NCF Nation: Kwamaine Battle

Hokies, Michigan succeed by adapting

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
9:00
AM ET
Bud Foster, Al BorgesIcon Sports MediaVirginia Tech's Bud Foster and Michigan's Al Borges have benefitted from being flexible.

NEW ORLEANS -- If ever a coach had earned the right to be stubborn about his system, it'd be Bud Foster.

He has coordinated Virginia Tech's defense for the past 16 seasons, and the unit has finished in the top 12 nationally on 10 occasions (the Hokies currently rank 13th in total defense). He has had 34 players drafted in the NFL, 45 different players score touchdowns and at least one player earn All-America honors in all 16 seasons.

The pillars of Foster's defenses -- speed, athleticism, pressure, opportunistic play -- have become synonymous with Virginia Tech's program.

Foster could enter rooms with "My Way" blaring in the background if he wanted to. But he doesn't.

His success isn't tied to stubbornness. He has adapted over time, while maintaining an attacking foundation.

"It's changed a lot but it hasn't changed a lot," Foster said Friday. "We were more of an eight-man front group in the mid-1990s through probably the mid-2000s. You were seeing a lot more two-back offenses at that time. ... We've just tweaked things year in and year out. We're always trying to make it a little better."

Michigan made more than a few tweaks in its offense this year, as coordinator Al Borges integrated some of his pro-style elements while maintaining a spread framework. The results were predictably choppy, but Michigan still scored more points (410) than it did in 2010, when the offense set several team and individual records.

Although Foster has led the Virginia Tech defense since 1995 and Borges had led the Michigan offense only since January, both have benefited from being flexible.

"He's like we have been offensively," Borges said of Foster. "Their defense is ever-evolving."

The next step in the evolution takes place Tuesday night at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as Virginia Tech's defense and Michigan's offense square off in a fascinating matchup.

Both units faced some obstacles to reach this point. A look at Virginia Tech's defensive depth chart shows seven sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup. The Hokies were hit particularly hard by injuries this season, losing starters Antoine Hopkins, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Bruce Taylor as well as key reserves like Kwamaine Battle.

Despite the losses and the abundance of youth, Virginia Tech maintained its standards on defense, ranking in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense (17.2 ppg), total defense (313.9), pass-efficiency defense (111.8), rushing defense (107.8 ypg) and sacks (2.92 spg).

"[Foster] has enough flexibility," Borges said. "He's been there a long time. That system, although he's got some young players, that system that he has ... they know it. ... You're not teaching every little tiny thing, and you can start dealing more with nuance and things like that. Bud's at that point because he's been there so long."

Borges inherited a more seasoned offense and benefited from a lack of major injuries. His challenge was blending what he had done for decades with personnel suited to a vastly different scheme, particularly junior quarterback Denard Robinson.

"You can see they've done a great job adapting to their talent," Foster said. "But then, there's nothing real fancy about them, either. They're going to line up and hit you in the mouth and be physical."

Virginia Tech must not only contain Robinson on Tuesday night but be wary of Michigan's power game, which features sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and a big offensive line led by All-America center David Molk.

While the Hokies boast good size at defensive tackle, they're giving up a few pounds elsewhere. Sophomore defensive end J.R. Collins checks in at 240, while outside linebacker Alonzo Tweedy weighs just 189 pounds.

"We obviously have to get off on the football and be physical," Foster said. "That's what [Michigan] is going to do."

Virginia Tech has faced mobile quarterbacks in the past -- former West Virginia star Pat White among them -- and practiced against one the past few seasons in Tyrod Taylor. But linebacker Jack Fuller said Robinson gives the Hokies a look they haven't seen this season.

The closest comparison, according to Tyler, is Clemson's Tajh Boyd, who torched the Hokies in the ACC title game (240 pass yards, 3 TDs).

"But [Boyd's] not much of a scrambler," Fuller said. "He's quick and he can run the ball, but they look for Denard to run the ball. They have set plays for him and that's part of their offense, getting him to run the ball and getting that extra blocker."

Michigan also must adjust to some different elements from Virginia Tech, which doesn't shy away from press coverage and has the athletes to do so.

"It is a challenge," Robinson said. "They have some unique defenses and great athletes."

Added Toussaint: "They are very athletic at every position and play every play with maximum effort."

Virginia Tech's defense and Michigan's offense both should be improved in 2012, as only a handful of players depart each unit.

Both groups will look to use Tuesday night's game as a springboard.

