The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching. I’ll be using the blog to count down to what we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on Virginia Tech’s roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people that will determine whether the Hokies’ 2012 season is a success or not. That includes players and coaches from both Virginia Tech and, occasionally, a few of its opponents.
No. 6: Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum, junior cornerbacks
Each of these players could have probably been in this countdown individually, both in the top 10. But cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum are so critical to the success of the pass defense, it seems logical to put them together.
The reason is this: Virginia Tech doesn’t have a whole lot of cornerbacks.
Two — Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett – moved to safety for the greater good of the scheme. Both will probably start. Former All-American Jayron Hosley left early for the NFL. James Farrow, who was expected to play a critical backup role, transferred in the offseason to San Diego, an FCS school that will allow him to play immediately.
That leaves a pretty bare cupboard. Donaldven Manning enrolled early in January to get a jump on the season, but he’s still a true freshman. Fellow freshmen Davion Tookes and Donovan Riley are in summer school but have yet to experience a college practice yet. And it’s unclear if walk-ons Chris Caver and Carl Jackson will have an active role this year.
That’s why so much depends on Fuller and Exum.
The 6-foot, 181-pound Fuller was Virginia Tech’s defensive MVP last year, a Swiss Army Knife who could play corner, nickel and whip linebacker. His 14.5 tackles for a loss were tops on the team and he always seemed to be around the ball. Given time to fully concentrate on corner, he could be one of the ACC’s best.
The 6-foot, 219-pound Exum, who played safety and rover his first three years at Tech, is now a big, physical cornerback in the mold of former All-American Jimmy Williams. He led the team in tackles last year, something he probably won’t do again from the corner spot, but he brings range, vision and great run support to the cornerback spot (ask receiver Demitri Knowles, who Exum leveled a few times on end arounds in spring, about that last one).
The Hokies made these moves to get their four best players on the field, although one injury could make that plan collapse like a house of cards. Bonner or Jarrett could move back in a pinch, but that creates new issues at safety. The backups have some work to get game ready, making August crucial.
But if everyone stays healthy, getting big seasons from Fuller and Exum eases the pressure on the secondary, the one area on the defense where there are new starters and, thus, a few question marks. Being able to have Fuller and Exum lock down the outsides would be a huge help.
Coming Tuesday: He didn’t play a down last year.
- No. 25: Randall Dunn, senior tight end
- No. 24: Donaldven Manning, freshman cornerback
- No. 23: Pick a punter
- No. 22: J.C. Coleman, freshman running back
- No. 21: Georgia Tech’s option offense
- No. 20: Antoine and Derrick Hopkins, defensive tackles
- No. 19: EJ Manuel, Florida State quarterback
- No. 18: Bud Foster, defensive coordinator
- No. 17: A fourth wide receiver
- No. 16: Cody Journell, junior kicker
- No. 15: Brent Benedict and David Wang, offensive guards
- No. 14: Dyrell Roberts, senior wide receiver
- No. 13: Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett, safeties
- No. 12: Dabo Swinney, Clemson head coach
- No. 11: Key reserves
- No. 10: Frank Beamer, head coach
- No. 9: Bruce Taylor and Tariq Edwards, inside linebackers
- No. 8: Marcus Davis, wide receiver
- No. 7: Beamerball