2003 Preview: Virginia Tech Defense

DeAngelo Hall

Last season, the Virginia Tech defense started off the season on a hot streak. Then they caught the dreaded November curse and were pushed around late in the season. A year older and a year stronger, how will the Virginia Tech defense perform in 2003?

All four starting defensive linemen return for the Hokies this year. Nathaniel Adibi and Cols Colas are now seniors. They had nine sacks apiece as juniors and are looking to add to that number this year. Adibi is a big guy (6-3 265) who NFL scouts like to play at the next level. Adibi is a team oriented player, and will be a captain in the UCF game for the Hokies. Colas' biggest asset is his speed and acceleration coming off the corner. He's fast enough to beat any offensive tackle in college football. If anyone on this team has a chance to gain Corey Moore-like numbers in 2003, its Cols Colas. The backups at defensive end are sophomore Darryl Tapp and redshirt freshman Noland Burchette. Both are very talented and have had very impressive preseasons, particularly Tapp. They've added strength, weight and speed in the offseason. Tapp is a guy that I really like. I think he has the potential to be a star. He'll be a great backup this season and register a half dozen sacks.

The Hokies return every defensive tackle from last season, except for Jimmy Williams. Williams left school for unspecified reasons. The Lewis brothers, Kevin and Jonathon, will start in the trenches for the Hokies. Kevin is the most experienced defensive tackle on the team, and Jonathon is the most talented. Both have good size, weighing over 290. They've got a chance to be the best defensive tackle combination in the Big East. Their backups are Tim Sandidge, Jason Lallis and Isaac Montgomery. Sandidge has put on over 20 pounds from last year, and has been very impressive in the preseason. Lallis, who played at only 250 last season, is up to 265. He's also been able to retain his quickness. Isaac Montgomery is a physical specimen who put up some great weight room numbers. The transfer from North Carolina has to continue to work on his technique, but he's got a chance to be a heck of a good player. He registered 2 sacks in one scrimmage this summer.

At linebacker, the Hokies are loaded. Mikal Baaqee and Vegas Robinson return to man the inside linebacker positions. Baaqee has really improved his body in the offseason. His weight has increased from 210 in the Diamond Walnut Bowl to 240 in the preseason. And he's kept his quickness and speed. He's always been a guy who knows what to do, but sometimes he'd get pushed around a bit. Robinson is a big guy with a ton of athletic ability. The Hokies were hurt severely last season when he went down with an ankle injury. He's back to 100% now and looking to have a great senior season. Baaquee is backed up by Jordan Trott. Trott is a big, imposing linebacker who has improved tremendously since he's arrived at Tech. Only a sophomore, Trott has a bright future with the Hokies. Behind Robinson, we have redshirt sophomore Blake Warren. He reminds me a lot of Ben Taylor, not only in his physique, but with his nose for the ball. If Robinson goes down with an injury this year, the Tech defense won't miss a beat. At whip linebacker, incumbent Brandon Manning will start. A former walk on, Manning has developed into a solid player. Behind Manning is talented redshirt freshman Aaron Rouse. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster describes Rouse as "a heat sinking missile." Rouse will see a lot of action this year.

Probably the most loaded position on the Tech team is cornerback. DeAngelo Hall could be the best in the country. Not just the best cornerback in the country, but the best overall player in the country. He's seeing time at cornerback, wide receiver and punt returner this fall for the Hokies. Starting opposite of Hall is senior Garnell Wilds. Wilds lead the Big East conference in interceptions in 2002 with 5. In the Syracuse game in the Carrier Dome, he tied the Virginia Tech school record with 3 interceptions in one game. Wilds is the most underrated player in the Big East conference, and maybe in the country. You don't see his name on any All-Conference teams, but he does his job, and he does it very well. The backup corners are juniors Eric Green and Vincent Fuller. There won't be much, if any, drop-off when these guys are on the field. They've both started games for Tech in the past. Brian McPherson is the 5th corner for the Hokies. He redshirted in 2002 and has improved a lot since spring ball. Cornerback will not be a problem for the Hokies this season.

At safety, the Hokies must replace the great Willie Pile, who tied for second with DeAngelo Hall and Vincent Fuller for interceptions in the Big East conference with 4. That's ok. The replacement is going to be better. Jimmy Williams will be a big time football player before he leaves Tech. By the end of last season, he was already a much better run stopper than Willie Pile. As a true freshman he garnered Defensive Most Valuable Player in the bowl game with Air Force. He's ready to have a breakout year. His backup will be steady, solid Mike Daniels. Daniels has starting experience at the whip linebacker position. He showed flashes of ability in the Gator Bowl against Florida St. when he registered 2 sacks as a redshirt freshman. No problems at free safety for the Hokies.

At rover, Michael Crawford returns for his senior season. After being diagnosed with lymphoma last season, Crawford is just happy to still be playing. As it turns out, he didn't have the disease and is ready to be a major contributor for the Hokies this fall. He'll be pushed heavily by highly touted JUCO recruit James Griffin. Griffin is a playmaker who really brings the wood in run support. A great athlete, Pete Carroll and the USC Trojans recruited Griffin as a cornerback. He'll split time with Crawford this season. He'll also get his chance on the punt block team. In high school, Griffin blocked 19 kicks. In junior college he continued to impress in kick blocking. Frank Beamer is licking his chops. Just another great kick blocker to throw in the mix.

The 2003 version of the Tech defense is loaded with depth and talent. Only injuries could possibly prevent this group from having a stellar season. The main thing I will be looking for is to see whether this unit has got that killer instinct that the 1999 defense seems to have. If they do, its going to be a long year for opposing offensive coordinators.

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