Our position-by-position preview continues with Andrew Motuapuaka and the linebackers.
Virginia Tech has had some great linebackers in the past including guys like Xavier Adibi who may not have had much NFL success but were stars at the collegiate level and thrived in Bud Foster’s defense. Despite Foster’s specialty being linebackers, the Hokies enter 2016 with the linebacker position group arguably having the biggest question marks though there is plenty of potential for this group of guys to breakthrough and surprise.
The linebackers are led by the one returning starter in the middle of the defense, mike linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka. Motuapuaka has drawn great frustration from fans in the past and has been blamed for some of the big runs that the Hokies gave up last season. Motuapuaka is not a very aggressive player and that has caused some issues in a defense that is designed for players to take risks and chances.
Motuapuaka did have some success last season with 73 tackles, 11.5 total tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 interception but is what his lack of aggression or choosing the wrong hole way too many times that frustrated many. If Motuapuaka can’t fix these issues this fall, you have to wonder if Sean Huelskamp might actually have a chance to start pushing him to take his starting mike linebacker spot beginning next spring.
If Motuapuaka can improve his aggressiveness and football IQ as he had with his size this offseason getting up to 233 pounds, a lot of the big runs that did tons of damage last season may not be an issue anymore.
The main linebacker next to Motuapuaka will be backer Tremaine Edmunds who will replace Deon Clarke. Of course, Edmunds took the job over when Clarke was suspended for the Independence Bowl, and Edmunds showed a lot of promise as he had 5 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss against Tulsa.
Edmunds continued to look promising this spring and put in the hard work this offseason to grow into a scary 6’5”, 236-pound linebacker. After what Edmunds showed against Tulsa and in the Spring Game, Edmunds seems ready to not only be better than Deon Clarke but also have a breakout year that could make Virginia Tech’s defense better than expected.
Edmunds has shown that the aggressiveness that Foster and Hokie fans love to see in their linebacker and has proven to be a very good run defender. His pass coverage skills are definitely an unknown but Edmunds has some serious potential to be a breakout player that could even get at least All-ACC Honorable Mention honors after this season.
Signs are pointing towards the Hokies using more of a 4-2-5 instead of having a whip linebacker on the field but the man who seems set to be at the top of the whip linebacker depth chart is Anthony Shegog. Shegog made the move from safety to whip before last season and has locked down the job as someone who is an above-average pass coverage whip linebacker.
However, Shegog is still not that great of a pass defender compared to other defensive backs while his run defending skills are still fairly unproven. If Shegog can have a breakthrough fall practice, the Hokies may be forced to use a whip linebacker more than running a nickel set with Greg Stroman or Mook Reynolds.
Behind Motuapuaka at the mike linebacker spot should be Sean Huelskamp who has started to bulk up this summer. Huelskamp is the same year as Motuapuaka and will absolutely be looking to be starting to make a push for the starting job knowing that he has the talent to start at smaller FBS and FCS schools with his instincts. If Huelskamp doesn’t make a big gain, a transfer could be a possibility though as a walk-on likely to play a lot of special teams, he may be willing to stick around.
Jamieon Moss and Raymon Minor will be battling it out once again to see who will be the backup at the backer spot and while Emmanuel Belmar may be the long term future, Moss and Minor should be the top backups with Belmar redshirting. Fellow freshman Tavante Beckett and Eron Carter both also seem likely to be redshirted this fall though both are seen as potential contenders to earn some time on special teams.
For these predicted depth charts, we’ll only be looking at the two-deep.
Mike Linebacker Depth Chart Prediction
- Andrew Motuapuaka
- Sean Huelskamp
Backer Depth Chart Prediction
- Tremaine Edmunds
- Jamieon Moss
Whip Linebacker Depth Chart Prediction
- Anthony Shegog
- Raymon Minor
No surprises here at Andrew Motuapuaka and Tremaine Edmunds will be the main starting linebacker with Anthony Shegog at the whip. Sean Huelskamp should be the starting mike linebacker while Jamieon Moss and Raymon Minor will battle throughout the year for the backup spot at backer with Moss having a slight edge right now.
Minor has taken some practice reps at whip and could be utilized as the top backup along with safety Der’Woun Greene. Meanwhile, the trio of freshmen (Beckett, Belmar, Carter) all are headed for redshirts if they can’t earn time on special teams.
The linebacking corps enters this season as a boom or bust position group that could cause the Hokies’ defense to surprise or disappoint a lot of fans. The question is can Motuapuaka and Edmunds live up to the potential that they have and push the Hokies to having one of America’s top defenses once again.
The position-by-position preview continues tomorrow with Brandon Facyson and the cornerbacks.
Check out the home of our 2016 Virginia Tech Football Preview right here.