Hokies Football Preview: Deon Clarke Leads Group of Young Virginia Tech Linebackers

The 2015 Virginia Tech Football Preview continues as we break down the Hokies’ linebackers and complete the breakdown of the Virginia Tech front 7. Bud Foster and Cornell Brown have found some talented walk-ons in the past, but have three guys that were brought in on scholarship that are set to start this fall.

The biggest news is that the Hokies are going with two traditional outside linebackers instead of having a whip linebacker as one of the two outside linebackers. Because of that change, we will do our depth chart based on having a middle linebacker and two traditional outside linebackers.

Early Fall LB Depth Chart

LOLB

  1. Deon Clarke
  2. Dahman McKinnon
  3. Raymon Minor
  4. Jamieon Moss
  5. Quinton Taylor
  6. Josh Eberly

MLB

  1. Andrew Motuapuaka
  2. Sean Huelskamp
  3. Carson Lydon
  4. Drew Burns
  5. Trent Young
  6. Joe Koshuta

ROLB

  1. Ronny Vandyke
  2. Anthony Shegog
  3. Holland Fisher
  4. Tremaine Edmunds
  5. Johnathan Galante
  6. Matt Reinhart

When talking about the linebackers, it starts with the one linebacker who started every game last season, Deon Clarke. Clarke had a good season last season, and became more consistent as the season went along after having an inconsistent start to the season.

Clarke was a productive linebacker overall last season with 74 tackles, 11 total tackles for loss, five sacks, one interception, and one forced fumble. Clarke’s best games seemed to come in some of the biggest games with him having 10 tackles and a sack against Ohio State, and 11 tackles and a sack in the Military Bowl against Cincinnati.

Clarke is probably one of the best blitzing linebackers in the country as he knows how to take advantage of the blitz to get a sack, or open up space for someone else to get to the quarterback and affect the play in a significant way. Clarke is also an effective run defender that can do a good job of getting to the backfield quickly and preventing running backs from getting to the second level.

Clarke is not great in pass coverage and will have to continue to work on that, but has the potential to be a late round draft pick with a strong senior season. Clarke is ready for a big season as the most experienced starter for the Hokies.

In the middle is Andrew Motuapuaka who started four games last season while Chase Williams was out with injuries. Motuapuaka was very impressive in those four games, and showed that the Hokies had a replacement ready for Williams in 2015 and beyond.

Motuapuaka may not be an elite athlete, but he is a hard-working tough player that has proved himself on special teams and in four starts last season. Motuapuaka has proven to be a high-volume tackler that is effective in preventing big plays as shown by how he had 54 tackles, four total tackles for loss, and two sacks despite starting only four games.

Motuapuaka and Clarke fit perfectly together as Motuapuaka is very effective in coverage or in use as a spy linebacker while not being as effective of a blitzer. Motuapuaka is not going to be the guy that gets in the backfield, but he is the guy that has the discipline to prevent the opposing running back from turning a small run into a big play by having good positioning.

Motuapuaka has had a full spring to continue to improve, and will surprise a lot of people as someone that is ready to be an upgrade at middle linebacker over the smart Chase Williams. Motuapuaka is ready to surprise a lot of people across the ACC and the country this fall as a breakout player.

For years, Ronny Vandyke has been talked about as a future starter for the Hokies, but injuries knocked him down the depth chart. However, Vandyke kept pushing and now is in-line to be one of the Hokies’ three starting linebackers for his senior season.

Vandyke was a regular on special teams last season with 326 of the 335 plays he was on the field for coming on special teams. With that special teams presence, Vandyke had eight tackles and one forced fumble in a sold special teams season, but not the season he hoped for. Vandyke also was moved to middle linebacker in practice for a few weeks due to depth concerns.

Now, Vandyke is back at a more natural outside linebacker position and has his chance to show his talent level. Vandyke is definitely an unknown entering this season, but is a very good athlete which should show on when he can close down on opposing running backs or close up holes in run defense.

Vandyke seems likely to be used in pass coverage a lot since he was previously the top whip linebacker. Vandyke will definitely have a chip on his shoulder, looking to prove that he is able to reach the potential that he had before injuries started to affect him ahead of the 2013 season.

One player who has made the shift from safety to outside linebacker is Anthony Shegog. Shegog immediately becomes a solid man-coverage linebacker after not being great in man coverage as a safety while also providing very good zone coverage and being effective in the box for a safety. The fact that Shegog is already listed as a backup on the two-deep is very impressive.

Shegog still has some transitioning to do as a linebacker, and may not be as good in the box as many other linebackers that he is competing with for a spot on the two-deep. However, Shegog seems like he might be a future starter for the Hokies in 2016 whether the Hokies stick with having two outside linebackers or go back to having a whip linebacker.

Dahman McKinnon has made his return to the Hokies this fall and also showed up on the two-deep as the backup outside linebacker opposite Shegog. McKinnon is a productive player, but don’t be surprised if McKinnon ends up as the backup for Andrew Motuapuaka because of the talent of some of the other outside linebackers.

Raymon Minor and Jamieon Moss both played well this spring, and will battle Shegog for spots as the backups. Moss and Minor have the potential to be starters for the Hokies down the road, but Minor is the player with more upside. Don’t be surprised if Minor or Moss ends up earning their way onto the two-deep if not both of them.

Sean Huelskamp has been highly-talked about as an intriguing walk-on for a while and earned his way onto the two-deep as the backup for Motuapuaka. Huelskamp is clearly another quality walk-on for the Hokies that play mostly on special teams, but the Hokies will be happy that he is healthy.

Carson Lydon and Tremaine Edmunds both are solid young talents with huge potential, but both players seem likely to be redshirted this fall, especially Edmunds. Lydon was on-campus this spring and that may help him some in his bid to avoid being redshirted, but the fact that Huelskamp is ahead of him on the two-deep isn’t a good sign.

Holland Fisher can’t seem to find a way to earn playing time, and is likely going to be buried on the depth chart as he deals with some academic issues. Fisher is looking like a big bust on the recruiting trail, and proof that being a highly-regarded four-star recruit and Under Armour All-American doesn’t mean anything once you get to the collegiate level.

Projected LB Depth Chart vs. OSU

LOLB

  1. Deon Clarke
  2. Raymon Minor
  3. Tremaine Edmunds
  4. Quinton Taylor
  5. Josh Eberly

MLB

  1. Andrew Motuapuaka
  2. Dahman McKinnon
  3. Sean Huelskamp
  4. Carson Lydon
  5. Drew Burns
  6. Trent Young
  7. Joe Koshuta

ROLB

  1. Ronny Vandyke
  2. Anthony Shegog
  3. Jamieon Moss
  4. Holland Fisher
  5. Johnathan Galante
  6. Matt Reinhart

As you can see, the starting linebacker trio of Deon Clarke, Andrew Motuapuaka, and Ronny Vandyke should not change. Meanwhile, Dahman McKinnon could end up inside at the middle linebacker spot as Motuapuaka’s backup while Raymon Minor is ready to earn a spot on the two-deep with Carson Lydon and Tremaine Edmunds headed for redshirts.

The Hokies’ linebackers aren’t receiving much talk, but Clarke is a proven veteran while Motuapuaka is ready to have a breakout season.

Check out more of our 2015 Virginia Tech Football Preview right here.

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