27 Days Til' Kickoff!!
The one unit whose performance could single handedly make or break our season is really two units: the defensive line and linebackers, which together make up the front 7. We lost quite a lot up front, between DE Jason Peters, DT Logan Walls, and LB Julian Burnett (who may be the biggest loss of all), but in Year 3 of the Al Groh system, we look poised to make a huge improvement over last year.
At defensive tackle, T.J. Barnes will replace Walls and start as a redshirt senior. Virginia Tech will be only his third career start according to ramblinwreck.com, following his start in the ACC Championship Game vs. Clemson and against Miami in 2010. He's slimmed down and in the best shape of his career, and hopefully can use his natural size to cause some real problems up front for opposing offensive lines. At defensive end, Izaan Cross will start at one spot, while the starter at the other spot is still TBD. Euclid Cummings, Anthony Williams, and Emmanuel Dieke are looking like players there, though freshmen Rod Chungong, Francis Kallon, or Pat Gamble could step in and make things interesting during camp. Cross has high expectations to live up to this fall, and there's lots of potential that could fill the spot opposite him as well. Hopefully this group provides plenty of production this fall.
One OLB spot is undoubtedly filled by Jeremiah Attaochu at this point, backed up by Tyler Marcordes, while the other OLB spot will be filled by the very athletic Brandon Watts (backed up by Malcolm Munroe). In the middle, Daniel Drummond is listed as the starter at one spot, though he's likely to be replaced by freshman Jabari Hunt-Days while he serves a suspension during the Virginia Tech game. Quayshawn "Q" Nealy should start at the other spot, backed up by Anthony Harrell. We've finally reached a point in Groh's tenure as defensive coordinator where excuses can no longer be made about players being poor physical fits for their position, or about players still learning the system -- everyone watching the program will have big expectations for this team and this defense, and the linebackers will play a big role in that success.
A major storyline this fall will be the success of our linebackers without Julian Burnett, whose career is pretty much over after a neck injury in the Sun Bowl. His replacement will be Quayshawn Nealy, who has seen situational playing time to date, but was a very impressive linebacker in high school who had scholarship offers from numerous highly-touted FBS programs (Georgia, Louisville and Michigan, to name a few). He's known for his speed and excellence in pass coverage -- I'm really hoping to see a lot of good things from him.
What are your thoughts, readers? How do you feel like our Front 7 will perform this year? Who will have a major impact? Who will impress, and who will disappoint? Will Attaochu be an All-ACC linebacker?