Two players emerged from spring practice as the frontrunners to become Virginia Tech’s starting whip linebacker. But defensive coordinator Bud Foster confirmed Thursday that one might catch some Hokies fans by surprise.
Emphasizing that there’s “no doubt” former All Met Ronny Vandyke is the long-term answer at the position, Foster said the redshirt freshman could ascend to the top of the whip linebacker depth chart heading into the regular season if he continues to show the same flashes of talent he did during the spring.
“I’m hoping he’s gonna be that complete package that you’re looking for,” Foster said.
Vandyke, who was named the defense’s top newcomer following spring practice, will face a stiff battle from redshirt senior Alonzo Tweedy since his combination of speed and experience adds another dimension to the Hokies’ lineup. Foster was particularly impressed with the way Tweedy played in Virginia Tech’s loss to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl after he returned to full health from a mid-season ankle sprain.
Redshirt senior Jeron Gouveia-Winslow, the opening day starter at whip linebacker the past two seasons, appears to be on the outside looking in as he makes a return from foot surgery that ended his 2011 campaign prematurely.
Gouveia-Winslow “is a good, solid football player, but from an ability standpoint with Tweedy and Vandyke in there, is probably the third-best athlete out there. But he has some things he brings to the table,” Foster said. “Tweedy showed some signs, and again in the bowl game, of what he’s capable of doing. I’m hoping he’s a guy who’s going to have a big time senior year.”
But Foster seems dead set on allowing Vandyke to prove what he is capable of once Virginia Tech opens training camp next week, because the Hokies defense hasn’t featured a consistent playmaker at whip linebacker since Cody Grimm graduated in 2009.
Foster, who was Vandyke’s primary recruiter out of South County High, loves the versatility Vandyke brings to the table since he played rover (strong safety) when he initially arrived at Virginia Tech last year.
Foster believes Vandyke (6-3, 215 pounds) has the size and length to disrupt passing lanes and create havoc as a blitzer. But he may also possess the speed and technique to cover wide receivers, a skill that would allow the Hokies to use their nickel package less than they have the past two seasons.
The last time Vandyke saw real action as a high school senior, he finished with 106 tackles, three interceptions (two of which he returned for touchdowns) and three blocked punts. His younger brother, All Met linebacker Devin Vandyke, will be a true freshman at Virginia Tech this season.
On Thursday, Foster even compared Ronny Vandyke to Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl linebacker James Anderson, “but more athletic.” Anderson started at whip linebacker for the Hokies in 2004 and 2005, when they finished No. 4 and No. 1 in the country, respectively, in terms of yards allowed per game.
“Is Ronny gonna be another NFL guy? I don’t know that,” Foster said. “But when you compare the two kids there’s probably a lot of similarities between James and Ronny. Ronny’s probably a more fluid athlete in space.
“He’s a big, athletic kid that I’m really excited about.”