Huge task: Hokies look to replace 8 starters on defense
Virginia Tech is spending much of fall practice working to fill some huge holes on defense.
That side of the ball has always been a strength for the Hokies under defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who faces a major overhaul. Three players left early for the NFL, three graduated and two more were dismissed during the offseason.
"Was I happy with a couple things that happened?" Foster said, referring to the dismissals of Adonis Alexander for academics and Mook Reynolds for an undisclosed violation of athletic department policy. "No. But those are things that are out of our control. And really what we can focus on are the guys we have in our program and they want to be successful."
Alexander, projected as a starting cornerback for the Hokies, was dismissed in early April and selected by the Washington Redskins in the supplemental draft. Reynolds, who would have been Virginia Tech's No. 2 returning tackler, was dismissed in early July.
The Hokies had already lost linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka and cornerbacks Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman, all senior starters. The also lost three other stalwarts — tackle Tim Settle, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and safety Terrell Edmunds — when they left early for the NFL draft. The Edmunds brothers were both selected in the first round.
Virginia Tech finished 13th among FBS schools in total defense last season, 15th in rushing defense and fourth in scoring defense . With so many young players now having to step into primary roles, though, potential needs to translate into performance in a hurry.
"I do feel like we have some talented guys at a lot of spots," Foster said. "We just don't have the experience that we have particularly in the past, the most recent past, but I really like this group of kids."
And they are players for whom the defensive expectations have become ingrained.
"It's a tradition," junior defensive back Reggie Floyd, suddenly among the more experienced players on defense, said. "He's run this defense for many years and had a lot of top guys coming through going to the league."
The defensive questions will begin to be answered right away as the Hokies open their season against ACC rival Florida State on Monday, Sept. 3 in Tallahassee, and Foster said he's not holding anything back.
Foster also coaches linebackers and said he likes his group, but "we will be as green as I've ever been, though, starting out. You have one guy that played four or five snaps on defense in Dylan Rivers. And then Rayshard Ashby playing primarily just starting on special teams, as did Dylan. Then after that, there's no experience."
Head coach Justin Fuente knows the challenge Foster faces, and has confidence in his coordinator.
"I know everybody knows this and our kids know this, but Bud's not going to make any tackles out there," the Hokies' coach in his third season said. "He's going to line them up and coach them up and he's going to get them in the right position, but ultimately they're going to have to take ownership of what they're doing."
Foster, he knows, has been down this road before and has a track record of success.
"He's been through seasons when we've graduated large number of guys on the defensive side of the ball and you've got to come back and get ready to go the next year," Fuente said. "As a staff we'll get them coached up and get them prepared and get them ready to go. But I guess my short answer would be, I think that's a good thing, the belief in what we're doing, whether it's our defensive coordinator or our offseason program.
"Whatever it is. Believing that it works is half the battle."