As of last Thursday, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster had been told linebacker Tariq Edwards participated in some of the Hokies’ conditioning drills in recent weeks, but he had not yet seen Edwards run with his own eyes.
Edwards, the Hokies’ projected starter at the backer position, is still recovering from offseason shin surgery and will sport a blue jersey (limited work) when Virginia Tech opens training camp Tuesday. And the uncertainty has Foster already making contingency plans, just in case he’s without a starting linebacker when the Hokies begin the regular season against Coastal division rival Georgia Tech.
“I’m anxious to see where he is,” Foster said of Edwards. “If he’s not healthy, I’m gonna play my best two linebackers.”
That likely means middle linebacker Bruce Taylor will get some work at Edwards’s backer spot during training camp this year, because Foster feels comfortable playing redshirt junior Jack Tyler after he started the last four games of the 2011 season with Taylor nursing a Lisfranc injury in his foot.
In fact, moving Taylor to backer and putting Tyler at middle linebacker is the exact arrangement Foster used in the 2011 Orange Bowl when linebacker Lyndell Gibson couldn’t play. It should be noted, however, that Stanford decimated the Hokies’ defense in the second half of that game en route to an emphatic 40-12 victory.
But Tyler, a former All-Met from Oakton, finished with a career-high 42 tackles last year and has proven extremely valuable when injuries have struck the past two seasons.
Redshirt sophomore Chase Williams, the son of embattled NFL defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, could also see an increase in reps during training camp after he showed marked improvement during spring practice. But Foster, who is the position coach for the team’s inside linebackers, said Williams has not been able to surpass Tyler on the depth chart even though he can play both backer and middle linebacker.
“I still think he’s the third-best linebacker,” Foster said of Williams. “Chase is a guy who could swing [to both positions] if we have some injuries. He’s a valuable guy for us from that standpoint.”
But Foster is, in general, fairly comfortable with his front seven at this point. The secondary is another matter.
Though the starting lineup will almost certainly feature cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum, rover Kyshoen Jarrett and free safety Detrick Bonner, there are plenty of unknowns if any of those four get injured over the course of the season.
Freshman cornerback Donaldven Manning has the inside track at earning the nickel cornerback job after impressing coaches with his instincts and physicality — despite his 5-foot-9, 155-pound frame – after enrolling in school early for spring practice. Other than Manning, the only other options at cornerback are true freshmen who just arrived on campus a few weeks ago.
But safety might be even more precarious. Jarrett and Bonner converted from cornerback in the spring, and there is very little experience behind them. Foster is hopeful H.D. Woodson grad Boye Aromire and redshirt freshman Michael Cole will emerge as viable alternatives, but freshman Dahmon McKinnon could be a wild card at the position.
A “dynamic playmaker” at linebacker in high school, according to Foster, McKinnon has been moved to safety for training camp so coaches can better evaluate his skills away from the ball.
“I know he can blitz and attack the ball and chase the ball, but playing a deep path, I just want to see if he can do all those type things,” Foster said, before addressing the entire secondary.
“You knock on wood and hope you can avoid some injuries because all of a sudden, you have an injury back there and one of those kids is gonna have to be thrown into the fire. That’s kind of, you hold your breath.”