’s defense is coming off its worst statistical showing of the year last Saturday against Miami, the first priority for defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit right now is figuring out just who will be available to play when the Hokies travel to Wake Forest this weekend.
Both defensive end James Gayle (sprained left ankle) and linebacker Jeron Gouveia-Winslow (foot) left after the first series of the Miami game and the team says it won’t announce their official status until Thursday. Gayle practiced in a blue jersey (limited work) on Tuesday, while Gouveia-Winslow missed his second-straight day of practice.
“It’s getting better. It’s still kind of hard to run, but I’ve made strides since the game,” Gayle said, addressing his ankle injury on Tuesday. “I’m definitely gonna try to give it a go on Saturday.”
But defensive line coach Charley Wiles is not as optimistic, and said based on what he saw during Tuesday’s practice, Gayle’s chances of playing are “not good.” Redshirt sophomore Tyrel Wilson would fill in at defensive end if Gayle can’t go.
As for Gouveia-Winslow, the way Foster talked Tuesday about his replacement at whip linebacker, Alonzo Tweedy, it seems the Hokies are preparing to play without the Ashburn native and former All-Met.
Tweedy is going to “really grow a lot and we expect him to step in and be the guy,” Foster said. “I think sometimes you get guys, even as much as you harp on it because they’re a play away from being the guy, when they’re still a back up, I don’t know how much they’re focused.”
As you can see, a lot could be expected of Tweedy and Wilson, who both saw more than 45 snaps against Miami.
Tweedy’s contributions on Saturday were easier for the average fan to see. He finished with eight tackles and a sack, including a nice open-field tackle on Miami running back Lamar Miller that ended the game.
Tweedy’s biggest asset is his speed – he said Tuesday he runs a 4.33-second 40-yard-dash – but Foster said Tweedy needs to be more consistent with his technique and assignments, especially in the running game. This is a big opportunity for the redshirt junior after battling through a painful groin injury last year. He has primarily played on special teams during his time in Blacksburg.
“I think Jeron has more experience than me, or had more experience than me. He played all last year,” Tweedy said. “The only thing I played was special teams, but this year I’ve been getting second team reps so basically I think we’re on the same level but I just got my chance last Saturday. . . . I understand how to play my role, so it’s just watching film and getting better throughout the week, and I can do it and I can help our defense out for the rest of the season, hopefully.”
Though the Hurricanes gashed Virginia Tech’s run defense in the second half, Wiles said the 219-pound Wilson actually held up pretty well. It’s all the more impressive after Wilson admitted Tuesday that the stomach virus he played through forced him to make three separate trips to the bathroom to, well, you can put two and two together.
Wilson finished the game with two tackles and a quarterback hurry, and now could be on the verge of his first start after he, too, spent the majority of his time in Blacksburg playing special teams.
“It was different going in and playing 50 reps against a big Miami line than playing six against Clemson,” Wilson said. “I felt like I went through a war on Saturday.”
As if that weren’t enough to worry about, replacing defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins is also still an ongoing process. Freshman Corey Marshall got the start and played 25 snaps against Miami, but Wiles said he was “a little bit all over the place” in terms of simple things like lining up correctly.
Marshall’s classmate, Luther Maddy, only saw seven snaps and Wiles said he looked “pegged-legged” on the field because the high-ankle sprain he suffered at Marshall hadn’t completely healed. But Wiles had good news concerning the Delray Beach, Fla., native after Tuesday’s practice.
“He seems to have maybe turned a corner with his high-ankle sprain,” said Wiles, who added he plans to use a three-player rotation of Marshall, Maddy and redshirt junior Isaiah Hamlette at defensive tackle against Wake Forest. “Between those three guys, we’ll get that position.”
Added Coach Frank Beamer: “We’ve had too many injuries. Some years you go through and you’ve got the same people every week. Some years you go through and you don’t and this is one of those years where we don’t have the same people. . . . So instead of being smooth, it’s kind of a bumpy route right now. But we’ll see who can get well this week and who we can put on the field Saturday.”