Still, there was the slightest bit of doubt in the back of his mind.
“I was very optimistic, but it was in my head: what if I don’t know what’s best and he just comes in and is like, ‘Nah, five more weeks’?” Exum said. “I would be crushed.
“So I was just happy I performed well. They said I did excellent on the test, so that made me even more confident. I was just excited.”
Exum was back as a full participant in Tuesday’s practice for the first time since having surgery in February to repair his right ACL, medial and lateral meniscus and a bone fracture, injuries suffered during a pickup basketball game in January.
“When I opened my locker and I saw the white jersey, I said, ‘Man, this is clean. I’ve got to roll around or something,’” said Exum, who worked with the first team.
The senior knocked out question after question after Tuesday’s practice, many of which he thought were no-brainers.
Are you ready to play? “Yes.”
Any thought of moving to safety? “Nah, I’m a corner man.” (A point defensive backs coach Torrian Gray also made clear.)
How does the knee brace feel? “I don’t like it, but Dr. Andrews wants me to wear it for at least the first game just as a precaution, so I’m going to follow his orders.”
How will Tech get its wealth of corners playing time? “I mean this is the best dilemma we could have, having a lot of play-makers and trying to decide who to put on the field. That’s not something I’m sure that they’re going to lose too much sleep over.”
Fans might, and how Exum will integrate himself into a secondary that’s thrived with Kyle Fuller, Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson has been a hot topic this week. The elder Fuller is an entrenched senior starter at boundary corner, and the younger Fuller’s spot at the nickelback/whip linebacker spot seems well-established.
That leaves Exum and Facyson battling for reps at the field corner spot, a delicate balancing act considering how well the Hokies — and especially Facyson, who is tied for the national lead with four interceptions — have played on defense so far.
Gray said he anticipates them splitting reps about evenly this week, although once Exum is 100 percent, it sounds like he’ll be the starter. It’s part of the reason the Hokies might have Facyson dabble on offense at wide receiver.
“I guess it’s better to have more than you need than not have enough,” Gray said. “We went through that last year. We kind of were scrambling to try to find our identity there on the back end and I’m like, ‘Woah.’ I don’t want to say that we’ve got too many, because you say that and all of a sudden you get a couple guys down.
“But right now … I look at the guys and I’m like, ‘Man, we’re pretty talented.’ I’ve just got to figure it out.”
Facyson probably gets the short end of the stick, but Gray said he pulled the freshman aside at practice and explained the situation.
“I try to put myself in his shoes, and I know that’s going to tough,” Gray said. “But we just try to put it all in perspective and go forward.”
“It does suck,” Exum said of the Facyson situation. “And I do hope they find a way to work him in because he’s definitely a big-time player.”
Gray said Exum had a little rust Tuesday, something he’ll have to knock off before getting a larger share of reps. Exum said he’s “attacked” the conditioning side of things hard lately, trying to get his wind back, so he doesn’t think fatigue will be a factor. But there are other things he couldn’t simulate.
“One thing I do want to do is make a tackle, just because I haven’t tackled anyone to the ground in a long time,” Exum said. “That’s one thing that I want to get under my belt. Early, I’ll be trying to be physical and get involved in something just so I can kind of get that out of my system.”
Gray still thinks it will still be a couple weeks before Exum is anything quite like the player he was by the end of last year. With an offense like North Carolina’s coming to town, Exum will found out quickly how ready he is.
“[The Tar Heels] like to throw it around,” he said. “They got a couple weapons, a really good quarterback, so it’s definitely a test. I came back right on time to get tested and I know they’ll come at me.”
Here are some more notes and quotes from Tuesday night interviews:
– Receiver Willie Byrn was the only player in a blue jersey at Tuesday’s practice. He sprained an MCL in his left knee against Georgia Tech. He had it heavily wrapped.
– Whip linebacker Ronny Vandyke had surgery Tuesday at LewisGale Montgomery Hospital to repair a right shoulder labrum tear (SLAP). He’s expected to be limited for spring practice and return to full participation by fall camp next year.
Tight end Ryan Malleck was also at practice with his left arm in a sling. He also had a labral tear and had surgery up in New York. He said he’ll get his arm out of the sling soon. He’s on a similar rehab timetable as Vandyke.
– Head coach Frank Beamer said the Hokies’ passing game is ahead of the running game at this point of the season, a statement that nobody’s really disputing.
“If he passing works, why go away from it?” running back Trey Edmunds said.
The Hokies didn’t, going pass-heavy for the second time in the last three weeks. Tech threw for 258 yards and ran for 53 against East Carolina two weeks ago. It threw for 221 and ran for 55 against Georgia Tech.
Virginia Tech went into the Georgia Tech game planning to throw it early, thinking it saw some things to exploit in the Yellow Jackets’ defense. The plan was to throw early (Loeffler’s first six plays were going to be passes) to open up the run.
As it turned out, the flow of the game led the Hokies away from giving it to the tailbacks. Virginia Tech ran 52 plays. Twenty-five were passes. Of the 27 runs, 16 were by Thomas, mostly on read plays. Running backs coach Shane Beamer said that wasn’t because Edmunds (hip) and J.C. Coleman were beat up or coming off of injuries. It’s just the way the game played out.
It’s not quite the run-heavy offense the Hokies though they’d be in the offseason, but it’s what they think is necessary to win games.
“Right now you kind of take what you have and try to build on it and do what you think is good for our football team,” Frank Beamer said. “And I think our offensive staff is doing a good job of that. As we sit and talk and discuss, you kind of try to figure out what your identity is right now and what you’d like for it to be … maybe through a couple recruiting classes or whatever.”
– The Hokies rotated Brent Benedict and Laurence Gibson at right tackle last week after Benedict had taken over as the starter the last few weeks. Grimes said that was because Gibson, who began the year as the starter, upped his game in practice.
“I felt like he earned the opportunity to play some, so I alternated those two guys,” Grimes said. “If there’s another guy, or if we’re in a position where one guy isn’t playing well enough to deserve all of the reps and there’s someone close, then I’ll continue alternating them until somebody proves that they earn the right to play all the reps.
“And I told the whole group again today that they have to earn their job every week, and I think we’re in position where it still warrants some competition.”
Grimes didn’t tip his hand for how he might approach the right tackle position Saturday against UNC.
– Center David Wang wanted to keep as much stress off his injured right shoulder as he could in practice last week, so he tried snapping with his left hand.
“I just tried snapping just before practice, and I could get the ball back there,” he said. “I went the rest of the week doing that, just to really get as much rest as I could. And it helped a lot.”
Wang played but had to leave briefly to be tended to by trainers with a stinger (“They’re always worried about me,” the oft-injured junior joked). It forced Caleb Farris to move over to center, Benedict to left guard and Gibson to come in at right tackle. Wang said he’s fine for this week, however.
– Wang, like all offensive linemen, would like to get the running game going, but he understands the logic behind so much passing.
“It’s always a mentality being in the trenches that you always want to pound the ball as hard as you can,” Wang said. “But I trust coach [Scot] Loeffler. I trust his game plans. The way he calls plays, it’s a special thing. I truly think it is. I have no question in his game plans at all.”
– Thomas has taken a beating the last couple games, playing through an abdominal strain and a foot sprain. He was in a walking boot Tuesday, although he said it’s precautionary.
His rushing totals against Marshall and Georgia Tech? 39 carries, 116 yards and three touchdowns.
“Logan is a stallion,” Edmunds said. “Not too much can hold him down. I think he’s going to show off this weekend.”