Spring Football 2000 Preview, Part 2
by Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 4/5/00

In part 1 of our Spring Football Preview, I took a look at Players to Watch on the offense. I didn't really have a lot to say about the offense as a whole, because I don't really think there's a lot you can say that hasn't already been said somewhere else, or isn't common thinking.

The offensive line, with the exception of the center position, is experienced and deep. Some skilled redshirt freshman receivers look to join a solid group of returning receivers, and as everyone knows, Lee Suggs is the most likely candidate to push Andre Kendrick for playing time at tailback, assuming that Kendrick gets the grades he needs this summer and returns for the fall Ė otherwise, Lee is pushing to be the starter. And the quarterback position, of course, is set, with Michael Vick backed up by Dave Meyer.

But the defense is a whole different story. Uncertainty is the name of the game, and I imagine that there is some fierce competition for the large number of starting spots that are available. It's ironic -- springtime is perceived as a time to relax and enjoy the improving weather, but for the prospective starters on defense, it's a time to buckle down, work hard, and lay the wood to some offensive players in the hopes of getting tabbed for a starting position.

This team faces high expectations like no other Tech team before it, and although Michael Vick is the main focus of those expectations and the accompanying pressure, the defense carries a heavy burden, too. They walk in the shadows not just of the '98-'99 defense, but the '95 defense as well.

It remains to be seen whether the Hokies can experience continued offensive success after Michael Vick graduates -- is it that one spectacular player, or the Tech offensive system that was primarily responsible for all those broken records last year? -- but one thing has become clear: when it comes to the defense, it is most assuredly the system that is responsible for the success.

Yes, give credit to the players, because they deserve it, but the fact is, Bud Foster and Frank Beamer are the primary architects of Tech's defensive success, and as players cycle through the system, it continues to prosper, year in and year out. Virginia Tech has been among the top 10 defensive teams in the country with two completely different units of players now (in 1995 and 1998-99), and that record points to the coaches as the reason for Tech's success.

Now, into the void left by Corey Moore and company steps a group of players who comprise the most highly-rated recruiting classes in Tech's history -- players like Nathaniel Adibi, Lamar Cobb, Jake Houseright, Ronyell Whitaker, T.J. Jackson, Vegas Robinson, and Garnell Wilds, just to name a few.

They know full well the responsibility that has been laid upon their shoulders, and they are eager not just to meet those expectations, but to exceed what the units before them have done. Don't think for a minute, for example, that Nathaniel Adibi isn't salivating at the chance to take his place in Hokie lore as the next great Tech defensive end, beside Bruce Smith and Corey Moore.

The upcoming group of players is said to be more physically talented than their predecessors, and as a group, they do have a shot at being one of the great Hokie defenses of all time. It probably won't happen this year, but when the young players peak in 2001 or 2002, we should be looking at another great cycle in the defense.

But that's a few years off, and the evolution of that defense starts now, with the future stars, as I said, staking their claim to the starting spots that will earn them glory in the coming years. Having said all that, here are HokieCentral's Players to Watch on defense this spring.

Players to Watch on Defense

Nathaniel Adibi and Lamar Cobb (defensive ends): Coach Jim Cavanaugh, who recruited Adibi and signed him in February of 1999 for Tech, told a story at the 1999 Recruiting Round-Up that in retrospect is humorous and ironic.

If I remember correctly, the context of the story was a discussion about the Internet how it can make recruiting difficult for coaches. Coach Cav was working hard on Adibi, trying to wrestle him away from Penn State and UNC, and someone from a rival school (Cav didn't say who or what school) printed out a Virginia Tech depth chart and showed it to Adibi.

The depth chart was probably BCE's Depth Chart, which HokieCentral links to, and which is renowned for its incredible detail, including a complete listing of walk-ons. To put it bluntly, BCE shows a lot of players at each position, sometimes 6 or 7 players, and the rival recruiter or fan was trying to scare Adibi away from Tech with the depth chart's uh, depth at Adibi's projected position, defensive end.

That story is humorous because the scare tactic didn't work. Adibi came to Coach Cav with his concerns, and to make a long story short, Nathaniel signed with Tech in February of 1999. And that story is ironic because barely one year later, Adibi has moved up to the front of that same depth chart.

He's smart, he's athletic, he has bulked up from 220 to 242, and he has the opportunity to do what Bruce Smith and Corey Moore never got to do: start four full years at the defensive end position (Smith may have started all four years, but 38 of his 46 career sacks came in his last two years, so I'm guessing that he didn't start his entire freshman year, if at all).

