When Virginia Tech’s spring practice began last April, it seemed if there was one position that was most likely to have a new starter in 2010, the whip linebacker spot would be it. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster made it known loud and clear that the lack of a consistent whip forced his defense into its nickel package all too often in 2010.

The end result was the worst run defense since Foster took over this unit 15 years ago. But now, with the Hokies just eight days away from opening a new season against Appalachian State, the starting whip linebacker will have a familiar ring to it.

Ashburn native Jeron Gouveia-Winslow may have taken a lot of heat for his lackluster play last year, but he hasn’t let it stop him from reclaiming his old job. The redshirt junior will once again enter the season as the Hokies starting whip linebacker after an offseason that saw him add 10 more pounds to his frame and grow more comfortable within the defensive scheme.

This week, his two coaches spoke about how and why Gouveia-Winslow was able to beat out fellow redshirt junior Alonzo Tweedy for the job despite a rocky 2010.

“I think it shows a lot about his character,” Foster said. “Obviously he took it very serious. He didn’t tank it. We didn’t tank him. . . . But the one thing we did, we really [wanted] to see him improve and needed him to improve. And he did.”

Foster said last year Gouveia-Winslow’s biggest issues were fundamentals, like keeping leverage when engaged with a blocker, knowing where his help was coming from on a given play and not allowing a player to get outside.

In that regard, he’s been impressed with the strides Gouveia-Winslow has made at the point of attack. Plus, the Stone Bridge grad said he spent much of his offseason working on man coverage skills, since the whip linebacker is a hybrid position that must cover slot receivers at times as part of Foster’s scheme.

That part of the job description, after all, is what forced Foster to rewrite the defense and de-emphasize Gouveia-Winslow less than a year after former whip Cody Grimm became a dynamic playmaker at the position.

Gouveia-Winslow finished with 41 tackles and two interceptions in 2010, but down the stretch his playing time was limited on defense.

“I think the biggest thing that was misunderstood is . . . that it was his first time playing and things happened and maybe he wasn’t as successful,” new position coach Cornell Brown said. “A year of rope makes a difference for a lot of players, and hopefully that will be the case with him.”

Perhaps the best thing to happen to Gouveia-Winslow was getting a new position coach, and therefore a clean slate. Brown says all he’s looking for from the whip position is “when there’s a play to be made, make it.”

Since Brown, a Virginia Tech alum, returned to campus he’s been impressed with Gouveia-Winslow’s consistency. After indications in the spring were that Tweedy would likely split time at the whip spot, it appears Gouveia-Winslow has separated himself during training camp.

“He shows a lot of knowledge of what we’re doing and what’s expected of the position and he’s come out and done it every day in practice,” Brown said. “Just looking forward to the season and hopefully he’ll get the opportunity to continue to do the things he’s been doing for us in scrimmages and out here.”

That, though, doesn’t mean Foster and Co. are scrapping the nickel altogether. In fact, this week the defense began installing its nickel and 30 (three down linemen) packages.

In nickel, Gouveia-Winslow would come out of the game, senior Cris Hill would enter as the field cornerback and sophomore Kyle Fuller would move over to cover the slot. In the 30 package, Gouveia-Winslow stays in the game.

“I just don’t want to get in that scenario where we did last year,” Foster said. “It’s like we played with three or four different nickels.”

That dilemma, it seems, will once again come down to how well Gouveia-Winslow performs when the bright lights come on.