Virginia Tech has gained a reputation over the past 15 years for producing talented defensive backs. From Pierson Prioleau to DeAngelo Hall to Jayron Hosley, the Hokies have sent multiple DBs to the NFL.
Most recently, Hosley, an All-American in 2010, was drafted in the third round of April’s NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
As the 2012 season fast approaches, the Hokies expect to have another stellar secondary.
Kyle Fuller returns at one cornerback spot, while Antone Exum makes the move over from free safety to corner.
However, the Hokies will start a pair of sophomores at the safety positions. Kyshoen Jarrett will be the rover, while Detrick Bonner starts at free safety. Both players are making the move from cornerback.
Despite some inexperience, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has to be excited about this group.
Here are four things you should know about the Hokies’ secondary in 2012.
Fuller, a junior, likely would have been first-team All-ACC as a sophomore had he not spent much of his season filling in at whip linebacker where the Hokies were decimated by injuries.
At 6’0”, 181 pounds, Fuller filled in admirably at linebacker despite being undersized for the position. He showed his ability to tackle and was always around the ball.
But Fuller is a cornerback. And a very good one.
Returning full-time to his natural position, Fuller should have a big year. Cornerbacks who can cover and tackle like Fuller generally find themselves as top NFL prospects.
If Fuller is healthy for every game, he will receive All-American consideration.
Exum has started 18 games over his first two years in Blacksburg. In 2011, Exum started 11 games at free safety and three at rover.
In the spring, coaches decided to move Exum to cornerback.
Playing free safety, Exum did show some ball skills. In 2011 he finished with 10 pass breakups and one interception. He also forced two fumbles.
Exum, a junior, certainly has tremendous size (6’0”, 219 pounds) for the cornerback position. He is also fast and a good tackler.
Playing the corner position is a bit different from safety, though. While Exum is fast, does he have the fluidity in his hips to turn and run with wide receivers?
Exum is a hard-working player, and combined with his outstanding physical ability, Exum will team with Fuller to form one of the better cornerback duos in recent Virginia Tech history.
Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner were both freshmen cornerbacks in 2011. Neither played a lot as the Hokies had a veteran secondary.
In spring practice, the Hokies decided to move Bonner to rover and Jarrett to free safety after Exum moved to cornerback. By the end of spring practice their roles were reversed and Bonner was moved to free safety, and thrived.
Throughout the spring, Bonner seemed to embrace the change while Jarrett struggled at times. Bonner was named most improved defensive player in the spring. Keep in mind, Jarrett was a true freshman who practiced exclusively at cornerback in 2011.
Both players are physical and can cover. By moving Jarrett and Bonner from corner, Bud Foster was assured of having his four best defensive backs in the lineup at all times.
This is one area where an injury could really set the Hokies back.
The defensive line and linebackers have tremendous depth.
At corner, the Hokies have depth when you consider the team could move Jarrett or Bonner back there if Fuller or Exum are injured.
The transfer of James Farrow before spring practice hurt the Hokies more than they originally thought. True freshman Donaldven Manning is expected to be on the field for the Hokies this fall.
While Manning is extremely talented, he is undersized and the Hokies would have preferred he redshirt so he could spend an entire offseason in the weight room.
But, the safety position could be a problem if any of the four starters is injured. Exum can move back there if need be, as can Fuller.
There is no doubting the talent in the secondary, but one significant injury could create major problems for the Hokies this season.