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Virginia Tech's defense gets a little help from the NFL's Saints

This was supposed to be a year when Bud Foster's defense would finally struggle some, and through two losses to begin the season, that appeared to be the case. But Foster's unit has made a drastic turnaround since giving up 24 points in the first half against East Carolina on Sept. 18.

Since then, the Virginia Tech defense has given up three points in six quarters and held the Pirates and Boston College to just 122 yards combined in the second half. A big reason for that improvement has been Foster's decision to get his best athletes onto the field by using nickel and three-linemen packages while blitzing his linebackers to ratchet up the pressure.

And while all of those packages have been in Foster's repertoire in the past, he said he's adapted them this year based off an offseason visit with New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Foster got an uninhibited look at the New Orleans defense over four days during the Saints' spring workouts because Williams's son, Chase, is now a freshman at Virginia Tech.

"We’re doing the same coverages, [the Saints] run the same stuff we run when it’s all said and done," said Foster. "But adding a couple of the pressures and how they did it, the man-zone concepts and what we’re doing with linebackers and things, we got a lot of that from them.”

In particular, those blitz packages have been especially useful. You may remember a variation of them from the Saints' NFC championship game win over Brett Favre and the Vikings last year, when New Orleans made it a point to hit the venerable quarterback as much as humanly possible. Williams brought pressure from all over the place, whether that meant cornerbacks, safeties or linebackers.

Virginia Tech's blitzes thus far haven't been quite as complex as Foster tends to leave his secondary in coverage, but the Hokies have excelled while blitzing linebackers Bruce Taylor and Lyndell Gibson. Taylor, in particular, has been the prime beneficiary of these blitz packages. He's proven adept at attacking the line of scrimmage, and it's no coincidence he leads the team in tackles (32) and has the second-most tackles for loss (9.5) in the ACC right now.

Taylor said the blitzes are called off a pre-snap read based on what formation the offense is utilizing on a specific play. Foster will call a defensive package and then the Hokies will adjust depending on the scheme. Sometimes those slight changes equal a blitz rather than any sort of variation in coverage.

"There’s always a chance an offensive lineman isn’t gonna block you," said Taylor of blitzing. "Even if they do, Coach Foster always says ‘Know what move you’re gonna do before the play even starts.' It’s just watching film and anticipating pre-snap."

By Mark Giannotto  | September 28, 2010; 10:37 AM ET
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