Defense May Dominate Spring Practice Early On
The Roth Report
April 2, 2001
By Bill Roth

Strapping on the pads for the first time this spring, Virginia Tech's football team takes to the Moseley practice fields with a renewed purpose.

While the importance of spring workouts is annually exaggerated by members of the AFCA (that's the American Football Coaches Association, if you didn't know), for members of Tech's offensive line and a quarterback named Grant Noel, this spring is key.

Key because the Hokies know how the linemen block during dummy drills. They know who has quick feet and a quick explosion at the snap of the ball. But when the whistle blows and the pads start popping, you learn a whole lot more about a kid's heart and desire - and thus his on-field potential for this fall.

Same holds true for Noel who has mastered the skeleton drills in practice sessions during his first three years at Tech. Starting soon, however, someone will be chasing him and coaches will see how he makes his reads and throws the ball with Nathaniel Adibi or David Pugh's hand in his face.

This entire process is somewhat similar to spring ball of 1999 when the Hokies were breaking in some new linemen while seeing if Michael Vick was legit at quarterback. By the end of the spring, you could sense Vick would be an exciting player, but the offense showed little signs in March that it would be a powerful machine come September.

So, you can expect similar results this spring. Even though the Hokies have some high-powered offensive players, Tech's defense is talented, experienced and fast. It's a defensive group that could very well dominate this spring. If that occurs, don't interpret the results as a bad reflection on Noel or any other player.

Just that starting soon, Tech's new quarterback and linemen will see a hungry defense - one that shut down one of the nation's most high-powered attacks just 12 weeks ago. You don't expect much of a drop-off from the Gator Bowl, do you? Neither does defensive guru Bud Foster.

So the pads pop and Tech coaches will keep a close eye on how the players they've plugged into new positions perform under pressure.

A guess for the next week or so? The defense will usually win.

Hammerin' Hokies send a message
Watching Tech's baseball team sweep a doubleheader from Notre Dame was a real treat since Tech trailed by two runs in the late innings in each game. The eighth-ranked Fighting Irish have a sensational pitching staff and - along with Rutgers - are one of the top teams in the BIG EAST this season. The doubleheader sweep marked the first time the Hokies had taken a twin-bill from a top-10 team since 1985, when Tech won a pair of games at South Carolina.

Tech won the first contest by scoring three runs in its last at-bat to take 3-2 victory. In game two, the Hokies trailed 8-6 before rallying for three runs in the eighth inning to win 9-8.

For Tech to win the BIG EAST title, they'll have to beat Notre Dame again - maybe twice - in the league tournament following the season. After the recent dramatic games, you can be sure both teams would enjoy a rematch.

Tech's legendary coach Chuck Hartman knew his team had tremendous pitching depth and was a good defensive club. Against Notre Dame, he saw his team has some character too. Two rallies from two runs down in the late innings against a top-10 team takes some real poise and this team was patient at the plate, moved runners around, got clutch hits and turned key double plays to win.

If you've never watched Tech baseball closely, this might be a good year to start.

And if you've followed the Hammerin' Hokies over the years, you know that Hartman might have something special brewing this spring.

Some things never change
Fiery defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian has a young group of defenders playing an eight-man front scheme, while 'Elmo' rants and raves, encourages and critiques.

This spring, the Elmo Tour of America has hit Morgantown, W.Va., where the former Tech defensive coordinator has taken over WVU's defense under new coach Rich Rodriguez. After stops at Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College, Wisconsin, Washington , LSU and Tech, Elmassian is hoping to turn the Mountaineer's defense into ... well ... Tech's.

"Basically, we are copying Virginia Tech's defense," one WVU insider said this week. "From the terminology to the schemes to the architect himself, WVU's defense will be just like Tech's."

At least that's the plan.

Elmassian feels he has the players to play the scheme effectively this fall after watching the defense dominate this spring. To make matters more encouraging, WVU has gone through most of spring practice without BIG EAST rookie of the year Grant Wiley, the brilliant linebacker who is recovering from a fracture in his leg. Wiley will be at 100 percent for the fall, which will make the Mountaineers even tougher.

BIG EAST not strong in tournaments
Eleven BIG EAST basketball teams qualified for postseason play, but only Georgetown was able to win more than one game. That statistic pretty much reflect what 2000-2001 was for this league - an average year by BIG EAST standards.

All six BIG EAST teams which made the NIT (also known as BIG EAST Tournament II) lost in either the first or second round. Of the five league teams which made the NCAA Tournament, only Georgetown made it past the second round. The Hoyas lost to Maryland in the regional semifinals.

Syracuse's performance against Kansas (a brutal, lopsided loss) was the exception to what was a competitive, but for the most part, unspectacular effort by BIG EAST teams. Notre Dame, Boston College and Providence were all close losers in the tournament. By no means was 2001 a 'down' year in the BIG EAST, but the league has certainly been stronger and should be for the 2002 season.

That's not good news for Ricky Stokes and his team, which will face a much more difficult schedule during its second tour throughout the BIG EAST. The Hokies, as reported here last month, still expect to sign two more junior college post players in the coming weeks. Tech had two players make official visits this past weekend and the coaches are hopeful of getting a verbal commitment (or two) soon.

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