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Virginia Tech football spring preview: Defensive backs

Will this unit be better in 2019?

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at North Carolina
Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Tech Hokies have long been known for having one of the best secondaries in the nation. Since Tech’s rise to prominence in 1993, the Hokies have generally always had a strong secondary that saw multiple players go on to play in the NFL.

Whether it was the 90s that featured Tyrone Drakeford, Antonio Banks, Torrian Gray, Pierson Prioleau and Ike Charlton, among others, to the 2000s with DeAngelo Hall, Eric Green, Kam Chancellor and the Fuller brothers, the Virginia Tech secondary was always loaded with talent and a mindset that embodied defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s philosophy to a tee.

Well, in 2018, this unit took a major step back. The Hokies lost Terrell Edmunds, Brandon Facyson, Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander all to the NFL. Foster knew the secondary could be an issue due to all of the youth. Making matters worse, VT’s top signee, Jeremy Webb, a four-star JUCO transfer, ruptured his Achilles’ tendon and missed the entire season. That meant redshirt freshman Caleb Farley, who was expected to play receiver before he tore his ACL in 2017, started at one spot while true sophomore Bryce Watts started opposite Farley.

As expected, this unit struggled. Behind the starters were other inexperienced players like Jovonn Quillen and Jermaine Waller. It was a tough season for the cornerback group.

The safety spots were in good hands with junior rover Reggie Floyd and sophomore free safety Divine Deablo. Of course, Deablo’s injury kept him in and out of the lineup, while Floyd had some issues in coverage at times.

Spring Roster

CB: Caleb Farley, Bryce Watts, Brion Murray, Jovonn Quillen, Jermaine Waller, Nadir Thompson, Armani Chatman, Nasir Peoples

This is still a young group and the team received some bad news late in the season when it was revealed Webb ruptured his other Achilles’ while recovering from their first injury. This was obviously a tough setback for Webb and the team and now anything he can give the Hokies from this point forward should be considered a bonus. Head coach Justin Fuente said Webb was one day away from being cleared when he sustained the injury.

The hope here is Farley and Watts are better after a year of experience. Both had some big moments last season and both also had their fair share of struggles. Farley, a stellar athlete, struggled with tackling at times. Quillen, a senior, got the first extensive playing time of his career in 2018. Murray is a JUCO and should figure prominently in the two-deep.

Waller, Thompson, Chatman and Peoples will all look to stand out this spring and battle their way into the two-deep. Chatman and Thompson have the size and quickness to help in the slot.

Safety/WHIP LB: Reggie Floyd, Divine Deablo, Chamarri Conner, Devon Hunter, Khalil Ladler, Tyree Rodgers, Ny’Quee Hawkins, J.R. Walker

This is an intriguing group. Floyd is a multi-year starter and a leader. He is a terrific run defender and the Hokies are counting on him this year. Deablo possesses big-time potential and is a difference-maker in the passing game. The Hokies need him on the field each week.

Conner is another promising young player. Rodgers received some playing time last year and, despite struggling initially, appeared to improve. Fans should be excited about a pair of early enrollees in Hawkins and Walker.

Hunter is one of the top recruits in Virginia Tech history. However, he and the team decided he would redshirt last season and be set to make an impact in 2019. This spring is huge for Hunter and we hope to see him take a big step forward. Ladler handled the WHIP linebacker position quite well last year and will be entering the spring as the top guy at the position.

We look forward to seeing which players take a step forward this spring.