For Adibi, the time is now to put himself into position to become the next great Tech defensive end.

For Lamar Cobb, it's time for him to end one journey and start another. Recruited as an "athlete," Cobb signed with the Hokies in February of 1998. His journey thus far has consisted of transitioning from his high school positions of defensive back, receiver, and running back to his college position of defensive end. The next journey he needs to make is from his status as an unknown backup to that of a college star.

Cobb has bulked up from 210 in high school to 226 in the Tech spring roster, and at that size, the comparisons to Corey Moore are inevitable. And indeed, Cobb has a wide back like Corey (though not that big yet) and likes to bring pressure from the end like Corey.

Ron Cook, a redshirt junior, is technically listed in front of Cobb on the depth chart, but the Tech coaches say that at this point, there really is no depth chart at the defensive end position, so Cobb, a redshirt sophomore, has just as much of a claim to the starting spot as Cook.

Jake Houseright (linebacker): the clock is ticking for Houseright, a highly celebrated 1998 recruit whose first two years have come and gone without much fanfare. In 1998, injuries at the fullback position forced the coaches to move Houseright there temporarily, and in 1999, when he was shifted back to the linebacker position, he didnít see a lot of playing time.

Houseright canít seem to shake the injury bug, particularly in his knees. Just as he seems to get some practices strung together and get some momentum going, he goes under the knife for his knee again.

This spring, it has been his hamstring acting up. There wasnít much talk about it, although Coach Beamer did admit to Randy King of the Roanoke Times that a hamstring was slowing Houseright down, and recently, message board chatter is saying that the hamstring has healed, and Jake is back to full speed.

In any case, I feel that Houseright is going in one of two directions: heíll either finally have his breakout year, starting this spring in practice, or heíll have another calm season, due either to injury or lack of playing time, and will finish out his career more or less quietly. Itís hard to believe that his eligibility is already half over and heís facing that fork in the road, but there it is.

Another linebacker to watch, although I may be a year early on this one, is Chris Buie. Heís a redshirt freshman from Tampa who used his redshirt year to bulk up from 210 to 220, which is good size for a Tech linebacker. Buie is a tremendous athlete who won his high school teamís bodybuilding contest and is already well over 20 years old, despite being just a freshman (he was born in November of í79).

Garnell Wilds (cornerback): with Ike Charltonís early exit for the NFL, Tech is unexpectedly a little thin at cornerback. Only budding star Ronyell Whitaker and Larry Austin return with significant playing time at the corner.

Like Buie, Wilds is also from Florida and was ranked the #12 prospect in Florida and #48 nationally by the Tampa Tribune. And like Buie, he isnít really on anybodyís radar screen right now. But he could step up and be a big-time contributor, and might even prove to be good enough that the Hokies could play him and Whitaker at the corners, freeing up Larry Austin for a possible switch to safety, if need be.

And get this: Wilds is listed in the 1999 Tech media guide as being 6-0, 170 pounds, but the spring "prospectus," released just 7 months later, lists him as 6-0, 194, nearly 25 pounds heavier. If those numbers are to be believed, Wilds has been working his butt off in the weight room and could be poised to make a move on the field.

Cory Bird (rover): Bird is the only returning starter on the defense who will play the same position that he played in 1999, so the pressure is on Bird to step up and be a leader. Bird has always been a phenomenal athlete and is Techís first and only five time Super Iron Hokie.

Leadership doesnít just happen on the field during games. It happens in practice, too, particularly spring practice, so look for early indications this spring for what type of leader Bird is going to be next fall.

Willie Pile and Deon Provitt (safeties): someone take the safety position, please! Anthony Midget and Nick Sorensen shared the duties here last year, and theyíre both gone (Midget to graduation and Sorensen to the Whip linebacker spot), so one of these two guys has to step up.

Pile, with some playing time and plenty of practice time at the position, is the favorite, but he has a ways to go. He has always been more of a finesse player who needs to get more physical, both on the field and in the weight room (from the time he arrived at Tech in the fall of 1998 to now, he has only been able to put 10 pounds on his 6-3 frame. He currently weighs 200). Heís a smart kid off the field who needs to become a smart kid on the field, too, because a mistake at the safety position often equals a touchdown by the opposition.

As for Provitt, heís a good athlete who is moving over from the receiver position. He played safety in high school and is looking forward to the challenge, but heís starting from ground zero.

Coming next, in part 3 of HC's Spring Football Preview: a special teams wrap-up and some random thoughts.

               

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