The offense will garner much of the attention this spring thanks to the new coaches on that side of the ball, but defensive coordinator Bud Foster's defense will still be looking to improve and take the necessary steps towards becoming a top 10 defense in 2013. Lets take a look at some of the key storylines to watch defensively this spring.
Primary storyline: What is going on at defensive end?
James Gayle has one defensive end spot all locked up. However, late last year Foster and Charley Wiles started experimenting a bit at the other spot. J.R. Collins started most of the year, but by the end of the season he was playing more inside at defensive tackle. Will that be the case again this year?
Collins moving inside opened up a role for both Corey Marshall and Dadi Nicolas. Marshall is an imposing specimen and has the look of a first round pick; he just needs to play consistently week in and week out. Nicolas has the potential to be a superstar defensive end for the Hokies with his athleticism and speed off the edge. If there's one defensive player who seems ready to breakout this spring, it's Nicolas.
Secondary: Checking in on the youngsters
Thanks to some superb recruiting over the past several years, the Hokies are suddenly loaded up front. There are a bunch of young defensive linemen chomping at the bit to get involved in the rotation including guys like Ken Ekanem, Seth Dooley, Dewayne Alford, and Jarontay Jones.
Primary storyline: Who replaces Bruce?
Virginia Tech lost a ton of production and leadership when Bruce Taylor's eligibility ran out after last season, so the primary task here this spring has to be finding and establishing someone as his replacement. The most likely guy is Tariq Edwards, who missed most of last year with a stress fracture in his foot.
If he is back to full strength, then he almost undoubtedly will get the nod. However, Deon Clarke, Chase Williams, and Devin Vandyke would also like to get in on the action.
Secondary storyline: What's going on at WHIP?
The WHIP position used to be a crucial part of Foster's defense; however, ever since Cody Grimm departed the Hokies haven't been able to fully utilize the position. The result has been a ton of nickel formations over the past several years. Ronny Vandyke is the next hope to reestablish the position within the defense. He broke out last spring and into fall practice, but was never able to consistently warrant snaps on the field.
Primary storyline: Find a third cornerback
Antone Exum's torn ACL forced assistant coach Torrian Gray to work hard this spring to develop essentially a third starting cornerback just in case Exum's rehab doesn't go according to plan. True freshman Kendall Fuller certainly could be that guy, but he doesn't arrive until August so it's imperative to find a corner between Donaldven Manning, Davion Tookes, and Donovan Riley that he can trust.
Manning played a lot early last year before giving way to Riley, but he has added some muscle to his frame - one source said he's added around 10 pounds - and is working to settle in in Blacksburg.
Secondary primary: Develop Detrick Bonner[/db]
Kyshoen Jarrett emerged last year as a terrific safety for the Hokies. His partner-in-crime, Bonner, was a little inconsistent in both run support and pass coverage.
With a year of experience under his belt at the position and now two years of significant snaps, Bonner should begin to take some serious steps forward in his development. If he can take those steps and emerge as a playmaker next to Jarrett, the Hokies could have a very dangerous set of safeties in 2013.
Primary storyline: Who is the punt returner?
The Hokies won't spend much time at all working on the return game this spring, as there are simply more important things that would improve the team than perfecting the punt return some six months before the season kicks off. However, Tech used a combination of Michael Holmes and Jarrett last year with Jarrett especially excelling on returns. I'm curious to see whether Holmes is still the preferred option on punt returns despite Jarrett's success.