Entering fall camp, many Hokie fans wondered if Dax Hollifield could earn one of Virginia Tech's two starting linebacker jobs. Most of the focus was on Hollifield competing with Rayshard Ashby for the mike LB job with former four-star recruit Dylan Rivers being expected to earn the backer job.
Instead, Ashby seized the mike linebacker job early in camp, moving the battle to the backer spot between the pair of former four-star recruits.
Of course, whoever wins the backer job is going to have a very tough job replacing one of the Hokies' most talented linebackers of all-time, Tremaine Edmunds. Even Bud Foster knows that the Hokies' production at that spot could take a step back simply because of the unique talent that Edmunds was.
"Will there be a drop off after last year’s group? I hope not but there probably will be. There was a freak in No. 49 [Tremaine Edmunds] playing at one linebacker position, who made plays left and right. He was an eraser as we went back and did all of our film studies this offseason," Foster said.
In addition, Foster had this to add when focusing specifically on that backer spot.
"Is there a drop off at the linebacker position? Probably so from the experience standpoint for sure, we don’t have a first-round draft pick right there anymore, but we’ve got some good football players," Foster said.
If there's a likely leader in this position battle, it's likely Dylan Rivers as suggested by comments from Bud Foster last week.
"The backer position, its been a battle. Dylan Rivers has taken a step ahead of everybody else," Foster said on August 21st.
Even with how talented Hollifield is, no one should be surprised by the fact that Rivers is the top guy at the backer spot right now in part because he had the chance to sit behind Tremaine Edmunds last season as his backup and learn from him. In addition, Rivers traveled with the team and played on special teams throughout the season. Though special teams reps aren't defensive reps, having any on-field time at the collegiate level should help start to slow down the game for him more than a true freshman like Hollifield.
Yesterday, Foster shared how he is looking forward to see Rivers take the field on defense.
"Dylan Rivers was a highly-recruited kid. I’m anxious to see him perform," Foster said.
Like Hollifield, Rivers was a highly-recruited player who flipped from Penn State to Virginia Tech while on an official visit to the Nittany Lions weeks before National Signing Day. Once the class was complete, many saw Rivers as the Hokies' second most-talented recruit in that class with some even believing that he was a better prospect than the highly-rated Devon Hunter.
After last season, Rivers appeared to be the chosen replacement for Edmunds and the thing thing he may benefit most from now is actually getting live game experience with the first team experience, something that Bud Foster mentioned is the "best teacher."
Despite that, Dax Hollifield has continued to push Dylan Rivers for that backer spot and whether he wins the job or not, he appears likely to be the top backup at linebacker across the board. However, it's clear that Hollifield is still in a battle with Rivers for that starting job and making a strong impression based on Bud Foster's comments from yesterday.
"Dax Hollifield is a guy who I really like what he is all about and I’m anxious to see him perform at this level," Foster said.
Since he signed with the Hokies, Hollifield has done almost all he could to put himself in position to compete for this starting job showing up at several Virginia Tech spring practices to watch, be around Bud Foster, and try to do some visual learning of the defense.
Even if Hollifield doesn't earn the starting job for the opener, it's clear that the former four-star recruit will be pushing Rivers throughout the season.
In the end, Bud Foster is confident that whoever earns the starting job will be a quality, productive player whether that's Hollifield or Rivers.
"We’ve got two really good players at that position that I feel good about that will do their very best to play for us.”
Photo Credit: Jake Roth
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on Virginia Tech. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our email updates.