Four seconds. That's how long Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster thinks the Hokies need to get to Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart. So that's how long Foster is asking his secondary to provide great pass coverage on the Trojans' receivers: four seconds.
That's considerably harder than it sounds, but free safety Vincent Fuller remains confident.
"I like what I see," said Fuller, the leader of the defense. "I like the communication we have in the secondary. I like the way our linebackers are flying around. I like the technique and fundamentals our 'D' line is working with."
Foster hopes Southern Cal's question marks -- a revamped offensive line and receiver corps -- will help offset some of his own. But if Tech's defensive line, where Jim Davis has moved from end to tackle, can't at least hurry Leinart within those four seconds, disaster looms.
"Maybe we can create some confusion up front, hope the timing might be off from the passing game standpoint," Foster said. "We can't give up a lot of yards after the catch, can't give up anything cheap."
Last season, the top-ranked Trojans allowed just 1.2 sacks per game in earning a share of the national championship. As a sophomore, Leinart completed 63.4 percent of his 402 passes for 3,556 yards. He had 38 touchdown passes and was only intercepted nine times.
Two of the critical players along the Tech defensive line are Davis, a fifth-year senior making his first appearance since suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the spring of 2003 and missing all last season, and junior end Darryl Tapp.
"You try to take advantage of every little thing against 'em," Davis said of his moving inside from end.
Last season the Hokies had trouble rushing the passer in games against quality opponents, and the staff hopes that Tapp and redshirt sophomore Noland Burchette prove more capable than departed Nathaniel Adibi and Cols Colas. There also was not nearly enough pressure from the inside, something Davis is expected to reverse.
"Tapp is quick, athletic, strong," said offensive tackle Jon Dunn, who frequently goes against him in practice drills. "His nickname is Fast Forward, because he only has one speed: nonstop."
Among the concerns for Foster are how well players manning new positions, redshirt senior Fuller at free safety from cornerback and junior Jimmy Williams at cornerback from free safety, hold up. At 6 feet 3 and 219 pounds, Williams is exceptionally large for a corner, which should help in run support. Fuller is smart and has decent range.
Foster also is eager to see the development of two gifted redshirt freshman linebackers, Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi. Hall is behind two-year starter Mikal Baaqee in the middle, and Xavier Adibi is listed as being nearly equal with redshirt junior Blake Warren on the strong side. Redshirt junior James Anderson beat out redshirt senior Brandon Manning, who had started 25 games in the last two seasons, for the weak-side position after an exceptional performance on special teams.
Fuller promises more energy from a unit that has wilted down the stretch in each of the last two seasons.
"From what I've seen," he said, "the effort is a lot more than previously. And you can't coach effort. In the scrimmages, there've been 11 helmets going in one direction."
Foster knows that even scrimmages against the first-team offense are not accurate gauges, but he said: "I like how we've worked this camp. We've got some athletes who can chase the ball. But we've got to get consistently good. We'll certainly find out where we are right now."