"This is a big step for all of us," Toussaint said.
One of the biggest question marks facing defending ACC champ Virginia Tech this year is the revamped defensive line, which has to replace three starters. I caught up with defensive line coach Charlie Wiles on Wednesday afternoon to see what kind of progress the group has made.

Overall, he said he was pleased with the starting four, which, if they played today, would be: tackles Antoine Hopkins and his brother, Derrick Hopkins, and defensive ends J.R. Collins and James Gayle. The backup positions are where he has the most concerns, and depth remains an issue as the Hokies wrap up spring ball on Saturday and prepare for summer camp.

The Hopkins brothers are two players to watch this fall. Antoine Hopkins is nicknamed “Hop,” and his little brother, Derrick, is “Skip.” They’ve got a younger brother who … you guessed it, is “Jump.”

If Virginia Tech lined up today, Hop and Skip would be in the starting lineup, much like the brother-tandem of Kevin Lewis and Jonathan Lewis once did for the Hokies.

“I love the way our first group has been playing,” Wiles said.

Here’s a closer look at the starters:

[+] EnlargeAntoine Hopkins
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesThe Hokies are expecting big things out of Antoine Hopkins in 2011.
DT ANTOINE HOPKINS: Wiles said Hopkins has really elevated his game this spring. Hopkins started 12 games last year and had 45 tackles, including 6.5 for losses.

DT DERRICK HOPKINS: He was in the two-deep as a true freshman last year, but Wiles said he “kind of leveled off a little bit” at the end of the year. Not this spring. “Derrick came out and really has had a superb spring. He’s a playmaker. He has all those things I saw in camp that have been elevated through a year of growth and a year of maturity not only in the weight room, but he’s mentally grown up a little bit. He’s made a lot of plays -- a lot of plays this spring.”

DE JAMES GAYLE: He showed flashes last year, but was a better practice player than he was a gamer. Wiles guessed it was a matter of confidence, but he brought a new attitude into the offseason and won the Hokies’ prestigious Excalibur Award for his work in the weight room. He’s now playing with a purpose. “He made his mind up after the year was over that he was going to be a difference-maker,” Wiles said. “He had a phenomenal offseason. ... The transition rolled right over into spring ball. He’s been a special cat out there.”

DE J.R. COLLINS: He started the spring a little bit slow, but continued to show progress with each practice and scrimmage. Last Friday night in one of the Hokies’ scrimmages, Collins earned the highest points on the team and was awarded the famed lunch pail. “He really got on an upward trend,” Wiles said.

Wiles knows he can’t play the whole season with just those four players, so developing the depth between now and the season opener will be critical. Right now, Tyrel Wilson is a No. 2 defensive end and Duan Perez-Means is the other backup end. They’re being pushed, though, by former linebacker Quillie Odom and Zack McCray.

At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, McCray is still learning the position as a redshirt freshman. He could still be a year away from a strength standpoint, Wiles said.

“He’s got to become more physical,” Wiles said. “He thinks he’s playing hard when he’s not all the time. It’s my job to get him over the hump and to get him to that point where he can be real productive for us, but he does have the tools.”

Inside, Wiles is looking for five defensive tackles he can count on, and Kwamaine Battle, who tore his ACL, came back this spring about 15 pounds overweight and out of shape.

“I trust the kid,” Wiles said. “I know what I’m going to get out of him, but we have to have a great summer with him.”

Dwight Tucker had a high-ankle sprain and missed all of the spring, but he could be in the mix, and Isaiah Hamlette got a lot of reps this spring. Wiles said redshirt freshman Nick Acree isn’t ready to go yet. Because they’re looking for another playmaker inside, Wiles said there won’t be any hesitation to audition some of the true freshmen who will join the team this summer, starting with Kris Harley.

“We’ve got to bring along some guys,” Wiles said. “People are going to get nicked up. We’re not going to play guys just to play guys. We want production. We’re not going to change our expectations. You’ve got to come up to where we are and the level of defense we have to play. We’ve got some guys who need to get better.”

