Spring practice is almost complete for Virginia Tech as they are having their final practices ahead of tomorrow's Spring Game. Yesterday, we took a look at we're watching on offense in tomorrow's game so today, we're taking a look at the three things to watch on defense.
1. Dylan Rivers and Rayshard Ashby
Virginia Tech has two big holes to fill at linebacker with Tremaine Edmunds and Andrew Motuapuaka leaving. So far, the next pair of starting linebackers appears set to be sophomores Dylan Rivers and Rayshard Ashby, both of whom spent some time on special teams last season.
Rivers was one of the most hyped-up recruits in Virginia Tech's 2017 class as one of the best players in Virginia who flipped from Penn State to Virginia Tech in January. Meanwhile, Rayshard Ashby was an under-the-radar linebacker out of Richmond who most considered undersized for his position, pushing him to be one of the lowest-rated guys in Virginia Tech's class.
While Ashby may not have been as highly-regarded as Rivers, both have made a strong impression in Blacksburg and are currently in line to replace Edmunds and Motuapuaka.
Both benefited from the fact that they played special teams, gained some experience, and were able to be around veteran guys like Edmunds and Motuapuaka on gameday both at VT and away from Blacksburg.
Ashby was the backup at mike linebacker after Tavante Beckett's departure and Sean Huelskamp's injury, showing how much respect Ashby had already earned.
Dylan Rivers appears well on his way to starting next season at backer while Rayshard Ashby will likely have a significant lead on Dax Hollifield when he arrives over the summer. The Hokies have lots of youth at the linebacker position with a pair of sophomores appearing in line to take over in Rivers and Ashby.
Tomorrow gives us our first chance to see how this duo of Rivers and Ashby works together, and see how well they may be able to take over for the Hokies' talented duo of Edmunds and Motuapuaka.
2. Part 1 of the Starting Cornerback Battle
The first part of the battle for the starting cornerback spot opposite Adonis Alexander wraps up tomorrow. Most believe that JUCO CB Jeremy Webb will likely start opposite Alexander, but Webb will not be arriving till the summer, giving guys like Bryce Watts and Jovonn Quillen the opportunity to gain some additional first team reps.
Now with Alexander out for the Spring Game, Watts, Quillen, Tyree Rodgers, and Jermaine Waller will have more opportunities to gain reps at cornerback in the last opportunity to make a big spring impression.
Watts and Quillen appear to be the two focal players in this cornerback battle and are likely to be the two first team cornerbacks on Saturday with Alexander out.
Watts was quite impressive last season earning playing time on special teams while also appearing to be the Hokies' fourth cornerback at times. The New Jersey native is slowly developing his cornerback skills, but he is as good athletically as any VT cornerback with great speed that comes from his track background.
Meanwhile, Quillen has had a breakout spring after being confined to special teams for a couple years and appearing to be buried on the depth chart by guys like Watts and Tyree Rodgers. Brian Mitchell has partially credited Quillen's development to the fact that Quillen has found a home at cornerback after working at both cornerback and safety.
Saturday will give us a chance to see Watts, Quillen, and Virginia Tech's young cornerbacks take over as the first stage of VT's cornerback battle comes to a conclusion before Jeremy Webb arrives.
3. Getting Devon Hunter on the Field
Bud Foster and Virginia Tech know they have a special talent in Devon Hunter, but don't have a clear spot for him just yet. However, the Hokies want to find multiple ways to get him on the field this upcoming season which has led Hunter to spending some time working at the whip linebacker spot this spring.
After a concussion held Hunter back during fall camp, the former top Virginia recruit was largely limited to special teams last season. However, that experience appears to have proved beneficial for Hunter as he has been impressing coaches this spring and forcing the Hokies to find creative ways to get him on the field.
Hunter has the skill set to play at rover but with Reggie Floyd locked in there, the Hokies given him reps at whip LB knowing Hunter could be a future starter there with Mook Reynolds entering his senior season.
Devon Hunter profiled as more of an in-the-box type of safety who has the size and instincts to be effective around the line of scrimmage along with being very comfortable in zone coverage. That combination fits the whip LB well and it helps that Hunter is 218 pounds, a good size for this whip LB role that has become more of a nickelback-type position.
Tomorrow, Hokie fans will get their chance to see how the Hokies are trying to find as many ways as possible to get Devon Hunter on the field knowing how loaded they are at safety.
Photo Credit: Trey Hamby
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