Bud Foster has been arguably the best defensive coordinator in all of college football in the 21st century ahead of his 30th season with the Hokies. Foster’s defense has also had some unique wrinkles to it especially with there being three distinct linebacker spots: mike linebacker, backer, and whip linebacker.
The backer and mike linebacker are the two main linebacker spots while whip linebacker is the first to come off the field when the Hokies run their nickel defense. However, last season and the defensive shifts ahead of this seasons suggests some minor changes coming for the Hokies’ defense.
One of those changes involves the Hokies running mostly a 4-2-5 nickel defense instead of their base defense being a Bud Foster 4-3 defense. This change points to the truth that the whip linebacker spot is about to disappear from Bud Foster’s defense.
For now, the Hokies do still have a whip linebacker in Anthony Shegog but Shegog was a converted safety who struggled to earn playing time at free safety and has bulked up to make the move to the whip linebacker spot.
The big thing with the whip linebacker spot is the fact that is was a linebacker that was supposed to be the best coverage linebacker on the field along with having some run stuffing ability. However, Bud Foster and the Hokies have the ability to run a nickel defense with the rover playing in that role on plays with a higher run probability and a more talented pass coverage player in a nickelback compared to a whip linebacker.
That move also allows the Hokies to not recruit whip linebackers but instead recruit an extra defensive back in each class, improving the depth and talent in the defensive backfield. The Hokies have also been able to find serviceable whip linebackers from walk-ons or safeties who had some pass coverage skills like Shegog but fit better playing closer to the line of scrimmage.
The spread offense has also forced defenses to put together more athletic packages with players who have better stamina to stay on the field for long, up-tempo drives that provide limited chances to make substitutions.
The Hokies have had some talented players at the whip linebacker spot in the past but as Bud Foster’s defense continues to evolve this offseason, the whip linebacker position is being fazed out and it now seems very likely that Anthony Shegog may be the last formal whip linebacker for the rest of Bud Foster’s time as defensive coordinator of the Hokies.