It’s possible that the Hokies’ Senior Day at Lane Stadium on Saturday against Maryland might not feature either of their senior cornerbacks.
“Right now, the way things are standing, it’s not looking like we’re going to have certain guys,” defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said.
It’s nothing new for the Hokies this year, who have coped with Exum’s absence after offseason knee surgery and Fuller’s recent groin injury by plugging in young players, particularly freshmen standouts Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson.
But it’s still tough for a group that a few weeks ago had such incredible cornerback depth that the debate was about how the Hokies would get all four of their talented players enough snaps.
Kyle Fuller, who has been limited each of the last three weeks after suffering a groin strain during the off week, dressed out Tuesday but wasn’t allowed to participate in contact drills. He said he didn’t re-aggravate the injury against Miami, although it was clear early that it still bothered him.
“I’ve been trying to do a little bit, and it’s been sore,” he said. “I’ve just been trying to fight through it. I’m not sure if that’s been setting me back or not. But it’s just something that’s still been lingering on.”
“Kyle doesn’t look good,” Gray said bluntly. “Something’s not right there, so they’re still trying to figure out, the medical staff, exactly what that is. But right now it’s just nothing positive to go on as far as him playing right now.”
Exum, who made his season debut three weeks ago against Duke, turned his left ankle against Miami and had to be helped off the field in the second quarter. He got his ankle taped and tested it on the sideline, ready return, but he never got back in. His absence Tuesday suggests he has a ways to go.
“It will be close to see if he’s out there this week, it sounds like,” Gray said.
Those injuries, along with freshman Chuck Clark‘s ankle injury (he was in blue Tuesday), puts a strain on Tech’s cornerback depth. A starting lineup isn’t hard to fill out — Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner would play safety as usual, with Kendall Fuller and Facyson at cornerback — but it makes playing more exotic defenses harder.
If injuries prevent Kyle Fuller, Exum and Clark from going, in the nickel, Bonner would play the nickelback spot, with redshirt freshman Der’Woun Greene coming in at free safety, as was the case late against Miami last Saturday.
Bonner, despite getting burned on occasion this year, is critical to the defense’s success, Gray said. The junior played three different positions against Miami — a robber spot, nickelback and free safety — in various coverages.
“He only concerns me, let me put it like this, when he doesn’t do things that are sound,” Gray said. “From a football player’s standpoint, it’s hard for us to function without him out there. And when he’s technique fundamentally sound, he’s fine. When he’s not, then we give up a run against BC that shouldn’t be given up.
“Other than that, he’s consistent about 80 percent of the time. It’s the 20 percent that kills me about him.”
Facyson can fall into that trap sometimes too. He got burned deep a couple times against Miami, first on a double move that took the ball down to the 1-yard line and set up a touchdown and later on a deep ball that he misjudged, leading to an 84-yard touchdown grab.
“He’s aggressive in nature, which you like that part about him, but you’ve just got to do it from a fundamental standpoint,” Gray said.
The door isn’t closed on Fuller or Exum playing Saturday. Fuller, who’s been frustrated by this latest setback, particularly after the injury problems he had last year, is taking his rehab day-by-day. He doesn’t want to miss Senior Day, but he’s realistic.
“I can’t do anything about it now except to get healthy,” he said. “It is what it is. When I get back out there, I’m looking forward to being able to play at that high level again. All I can do now is try to get back out there.”
Here are more notes and quotes from Tuesday night interviews …
– Other injury updates of note: RT Brent Benedict was in a blue jersey Tuesday, with Laurence Gibson once again working with the first team. WR Willie Byrn was in a regular practice jersey, despite a tailbone injury that he suffered in the Boston College game.
– In James Gayle‘s five years at Virginia Tech, he’s never played Maryland. And he’s been waiting.
“I was a fan of Maryland, kind of,” he said of the recruiting process. “But they said I was too small to play at Maryland. We’ll see how small I play on Saturday.”
Gayle’s recruitment came during Ralph Friedgen‘s time in College Park. The Bethel High product concedes that a lot of teams thought that about him during the recruiting process for a reason, though.
“I mean, I was too small,” he said with a laugh. “I was 207 pounds, but that’s not what I was trying to hear.”
– On the uniform front, I don’t know if this means anything or not, but several players wore the Hokie Stone helmets during practice Tuesday. Many players like to wear the gameweek helmet during practice to get used to how it will feel.
Tech has auctioned off the helmets but to my knowledge hasn’t mailed anything out. The team said earlier this year that it would break them out again at some point. Time is running out for that, so Saturday might be an opportunity.
The Hokies have only worn them once this year, in a 17-10 win at Georgia Tech in September.
– It was cold Tuesday. So cold that snowflakes were falling during practice. Freshman Kalvin Cline, a tight end from Boca Raton, Fla., said he had five layers on. Only a few brave souls, Stanford and fellow receiver Charley Meyer and a handful of offensive linemen, went sleeveless.
