BLACKSBURG — In addition to the interceptions and pass breakups, of which there were many, cornerback Antone Exum brought something else to the Virginia Tech defense last season.
“Everything he did,” cornerback Donovan Riley said, “you felt his presence.”
With Exum’s status for the season opener in doubt after tearing an ACL in a pickup game of basketball in January, Virginia Tech will need to find someone to fill that void, both from a leadership standpoint and a positional one.
The Hokies have several candidates for the former, but are looking primarily at a pair of sophomores — Riley and Donaldven Manning — for the latter.
Both played sparingly as true freshmen, going through their respective learning curves, but now might be in line to start at the corner spot opposite Kyle Fuller when the Hokies face two-time defending national champion Alabama at the end of August.
Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray had a few other things to say about his group on Wednesday too …
– Redshirt freshman Davion Tookes is another player working at the field corner position along with Riley and Manning. On the other side, there’s Fuller, then true freshman Brandon Facyson (an early enrollee) and junior walk-on Carl Jackson.
– Gray on Facyson (pronounced FAY-sun): “He’s a freshman. Most of the times, freshmen are all over the place, and right now he’s no different. He’s shown flashes of where he has the ability to make plays. Now he’s like Manning and Riley and all those guys last year as a freshman, man, it just takes some time sometimes.”
– With Michael Cole done with football because of a neck injury he suffered against Florida State, the Hokies have had to shuffle their safeties too. Desmond Frye is now the backup rover to Kyshoen Jarrett. Detrick Bonner remains the top free safety.
Walk-on Greg Jones had moved into the backup spot, but he’s out with an unspecified injury right now, moving redshirt freshman Der’Woun Greene up to the second team. Greene, from Portsmouth, started at receiver last season but moved to cornerback early in the year because of depth concerns.
“He’s just now learning the position,” Gray said. “It always seems like we’ve got an inexperienced guy working in there. But actually, he made a good amount of plays out there. I’m excited when I watch the film to see just how much he’s progressed. He’s going to at least be able to help us out.”