A few weeks ago, defensive backs coach Torrian Gray cautioned that you can never have enough cornerbacks, prescient words considering the injury woes the Hokies went through on the back end of their defense leading up to the Duke game.
All four look like they’ll be able to go against Boston College, however.
Kyle Fuller practiced close to normal after being limited to special teams duty against Duke because of a groin injury and Brandon Facyson was in a blue, limited jersey Tuesday after missing last week with a concussion.
Add them to a secondary that last week featured Kendall Fuller, who had three interceptions against the Blue Devils, and Antone Exum, who made his debut after offseason knee surgery, and it’s a stocked secondary at cornerback.
“The beautiful thing is, you’ve got all these talented guys and the difficult part is obviously playing them all,” said Gray, who won’t have to make any hard and fast lineup decisions until he knows the injury report later this week. “But right now Kyle’s not 100 percent, Brandon’s been out. So I’m not sure how healthy everybody is yet.”
Facyson appears to have made big strides. He suffered a concussion a week ago Sunday and didn’t practice at all last week. He had headaches and his eyes were sensitive to light. He thought he might be ready by late last week but got dizzy Thursday. Naturally, the Hokies held him out.
“They’ll give me questions and I’ll just have to either recite words back to them, just let them know what my pain scale is, my level of dizziness, my level of brightness in my eyes, and just how I feel overall,” Facyson said. “The first day, they asked me what day it was. I didn’t know until the next day, I was three days off. I was like, ‘I said that?’ Totally wrong.”
Facyson said he felt great at Tuesday’s practice — “Back to myself. Normal. No headaches. No sensitivity to light.” Gray was hopeful the freshman will be in a normal practice jersey Wednesday.
That’s where Kyle Fuller was Tuesday, although he didn’t make it all the way through practice because of the groin injury.
With them out, Exum and Kendall Fuller started against Duke at the regular cornerback spots, with Chuck Clark at the nickel.
Duke didn’t test Exum much in his return, although he held up fine physically, feeling a little sore the day after but nothing more. Gray noted a little rust on his senior cornerback and even teased him about it a little.
“He’s No. 1, so I told him he’s about .83 right now,” Gray said. “So waiting for him to get to that full 1.0 type deal. This game, I think he’ll be better. And then the next couple games we’ll expect him to being No. 1 again.”
Kendall, meanwhile, had a career day, guarding Duke’s go-to receiver Jamison Crowder and finishing with three picks, with a chance at having more.
“No. 3 was their go-to guy and he just happened to be in position, played his proper technique and leverages and made some difficult interceptions,” Gray said. “The two easy ones he dropped. So go figure.”
It was the younger Fuller’s first game at boundary corner. He had played mostly nickel and field corner prior to Saturday.
“I would say that the first one or two days is kind of tough,” Kendall said. “You’re kind of lost, but you’re kind of thinking about the field corner and what you usually do there and things like that. But once you get one or two days, one or two practices, then you start to get the hang of it.”
The Duke game gives Kendall five picks this year, tied for the national lead and tops on Virginia Tech. He moved past Facyson, who has four. Both are already at or past the school’s freshman interception record.
“We have a little friendly competition, but it’s all love,” Facyson said. “I’ve got to catch up to him. It’s all love. It’s never personal. We just want to make each other better.”
Here are more notes and quotes from Tuesday …
– Kyle Fuller was named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, which goes to the country’s outstanding defensive player. The older Fuller is one of 16 players who made the cut.
Despite being limited to special teams duty last week, the senior leads the ACC and is tied for fifth nationally with 12 passes defended. He had 24 tackles, two interceptions and two quarterback hurries.
The full list of semifinalists are: LB Anthony Barr, UCLA; DE Vic Beasley, Clemson; LB Chris Borland, Wisconsin; DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh; CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon; DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas; CB Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State; LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo; LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama; LB Trent Murphy, Stanford; DE Michael Sam, Missouri; LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; LB Kyle Van Noy, BYU; DT Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest; and DE Leonard Williams, USC.
