Now that Virginia Tech made it official that rising sophomore safety Michael Cole won’t play football anymore because of a neck injury suffered against Florida State last November, what does that mean for the Hokies’ secondary?
Cole’s retirement is the latest bit of attrition/turnover at the safety positions. Just in the last 14 months, the Hokies have lost Eddie Whitley to graduation, Antone Exum in a position switch to cornerback and, recently, an ACL tear that will keep him out 6-9 months, Ronny Vandyke in a position switch to whip linebacker, James Hopper to a career-ending injury, Theron Norman and Boye Aromire to transfer and now Cole. (Some astute readers also pointed out Nick Dew, who started out as a safety, switched positions and later left the program.)
That’s quite a bit for a secondary to overcome. The good news for Virginia Tech is that the two players who played the most time at the safety spots last season — converted cornerbacks Detrick Bonner and Kyshoen Jarrett – are back for another year at the same spots.
Both has solid 2012 seasons. Bonner had 60 tackles and an interception. Jarrett had 83 tackles, second on the team to linebacker Jack Tyler.
What Cole’s departure does is limit Virginia Tech’s flexibility on the back end of the defense. Both Bonner and Jarrett could have played cornerback in a pinch, something very possible given the question marks at the position with Exum’s status for the season up in the air. That doesn’t seem like a logical move anymore, considering the lack of depth now at safety too.
Here’s a look at the top contenders to vie for reps behind Bonner and Jarrett. Since defensive backs coach Torrian Gray likes to have players be interchangeable between rover and free safety, I didn’t differentiate them for these purposes. I’ll start with players on the roster and move to the signees:
– Desmond Frye, So., 6-2, 181: He got playing time as a true freshman in all 13 games, although most of that was on special teams. He played 144 snaps, but only 36 came on defense. He most visible moment from the season was probably as one of the Hokie defenders flailing at receiver Rashad Greene on his game-winning touchdown catch in the final minutes of the FSU loss. Still, Frye was the next man up in the secondary once Cole went down. Having at least suited up on a college field gives him a leg up on the competition heading into the spring.
– Greg Jones, rFr., 6-2, 197: The walk-on from Lorton dressed for a few games this year and even made the travel roster, although he ended up redshirting. Jones made some plays in August practices last year, although doing the same in a real game is much different.
– Zach Snell, rFr., 5-10, 186: Another walk-on, from Christiansburg, he too redshirted while working at rover, although he’s listed as a free safety on the roster right now.
– Holland Fisher, Fr., 6-2, 200: One of the highest-ranked signees in the Hokies’ 2013 class, the Richmond product is a candidate for immediate playing time, provided he qualifies to play next year (something that’s still up in the air). He shot up recruiting boards after the summer camp circuit last year and has been described as having a skill set that would fit perfectly in Bud Foster‘s scheme. If he gets into school and catches on quickly, it would give Tech some flexibility on the back end.
– Charles Clark, Fr., 6-0, 180: Another of the incoming freshmen, Clark was a two-time Southeastern District Defensive Player of the Year for King’s Fork High. That was as a cornerback, though. He’ll have to adjust to free safety, his projected college position.
– Anthony Shegog, Fr., 6-2, 200: On signing day, Foster described him as a Kam Chancellor-type safety, which is high praise. (To be fair, Shane Beamer said the same thing about Fisher, so there was plenty of that going around.) Shegog played a bit of everything for North Stafford High, standing out as a running back in the playoffs, but he projects as a free safety in college.
There might be others in the mix once their positions are settled. Freshmen Brandon Facyson (an early enrollee) and Deon Newsome could very well get a shot at safety. Facyson is a tall guy for a DB (6-2, 173), someone who played cornerback in high school. Newsome has been mentioned as an offensive and defensive player. Frank Beamer said he’ll probably start on offense, although Foster mentioned him as a possible safety/rover on signing day.
The roster also includes converted option quarterback T.J. Shaw and another walk-on, Quinton Taylor, at safety spots.
It’ll also be interesting to see what Tech does with Brenden Motley, another Christiansburg High product. He worked as a quarterback on the scout team last year, but with freshmen Bucky Hodges and Carlis Parker coming into the program to work behind Logan Thomas, Mark Leal and Trey Gresh, could this initiate a move for him to defense? The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Motley, after all, was a first-team Group AA selection at defensive back and once had 17 tackles in a state final against Briar Woods.
However the Hokies shore up their secondary, it’s certainly not going to be the group they expected. Things were lined up for Virginia Tech to have all four starters back in the same spots as the previous year, with Cole a viable fifth option who had a year of experience under his belt and a bevy of youngsters behind them slowly getting up to speed.
Now, Exum is hurt, Cole is done with football, one starting cornerback spot is up for grabs and there are major questions about who will be worthy of getting second-team reps across the board. It sets up another offseason of intrigue on the back end of the defense.