Deon Newsome Finds His Niche at Whip Linebacker, Special Teams

After redshirting in 2013, Deon Newsome found a role in the Hokies’ offense as the jet sweep guy with 19 carries for 93 rushing yards while also having 7 catches for 19 receiving yards as a redshirt freshman. While those numbers weren’t that good, it did seem like Newsome had a future in the Hokies’ offense after making a dent as a freshman but with a new WRs coach brought on board in Zohn Burden, the Hokies became very restrictive in who touched the field at WR and Newsome didn’t have a single catch in 2015.

After that 2015 season, questions began about whether Newsome would be able to earn a role on offense in Blacksburg and whether his future might actually be away from Virginia Tech given how the Hokies were bringing in a large group of receivers. Then, the Hokies made what was a surprise move to just about everyone moving Newsome across the line of scrimmage from wide receiver to defensive back in what seemed like a last chance sort of opportunity for Newsome in search of earning playing time with the Hokies.

Newsome made the two-deep depth chart for the Hokies last season as Virginia Tech’s backup free safety but almost never played on defense. However, Newsome did start to carve out a role on special teams but with plenty of younger players set to compete with him for playing time in the secondary, it was safe to wonder whether Newsome may move on for his senior season in search of playing time elsewhere.

Instead, Newsome decided to stick around with nothing ever suggesting that he had thought about leaving the Hokies. Now, Newsome is starting to find his niche after another position change moving from safety to the nickelback/whip linebacker spot.

With the Hokies looking to build depth at linebacker, Bud Foster moved Newsome from free safety to the nickelwhip role which has worked out quite well with Newsome working as the top guy at that spot with Mook Reynolds out. Bud Foster mentioned how he has been quite impressed with Newsome at the nickelwhip spot.

“I’ve been really impressed with his coverage ability, his ability to make plays in space, which that position entails. I think he’s put himself in position to help us. He’s going to compete with Mook for that spot, but also when we start getting into our 30 package, in a game where you need another defensive back.”

Now Mook Reynolds is almost certain to be the starter once again at the nickelwhip spot as long as he’s healthy after having a great 2016 season, but Newsome has taken some of the biggest strides among all Hokies this spring with Bud Foster ready to make sure that Newsome has a role in the defense next fall.

With Newsome showing lots of talent around the line of scrimmage and as a blitzer, the 757 native appears to also be emerging as a sub-package guy that Bud Foster could use in a few different roles as an extra defensive back or in the bandit role that uses an aggressive, more athletic linebacker.

“But a guy that’s a good blitzer type guy that might have a little bit more speed than maybe a guy like (Anthony) Shegog or somebody that we’ve used at the Bandit spot.”

Newsome may not have the prototypical size for a linebacker but he definitely has the speed to cause some issues from the edge on blitzes while also proving to be a guy that has embraced the lunch pail mentality and toughness while also being someone who according to Justin Fuente is “not afraid of contact”, while Newsome has called himself a “physical player”, something that Bud Foster definitely wants in a linebacker.

Foster also compared Newsome to former VT linebacker Brenden Hill and wished he had another season to work with Newsome as he wished he had with Hill. Of course, Hill was a starter for the Hokies and had a solid senior season in 2006 with 52 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions but if Newsome can be as good as Hill was, the Hokies will have a situational playmaker that could up some strong numbers even if he isn’t a starter for the Hokies.

Newsome started his career as a return man for the Hokies but now, he has become a key special teams contributor for the Hokies whether that be blocking on returns or tackling an opposing returner. When asked about the additional risks of playing on special teams, Newsome simply said “football is dangerous”, another example of how Newsome embraces being the “physical player” that he identifies himself as.

After seeming to have a future on offense with limited playing time as a redshirt freshman, Newsome never was able to gain traction at wide receiver but instead of transferring as is more popular nowadays, Newsome kept fighting to find a way to earn playing time in Blacksburg and after moving to defense last spring, Newsome is finally finding his niche at the nickelwhip spot and as the Bandit in 30 packages along with being one of the Hokies’ key special teams players.

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