“That’s the plan,” Exum said Tuesday, more than eight months since he had offseason surgery to repair his ACL and a bone fracture.
“That’s what I’m preparing for and all that. I’m not going to give a clear answer until I’m actually out there, because we know how that’s gone in the past. But that’s the plan for me to play this weekend. I’m prepared to be the starting corner come Saturday.”
Exum was cleared Sept. 30 but wanted to be all the way back — or close to it — before returning to the field, especially given how well the Hokies’ secondary has played in his absence.
“I’m pretty positive Exum’s going to go,” defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said. “I know he feels excited he’s going to start the game. He’s definitely preparing mentally and physically to start the game here.”
Last week’s bye gave him extra time to get to a point where he feels that’s the case now. While other players took the break to get home for a few days, Exum continued to work out in Blacksburg.
“I’m like, ‘I’ve been home!‘ So there’s no reason for me to go back home,” he said. “I’ve been up here getting better each and every day, so I just stayed up here, just kind of relaxing and continuing to work.”
Exum said he’s much better now than when he was first cleared a little over three weeks ago.
“I’ve made huge strides,” he said. “That week that I was cleared, I wasn’t ready to play at a high level. I would have been OK, but I wouldn’t have been able to play and do a lot of the things that I can do right now.”
Exum’s return comes at a good time. Freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson suffered a concussion in the team’s first practice back on Sunday when came down with an interception but hit the back of his head on the ground. He was in a green, no-contact jersey and didn’t participate at all Tuesday.
It was the first concussion Facyson has ever had. The team’s trainers will evaluate him Wednesday to see if he can practice, then make a determination about his status later this week.
“Honestly, I just want to make myself feel better,” Facyson said. “I just want to get back 100 percent before I get out there and risk anything else.”
It’s fortuitous timing then that Exum is back this week. Kyle and Kendall Fuller started at the two cornerback spots last week against Pittsburgh’s pro-set offense. With Duke employing a spread, a third cornerback is needed. In that scenario, Kendall slides to the nickel.
Gray, who says he’ll be interested in seeing how Exum handles full-speed tackling and playing the ball in the air at game speed, hasn’t talked with Exum yet about handling the emotion of his return after missing the first seven weeks, but he will.
“That’ll be a conversation for Friday or Saturday morning or something like that,” Gray said. “Hey, keep it all in perspective and channel it and let’s be productive for what we need to do from a technique and fundamental standpoint.”
Exum, for one, is sort of sick about talking about his knee.
“I can’t wait until next Tuesday,” he said. “Hopefully we can come up here and talk about how well I played against Duke.”
Here are a few more notes and quotes from Tuesday’s interviews …
– Asked if he has any issue with Exum talking about returning to a starting spot and pushing him down to a backup position, Facyson said he didn’t.
“No, not really,” he said. “He’s a great player. I’m excited for him to come back, so if that means taking time from me, so be it. But I’ll do what’s best for the team. I’m not a selfish person.”
– Fullback Sam Rogers (ankle) was the only other notable player in blue Tuesday.
– The bye week did everyone good from a physical standpoint, but especially the offensive line, which running backs coach Shane Beamer said was so beat up it looked like was coming off a “battlefield” after some practices.
“And we don’t have a lot of depth,” Shane said. “So those guys are taking a lot of reps in practice. We practice at a fast tempo. So practices are hard. They’re not easy for them. We practice physical. That’s always been kind of our edge at Virginia Tech is trying to be more physical than other teams, so we practice that way. And that adds up. So certainly, they needed it.”
– Center David Wang said having Thursday through Saturday completely off last week was “huge” in his recovery from a shoulder injury. He’s been so banged up that he snapped with his opposite hand one week during practice to put less stress on his right shoulder.
“It actually feels great right now,” he said. “That three days was huge, just having those days off and just relaxing, coming in and rehabbing and pretty much just resting. I didn’t do anything.”
Did he live in the training room those days?
“I wouldn’t say lived,” Wang said. “They had told me the best thing for it was to rest. And so they told me to come in, just get some active motion in there, some muscle contractions and ice it down and just rest it.”
– Count running back J.C. Coleman among those who made good use of the bye week from a physical standpoint. Beamer said he’s “as close as he’s been” to 100 percent this season after suffering two sprained ankles in August.
“We were watching some video of him against Western Carolina. He looked like me out there running,” Shane joked. “He had no business being out there. I probably looked better than he did against Western Carolina.”
Shane estimated that Coleman was about 75 percent against North Carolina and 80 against Pitt.
“Pittsburgh was the first time that I thought he really looked like the J.C. of old,” Shane said. “We can talk about the run game all we want. Getting him where he’s 100 percent healthy will without a doubt help us. His reps have increased each game. He’s shown flashes. He’s done some good things out there at practice. One hundred percent J.C. Coleman is certainly good for our run game. No doubt about it.”
– On that subject, Shane said the week of self-evaluation gave plenty of insight about the running game’s struggles. Virginia Tech’s running game is ranked 106th nationally, averaging only 117.6 yards per game and 3.25 yards per carry.
The team’s stance hasn’t changed: it’s a little bit of everything.
“It wasn’t anything that we said, ‘Oh my god, how are we going to be able to fix this?’” Shane said. “It was all something that we saw we could get better at. We spent a lot of time working on perimeter blocking, working on the tailback-quarterback meshes in the backfield, things like that. …
“It’s one of those things where you’re intrigued, you’re excited, because you realize you’re close and we just have to keep working. We need to be better than what we are now and we know that.”