Spring preview: Coastal Division

February, 15, 2011
2/15/11
10:00
AM ET
We've already looked at who and what to watch in the Atlantic Division this spring. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program in the Coastal Division:

DUKE

Spring practice starts: Feb. 16

Spring game: March 26

What to watch:
  • Jim Knowles taking over as defensive coordinator. After coaching the safeties last season, Knowles was promoted in late January following the departure of Marion Hobby to coach Clemson’s defensive line. It’s not a complete overhaul on defense, but for the third time in as many seasons, a different person will be calling the plays. Knowles has also assumed the lead role with Duke’s practice scheduling and weekly preparation.
  • New faces at linebacker. Duke graduated its leading tackler from 2010, Abraham Kromah, and freshman All-American Kelby Brown is out while recovering from knee surgery. Those two slots will be wide open this spring and the competition will be among Austin Gamble, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Kevin Rojas.
  • Offensive line shuffling. The Blue Devils return four starters up front, but they’ll be missing the glue of the line in Bryan Morgan, who graduated. Brian Moore, who has started the past two seasons at right guard, will make the transition to center. John Coleman and Laken Tomlinson are expected to compete for the right guard spot.
GEORGIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 28 (tentative)

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Starting quarterback competition. Tevin Washington enters the spring at No. 1 on the depth chart, and it's his job to lose, as he has the most experience after taking over for injured starter Joshua Nesbitt in 2010. Synjyn Days will give him legitimate competition this spring, though, and it will increase this summer with the addition of standout recruit Vad Lee to the roster. For now, though, it’s between Washington and Days, as David Sims is expected to move to B-back.
  • Offensive line reshuffling. Georgia Tech will have to replace three starters in all-conference center Sean Bedford, right tackle Austin Barrick and left tackle Nick Claytor, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft. Phil Smith, Barrick’s backup last year, is the only one with any experience at tackle. The staff will likely have to move a player or two from guard to tackle, and only it knows who those candidates might be right now.
  • Revamped secondary. Jerrard Tarrant's decision to leave school early and enter the NFL draft left the Jackets without any returning starters in the secondary. Junior cornerback Rod Sweeting, sophomore cornerback Louis Young, redshirt freshman cornerback Ryan Ayers and sophomore safety Fred Holton are front-runners, but they all have a lot to prove this spring. Holton and Young played sparingly as true freshmen and combined for 21 tackles. Sweeting played in all 13 games and had one fumble recovery and eight passes defended, including one interception. Senior cornerback Michael Peterson may help, and safety Jemea Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 but redshirted last year. There’s some talent, but the inexperience makes it a question mark.
MIAMI

Spring practice starts: March 5

Spring game: April 9 or 16

What to watch:
  • New staff, new schemes. Defensively, first-year coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will work with two other assistants who were with him and first-year coach Al Golden at Temple, so there is familiarity there. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow has to learn D’Onofrio’s system, but the players tend to pick it up faster if the majority of the staff is already acclimated to it. Offensively, everyone will be working together for the first time. Jedd Fisch wants to run a pure pro-style offense based on matchups, and the good news is that several of the assistants, because of their respective backgrounds, are already schooled in at least a version of it.
  • Quarterback battle. Golden has said he would like to name a starter by the end of the spring, making these practices critical auditions for both Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris. Harris has both flourished and flopped as a starter for the Canes, and his injury last year gave Morris the opportunity he needed to win the people’s choice award. Has a new era of quarterback begun, or will Harris finally have the breakout season Miami fans have waited for in his final year as a Cane?
  • Corner competition. Following the departures of Ryan Hill, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Brandon Harris, Brandon McGee is the only corner remaining on the roster with any significant experience. He played in 11 games, started one, and had 15 tackles. Redshirt freshman Devont’a Davis, sophomore Kacey Rodgers, and redshirt sophomore Jamal Reid will also compete for playing time. There are also several incoming freshmen who could be immediate contributors.
NORTH CAROLINA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • The rookie quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee that Bryn Renner will be the Tar Heels’ starter in 2011, but he enters the spring slightly ahead of the race, as he was No. 2 on the depth chart last season and was pushing T.J. Yates for the starting job at this time a year ago. The staff would also like to see what true freshman Marquise Williams, who enrolled in January, has to offer. Braden Hanson and A.J. Blue will also compete for playing time. Blue was injured two years ago and redshirted last season.
  • Running backs race. The Tar Heels graduated three key players from 2010: Johnny White, Anthony Elzy and Shaun Draughn. Ryan Houston is back for his fifth year after redshirting last year and is the most experienced of the returnees. Giovani Bernard was a true freshman last year and had been expected to get some playing time, but he tore his ACL on the third day of training camp. It’s not clear yet how much he’ll be able to participate this spring. Hunter Furr played sparingly last year and true freshman Travis Riley, who enrolled in January, are also in the mix.
  • Another strong defensive line. If Quinton Coples was an all-conference selection as a defensive tackle, he could be scary good at his natural position, defensive end. Coples played there as a freshman and sophomore, but switched to tackle out of necessity last season. The defensive line should once again be the strength of the team, but it will be reconfigured again, as Coples’ move will leave a defensive tackle spot up for grabs. Junior college transfer Sylvester Williams, who enrolled in January, could fill that role.
VIRGINIA

