Friday, April 18, 2008

New faces, same ol’ defense at Tech

Randy King

Randy King's Tech Insider is exclusive to and is posted by 5 p.m. Thursdays in season.

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BLACKSBURG -- Bud Foster is not easily impressed.

Nonetheless, the longtime architect of Virginia Tech’s defense can’t help but grin a little when asked about the progress of his revamped unit this spring heading into Saturday’s annual Maroon-White game in Lane Stadium.

When asked if he concurred with the assessment that his bunch has looked pretty impressive so far for an outfit that lost seven starters, Foster never went on the defensive.

"For a bunch of holes to fill ... yeah," a grinning Foster said. "I’m pleasantly surprised, to be honest with you. Obviously, we’re not there yet. We still have some depth issues we’re concerned about. But I really like our first group, their chemistry, and how they’ve played this spring.

"Yeah, I was a little concerned going in ... and to be honest, I still am! I mean we haven’t played a game yet. But I like the direction we’re going. I think in this business there’s never that moment where you’re really feeling good. But I will tell you that I’m pleased with where we are right now."

Among those responsible for keeping the high-strung Foster on even keel the past three weeks with their play have been linebacker Purnell Sturdivant, rover Dorian Porch, and tackle Cordarrow Thompson, three guys who have turned their play up a notch now that they’re looking at starting jobs. Four guys who got significant time last season -- ends Jason Worilds and Nekos Brown, tackle John Graves and inside linebacker Brett Warren -- also have exhibited strong signs that they have risen the level of their games.

All this has to come as encouraging news for Tech fans, many of whom have wondered for months how the Hokies would deal with losing the best linebacking tandem in school history, Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall; the best cornerback Foster says he’s ever had at Tech, Brandon Flowers, who left a year early and has been touted by many as a first-round pick in next week’s NFL Draft; first-team All-ACC end Chris Ellis; two-year starters at tackle, Barry Booker and Carlton Powell; and underrated free safety D.J. Parker.

"We lost seven guys ... and all seven were playmakers," Foster said. "It wasn’t like there were three or four who played for you and the other one, you hope they don’t play for your opponent. These guys were all playmakers. About four or five of them were all-league kind of guys."

Foster’s biggest task now is to develop some depth up the middle at tackle and linebacker.

"My biggest concerns coming into spring were up the pipe," Foster said. "That’s why we moved Kam Chancellor from rover to safety. And Dorian has done a good in Kam’s old spot. Davon Morgan [listed No. 2 behind Porch at rover] has done some good things.

"I like our setup as far as personnel goes. We’re fast, at least we seem to be, and at some spots we’re not playing as fast we can because their mind is tying up their feet a bit. So I feel good about everything right now. But, again, how that computes in wins and losses, I don’t know."

Foster said the only position that doesn’t appear to be settled at this point is field corner. Macho Harris, a first-team All-ACC selection at the spot last fall, has moved into the boundary corner position vacated by Flowers.

Stephen Virgil is the lead candidate to land the spot. He’s being pushed by Rashad Carmichael and Cris Hill. "Obviously, we’re not there yet," Foster said. "That’s been our goal this spring, for guys to learn their position, their position expectations, the demands of the game. And if we do those things, we give ourselves a chance."

Chancellor, who at 6 feet 3 and 225 pounds has NFL stamped all over him, said fans will be happy with what they see from this gang on defense.

"We’re giving full energy and everybody is running to the ball," Chancellor said. "We’ve got a good athletic group. We just have a few little things, the technical things that can you beat, to work out. This defense is going to be fine, believe me."

Personally, Chancellor said he loves his new residence at free safety.

"Everything will be my fault if anything happens and I kind of like that," Chancellor said. "I’m the last line of defense. I’m going to be roaming in a lot of space back there."

Translation: Chancellor will going even faster when he blows up a ball-carrier this fall. Sounds like a lot of "YouTube" appearances for No. 17 are on the horizon.

"Oh, yes, sir, that’s what we’re hoping for," said Chancellor, laughing.

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