– There was both frustration and some optimism about the offensive line and the running game coming out of the Duke game. The Hokies ran for 173 yards, although they had just a 3.76-yard average on 46 carries.
Most of that was from quarterback Logan Thomas, who had 101 yards. The running backs – Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman – combined for only 72 yards on 22 carries.
“As running backs we still want to do better than that,” Coleman said.
There were moments where things seemed to click. The Hokies went hurry up on one series that featured 13 runs, gashing Duke up the middle with runs of 8, 8 and 6 yards from Edmunds. That drive ended with a couple failed runs at the goal line, however, then a penalty, then Thomas’ interception in the end zone.
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler will meet with the media Wednesday night. I plan to ask him why Tech went away from that concept when it was having so much success.
– The Hokies continue to cycle running backs into the game, but Coleman thinks getting into a rhythm, particularly on the same drive, is important for them.
“You’ve got to get into a flow, a rhythm of the game,” he said. “See how the linebackers are moving. See how the line is blocking and see what kind of rushing lanes are opening up as well. But last game, we had a lot more opportunities. I know Trey was able to get some carries back-to-back and me as well.”
– Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes thought his team took a step backward against Pitt, but a step forward against Duke.
“But I feel like we left a lot of yards on the field too,” he said. “There were times where we got a hat on a hat, got some movement. What I was most pleased with is I thought we took a step forward in terms of playing hard and playing physical and we finished more blocks than we had at times in the past.
“Of course, that effort was led by Andrew [Miller], who had 20 knockdowns. The guy really got after it, and then the other guys did a little bit more of that than they did in the past as well. I thought our pass protection was better. I thought we took a step forward in that direction.
“But the comment I made before was that there were a couple times late in the game where we gave up a couple of pressures that we shouldn’t have, I felt like. Typically late in games, you get tired, legs give out and you get sloppy with your technique. So we really focused on that today.”
– Defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins came in as a fullback on one of the runs near the goal line. The play didn’t score, but it wasn’t because Hopkins missed his block. The defense has no problem loaning him out on goal line plays.
“We’re trying to score touchdowns, man,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. “Anything we can do to score a touchdown. And I’m glad Derrick got in there.”
– Defensive end James Gayle might not have a gaudy sack total this year (3 through 8 games), but he thinks he’s had a better season than the last couple, putting better things on film.
“I’ve definitely been getting after the quarterback, but everybody on the defensive line has also been getting after the quarterback,” he said. “If I’m there and I’m a little bit late, it’s too late.
“We have four sacks pretty much spread across the defensive line. When I’m last, I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m happy about it. But guys are playing great.”
– Dadi Nicolas had a big game against Duke, starting in place of a suspended J.R. Collins. He had six tackles, a tackle for a loss and an interception off a tipped ball. After the TFL, he crawled on the ground briefly on all fours as a celebration.
“If I was on the other team, I’d probably think something was wrong with him,” Gayle said with a chuckle. “That’s not the guy I’d probably want to run the ball to his side, because he’s an animal out there. But definitely, he’s a guy I love playing with. He’s going to continue to get better and keep making plays for us.”
Wiles and the players said it’s possible Nicolas could play that whip linebacker/defensive end role he did against Pittsburgh again this week. More on this Wednesday.
– Linebacker Jack Tyler said Boston College might not have the same crazy atmosphere as some other ACC schools, but the fans more than make up for it with their taunts.
“Their fans are the craziest fans that you go against, or the heckling-type fans that try to get underneath your skin,” he said. “You’re under the tunnel. You know you’re going to have drinks and everything poured on you and people spitting on you, because they have the little tunnel thing that they can look down into. But it’s a fun place to play. I enjoy Boston because their clam chowder is always good on Friday night.”
– Tyler said the fans “do their homework” for their taunts, and tried to get under the skin of linebacker Alonzo Tweedy last year with a taunt (he couldn’t remember the specifics of it, though). Tyler said the defense laughed about it the entire next week.
Tweedy laughed last in the game, though. He had seven tackles, two sacks and a quarterback hurry in Tech’s overtime win.