Just days ago, it was announced (on successive days) that two cornerbacks would be transferring from Virginia Tech: Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. The impact of their departures, although lessened by their spots on the depth chart and their playing time to date, can be felt throughout the depth chart in a secondary that was primed for a revitalization in 2013.
The fact is, the Hokies struggled with very similar depth issues last year that came back to haunt them as the season progressed. Their depth issues, created by the early departure of Jayron Hosley and transfer James Farrow, prompted the staff to switch several members of the Tech secondary to different positions, and left the Hokies with only three scholarship cornerbacks prior to fall practice. Two of those players played well a year ago, Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum. But with a knee/ligament injury in January of this year, Exum will not be available for the opener and most likely, quite longer. Furthering this problem is that Manning, the only other player with much experience, decided to transfer after reevaluating his future with the team. That leaves seldom used sophomore Donovan Riley as the only other cornerback on the roster to have seen the field.
With Tookes and Manning gone, it looks like one of two freshmen will man the position until Exum's return with Riley backing them up. Those two players are Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller. While both players are true freshmen, the coaches have raved about Facyson, who enrolled in the spring after graduating high school early. Fuller, considered one of the best recruits in the nation in the 2013 class, just joined the team at the start of fall camp. The coaches love his athleticism and savvy. Behind Kendall Fuller, Facyson and Riley, the Hokies don't have many options, as there is not another scholarship corner on the roster and walk-ons Chris Caver and Nick Bush are listed as the third team corners. In addition, there's a possibility that Kendall Fuller will also be getting some reps at the WHIP linebacker position as well, so health is paramount there. Tech does have a cornerback commitment from the 2013 class that has yet to enroll and is currently at prep school, in Cequan Jefferson, but as of now, they're stuck with those five scholarship players.
At safety, the Hokies have experienced similar losses that have handicapped their depth. First was the loss of Theron Norman, who was third on the depth chart at both safety spots prior to his transfer last year. Then Adeboye Aromire transferred several weeks into the season after Michael Cole overtook his as the primary backup at both spots. Cole then suffered a serious neck injury against Florida State and was forced to walk away from football. That leaves the Hokies back at square one in regards to backups at those positions.
Behind Detrick Bonner are redshirt-freshman Der'Woun Greene and true freshman Chuck Clark. Though Greene had a great spring, it is alarming that if Bonner were to go down that he would be the guy to be called upon. Behind them is walk-on T.J. Shaw. Walk-on defensive back Greg Jones, who played free safety but I believe was also getting looks at corner, also left the program recently. At rover, things are nearly as dire, as behind Kyshoen Jarrett only sophomore Desmond Frye has experience, though he only saw spot duty a year ago. The only other two players listed on the roster are true freshman Anthony Shegog and walk-on Zach Snell. The biggest problem here is the absence of 2013 safety recruit Holland Fisher, who was almost certainly ready to step in and play right away at either of the safety spots. Fisher, like Jefferson, had to go the prep route and will not be available to the Hokies in 2013.
While the fact that Tech will have less depth in the secondary is troubling, the fact that they continue to have problems keeping depth at those positions is alarming. Perhaps it is only a two-year trend, but they can ill-afford to continue recycling players at those positions, counting on guys with little or no experience if they want to be competitive at the level the rest of their roster suggests they do. If they do, players who have no business being on the field at that point might see action as a result of injury or a formation that requires their being out there.
The Hokies will lose at least two of their defensive backs at the end of this year (Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum), so it is paramount they bring in several more secondary players in the 2014 class, or else they risk a similar scenario happening again. Right now, the Hokies have at most five defensive backs coming in (depending on where those players play).
For more updates on the Hokies football team, including positional breakdowns, Gobbler Country is your top choice for all things Virginia Tech sports.