The Virginia Tech football spring game was everything you would expect a Virginia Tech spring game to be, cloudy, a little windy, and dominated by the defense. While I certainly saw some promising things on offense (most notably Logan Thomas' first drive and the burst of Tony Gregory), one thing caught my eye the way I had hoped something would. That thing was Antone Exum.
Exum is in the running to be the Hokies' starting free safety this year, and from what I saw on Saturday, he has a helluva shot at winning the job. Although the favorite for the starting position is Eddie Whitley (who played well with one solo tackle for loss, assisting on four more tackles as well as intercepting a JuJu Clayton hideous lob pass), Exum looked to me to be the future at the position. With four solo tackles and three passes broken up (including an interception out of bounds on a beautiful read), he caught more than just my eye, he seems to have caught Coach Beamer's as well, "I like playing games because I think some people will step up. It always seems to happen when you do that. I think a good example of that was Antone Exum. He came out in a game-like situation and really stepped up..." (quote courtesy of hokiesports.com). If a young man can earn post game mentions from the man in charge, you can't help but wonder how high his ceiling could be.
I know the spring game is a spring game. It's basically a glorified scrimmage that brings in some concession cash and gets people excited for the new season (on defense at least). However, the play of Exum was enough to get me excited to see him get on the field this season. He looked extremely comfortable in coverage situations as well as showing the ability to wrap up the ball carrier when needed. The range he showed on the aforementioned out of bounds interception, where he came from over the top to beat the receiver to the ball on a sideline fade impressed me immensly.
This is no knock on Kam Chancellor, who was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks that very same dreary Saturday, but I am beginning to like the idea of having a free safety that can match up one on one in coverage. If you remember last year's opening game against Alabama, Chancellor had problems matching up with a receiver in three receiver sets. It cost the team dearly in the game, and furthered the knock on Kam upon entering the NFL Draft as an athlete who could be exposed in man coverage. I certainly appreciated Kam's talent as a big safety who could lay the wood in highlight reel type ways, but I think a safety who can make the sure tackle as well as excel in coverage could go a long way in helping the defense exceed this year's lower than usual expectations. Although the expectations are lowered mostly due to youth on the unit at key spots.
This is still a Bud Foster coached defense however, and when the going gets tough most Hokie fans look to Bud to right the ship, with good reason. It's players like Exum that keep the ball rolling for Bud and the Hokies. Because a Redshirt Freshman free safety can make eye opening plays with his 4.4 speed and coverage ability, the defense can march to the same beat that we as fans are accustomed to seeing.
I'm not saying Antone Exum is a future Thorpe Award winner. I'm not even sayng he will be the starter at free safety this season. What I am saying is in a somewhat dull spring game on a cloudy Saturday where players are looking to stand out, Antone Exum certainly did. But don't ask me. Ask Frank.