There's a new head coach at Virginia Tech but a familiar face sticks around to coordinate the defense. The elite Bud Foster is coming off a poor season and gets his first crack at Notre Dame this fall.
Starters Returning: 6/11
Key Losses: DE Dadi Nichols, DT Luther Maddy, DT Corey Marshall, LB Deon Clark, LB Ronny Vandyke, CB Kendall Fuller, S Donovan Riley
Key Returnees: DE Ken Ekanem, DT Woody Baron, LB Andrew Motupuaka, LB Anthony Shegog, LB Sean Huelskamp, LB Tremaine Edmunds, CB Brandon Facyson, CB Mook Reynolds, CB Greg Stroman, S Chuck Clark, S Adonis Alexander, S Terrell Edmunds
FEI Defense Rank: 43
S&P Defense Rank: 40
S&P Rushing Rank: 32
S&P Pass Rank: 50
Turnovers: 25 (10 INT)
This Bud's for You
Several years ago it appeared unlikely that long-time Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster would inherit the throne from Frank Beamer. So this truth was born out this off-season as Beamer stepped down and Justin Fuente was hired away from Memphis.
However, Foster has remained as the Hokies defensive coordinator and is now in the interesting position of working under a vastly different head coach. Additionally, he also has to dig out of the general malaise that came with the several past years under Beamer and finally affected his defense in 2015.
Foster is coming off his worst performance in the FEI era (began 2007) which kind of masks (along with the program's decline lately) the fact that he's been sensational in his position. Just a couple years back in the 2013-14 seasons his Hokie defenses averaged 3.5 in the FEI national rankings and also averaged inside the Top 15 for the years 2007-14 overall.
Last year was a fairly large tumble for a Foster defense and it'll be intriguing to see how he regroups with so many new faces around him.
Losing a 5-Star
Virginia Tech has to move on without corner Kendall Fuller who was selected with the 84th overall pick in the spring's NFL Draft by Washington. The former 5-star recruit ended up missing the last 10 games with an injury anyway and declared early for the league.
A lot of players received a bunch of experience last year, too. There are 5 secondary athletes who made at least 30 tackles in 2015 and 7 players overall who made at least one start. In Foster's traditional 4-2-5 defense he'll have a bunch of options to sort through.
The secondary had some good moments last year and could be real solid in 2016. They did give up 7 yards per attempt (tied 64th) but were 4th nationally in limiting quarterbacks to just 49.6% completions and an overall QB rating that placed the defense 37th in the country.
Re-tooling the Line
The Hokies lose 3 impact players from their defensive line, including 6th round pick Dadi Nichols at the end position. In general, the defense last year was mediocre with their disruption finishing 44th in tackles for loss and 64th in sacks.
This looks like it will be the most important roster development for Bud Foster in fall camp. There are a decent amount of bodies but not a lot of experience or high recruiting rankings. The exception to that last part is tackle Tim Settle who was one of the top recruits for 2015 and is coming off a redshirt season.
As mentioned, Foster's history suggests last year was a complete blip that will be corrected. Still, you have to wonder how his defense will be affected by a new coaching staff with a radically different offensive system on the other side of the ball.
I'm also wondering if these off-season changes will affect his player development. Virginia Tech isn't really swimming in a bunch of talent as there are only 3 players on the entire defense who had Composite scores of .900 or greater.
Will this be a solid and improved defense? I would bet they will be a little better but I don't see the pieces to go back to a top 10 unit like a couple years ago.
Interestingly, Virginia Tech recovered 15 fumbles last year. That means Notre Dame will play opponents this fall in back-to-back games who led the country in fumble recoveries in 2015. I'm not sure what it means but it's something.