Stanford, who was born in Canada, said the cold still bothers him, since he lived in Georgia for a couple years.
“I have to bundle up to stay warm,” he said “But I know much colder weather, growing up in childhood. Kind of in the middle.”
– I plan to write more on the blocking effort the Hokies had against Miami later this week, but offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said just because the numbers looked better, that doesn’t mean his group’s effort was necessarily as good as it has been this year.
“I think sometimes things appear to be one way more so than the other, and so just like in some games I might have said, even though we didn’t run the ball for a ton of yards, it might not have been that bad in terms of what we did up front,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say in this one that it was due to just playing that much better than we had in other games. I think it was a collective effort. Our receivers did a great job blocking on the perimeter. Our backs ran hard. It’s a group effort. And I thought as an entire group, they played well.”
What was Grimes’ key point going forward?
“That doesn’t just happen because you decide to go play well or play hard in just one game,” he said. “It happens because of the work and the preparation that you put in. … If you don’t go out and work this week the same way, it doesn’t mean anything.”
– Grimes had great things to say about David Wang, who he thinks has turned a corner the last two weeks after the two had a long discussion.
“He’s a really smart kid, very cerebral and at times may overthink things a little bit,” Grimes said. “And two weeks ago, he and I had a long talk and I said, ‘Look: look at the defense, assess the front, make your call and then go play. Go play, and play hard to the whistle. And quit thinking so much that maybe it’s holding you back a little bit.’
“And I think he took that to heart and played really well. And I’ll give him a lot of credit for the game that we had on Saturday, because there were a lot of times in the run game and in protection that he matched up one-on-one with a really big nose guard and if you can run the ball against a 3-4 defense, then your center’s doing something well.”
Wang had 16 knockdowns against Miami, earning ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors.
– Receivers coach Aaron Moorhead was just as psyched about his group’s blocking. He said his group had seven downfield blocks that helped spring runs of 15 yards or more, the most he’s ever seen.
“The hustle plays, the blocking, is what makes you proud as a coach,” he said. “You understand those guys are working their butt off.”
– D.J. Coles stood out as a perimeter blocker. Running backs coach Shane Beamer drew from his dad Frank‘s well to praise him.
“D.J. was, to quote my dad, getting after people,” Shane said. “He flat got after you, I think is what he says. He was getting after people.
– Receiver Josh Stanford said he heard — and he emphasized that he was unsure if it was true or not — that the Miami coaches in the essentially said everybody’s job in the secondary is open for the taking after the way Virginia Tech shredded the ‘Canes last week.
Does that make him feel good as one of the receivers who was a part of that?
“Not really, because we want them to beat Duke,” he said to a chorus of guffaws from reporters.
– Right guard Andrew Miller was asked if he would have to manage emotions on Senior Day, which he said will be “bittersweet” day.
“Managing emotions? I’m not a very emotional guy,” he said. “I’ll leave that up to my sister.”
– It might be emotional for some players, though. Linebacker Jack Tyler, a former walk-on whose dream it was to play at Virginia Tech, said the years have flown by in Blacksburg.
“I feel like the most emotional part will be that last walk, just because my parents will be there,” Tyler said. “Once we’re actually running out in the stadium, I feel like that’s just going to be football as my focus.”
–Running back Trey Edmunds said his dad, Ferrell, told him he had to make a good impression going down to Miami last week, since that’s where he played most of his NFL career as a tight end for the Dolphins. Trey had four touchdown runs.
This week’s opponent, Maryland, is Ferrell’s alma mater.
“I said heck, now we’re playing your dad’s alma mater so certainly we could get eight this week,” Shane said.
What was the reason for the offense’s running success?
“The offensive line was moving people and displacing people,” Shane said .”That makes it easy on a running back. Trey and J.C. [Coleman] were really locked in on what they were doing. And just the passion and the energy that our guys played with as a football and on offense was fun to watch.”
– Shane said he popped in to the meeting where athletic director Jim Weaver informed the department’s staff that he would be stepping down from his post because of health reasons. He said it was emotional.
“Coach Weaver’s been awesome for Virginia Tech,” Shane said. “You look at where this entire program was in 1997 or whenever it was that he came to now, the facilities, he’s been awesome from that standpoint.
“He’s been very, very good to me. When he came here, I was a player here and a lot of games, the away games, he would stand down on the sidelines and I’d go out there and snap or cover a kick or whatever. And as soon as I came over to the sideline he’d have something positive to say to me. It’s the old football coach in him coming out.
“And ever since I’ve gotten into coaching he’s been very, very supportive and very good to me and has been a great resource. I know I speak for the whole athletic department, we’re certainly going to miss him. His entire family is great and he’s been great for Virginia Tech and great for me.”