Spring practice starts: March 16

Spring game: April 2

What to watch:
  • The search for a new starting quarterback. With Marc Verica graduated, the lead contenders to replace him are the ones who saw the field last year -- Michael Rocco and Ross Metheny. Neither of them started, but Rocco played in six games and Metheny five. Nobody has thrown the ball more than Rocco’s 25 times. The staff will also look at Michael Strauss, who redshirted last year, Miles Gooch, and David Watford, who enrolled in January.
  • Competition at running back. With leading rusher Keith Payne graduated, the question becomes what can Kevin Parks do after redshirting last year? There’s a lot of depth at the running back position, but Parks, the No. 56 running back in his class by ESPN.com and national prep record-setter out of the state of North Carolina, came to Charlottesville facing high expectations. With Payne gone, this could open the door for him to meet them, but returning starter Perry Jones will also be competing for carries.
  • Development of the receivers. In January, Jared Green Tweeted that he had decided to transfer after finishing his degree in Charlottesville this spring, according to a school spokesman. His departure, coupled with the graduation of Dontrelle Inman, leaves the Cavaliers without two of their top wideouts from 2010. With Tim Smith coming off an injury, the development of other receivers will be critical -- especially with a new starting quarterback.
VIRGINIA TECH

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Quarterback Logan Thomas. The Tyrod Taylor era is over, and Thomas is the front-runner to succeed the winningest quarterback in school history. Ju-Ju Clayton is the only other quarterback on the roster who’s ever taken a snap, and he’ll push Thomas this spring. It’s Thomas’ job to lose, but the staff is looking for him to improve his accuracy. He played quarterback in only his final two high school seasons and was projected as a tight end. He’s still raw and learning the position, but physically, he’s a clone of Cam Newton. If he develops some poise in the pocket, look out.
  • Competition on the defensive line. The Hokies have to replace starters John Graves (defensive tackle) and Steven Friday (defensive end), who both graduated. They’ve got Antoine Hopkins and Chris Drager back, but it’s possible Drager could move back to tight end after starting 10 games at defensive end last year. Tackle Kwamaine Battle, who started the first two games before he tore his ACL and Hopkins took over, is another front-runner. Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, will also be in the mix, along with James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Redshirt freshman defensive end Zack McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, has also impressed the staff so far.
  • Tight end auditions. The graduation of Andre Smith leaves the Hokies with only one returning tight end who’s caught a pass in a game, Randall Dunn (one). Redshirt freshman Eric Martin was the second tight end when the Hokies used two-tight end sets, but he missed three games mid-season with an injury.

Ryan Williams out for Saturday's game

September, 30, 2010
9/30/10
5:16
PM ET
Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams will miss Saturday's game at NC State with a hamstring injury, according to the team's injury report released on Thursday. The Hokies will obviously need all of the help they can get to match NC State's offense, but if there's one team that can afford to miss a starting running back, it's Virginia Tech. With Darren Evans and David Wilson, the Hokies were able to beat Boston College 19-0. It doesn't matter who is running the ball, though, if they don't get the blocks and into the end zone. Here's the full report, along with NC State's injury report:

VIRGINIA TECH

Out

Kwamaine Battle (knee)
Eric Martin (knee)
Barquell Rivers (quad)
Lorenzo Williams (foot)
Ryan Williams (hamstring)

Probable

Josh Oglesby (ankle)
Eddie Whitley (stinger)

NC STATE

PROBABLE
James Washington, HB - hamstring
Markus Kuhn, DT - knee

QUESTIONABLE - None listed

DOUBTFUL - None listed

OUT
Brandon Barnes, RB - ankle
Jarvis Byrd, CB - knee
Sylvester Crawford, DE - knee
Mikel Overgaard, OT - elbow
*Jesse Riley, DB - knee
*Rashard Smith, DB - knee
* - out for the season

Hokies take another hit

September, 12, 2010
9/12/10
5:38
PM ET
Virginia Tech starting defensive tackle Kwamaine Battle will miss the rest ofthe season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee in Saturday's 21-16 loss to James Madison.

Battle, who started the first two games for the Hokies and made one tackle, will have surgery on Friday at Montgomery Regional Hospital in Blacksburg.

Battle will be replaced by redshirt sophomore Antoine Hopkins in the starting lineup. The backup spot will be determined this week in practice. It’s another significant loss to a line that was already missing defensive end Chris Drager this past weekend with a knee injury.

SPONSORED HEADLINES