When Antone Exum announced in January that he would be returning for his senior season, he, like many Virginia Tech fans, had August 31, 2013 circled on his calendar. That date, of course, is when the Hokies travel to Atlanta to open the season against defending national champion Alabama. Unfortunately for Exum, he would tear his ACL in late January, putting the beginning of his 2013 season in jeopardy.
Throughout the offseason, Exum maintained he would be ready for the season opener. Last week, though, Exum visited Dr. James Andrews, who told him he needed several more weeks of rehabilitation, likely keeping him out for the first month of the season.
That, Hokie fans, means Exum is out against the Crimson Tide, which could be a big problem. Or maybe not.
Exum's return to the Hokies gave defensive coordinator Bud Foster nine returning starters on what most expect to be a very stingy defense. Exum and fellow senior Kyle Fuller form one of the top cornerback combinations in the country. However, this group, behind Exum and Fuller, struggled in 2012. A pair of freshmen, Donovan Riley and Donaldven Manning, were essentially the top backups to Fuller and Exum, both All-ACC players, and it often showed.
Exum's injury did give Manning and Riley the opportunity throughout spring practice to work at Exum's starting spot. In addition to Riley and Manning, the Hokies signed an outstanding recruiting class which was heavy on defensive backs. Fuller's brother, Kendall, was one of the top cornerback recruits in the country. Fellow freshman Brandon Facyson enrolled in January and opened Foster's eyes with an impressive spring.
So, in some ways, the Hokies were preparing to begin the 2013 season without Exum. Or at least not expecting Exum to be 100 percent if he did play.
Last week, upon the beginning of fall practice, the Hokies released a new depth chart. The depth chart had Kyle Fuller at one corner and Facyson and Manning as co-starters at the opposite spot. Neither are Exum at this point, but many believe Facyson has the makings of a future star.
This weekend, though, the Hokies received more bad news at the cornerback position. Manning left the team Saturday to contemplate his future. On Sunday, the Hokies announced he would transfer. This, of course, led to the release of a new depth chart, sans Manning.
The updated depth chart has Kendall Fuller starting opposite Kyle at corner. Facyson is listed as Kendall's backup. Riley is Kyle Fuller's backup.
This was bad news for Foster as his plans for Kendall Fuller included him playing a lot at whip linebacker, essentially an extra defensive back. With news of Manning's transfer, Kendall and Facyson will continue to compete at cornerback while Ronny Vandyke, who was injured Saturday, is the lone starter at whip.
There is no doubt the Hokies will miss Exum even more now than they would have a week ago. Their depth has taken a hit, affecting multiple positions.
The same problem as last year (depth) could be a problem this year. And that is a tall task considering one of the better quarterbacks in the country and an outstanding pair of wide receivers are on the docket in less than three weeks. Exum would have likely drawn the assignment of covering Alabama's super sophomore receiver Amari Cooper. That task will likely now go to Kyle Fuller.
A pair of extremely talented freshmen better be ready. There will be no better opponent to make your name against than the Crimson Tide.
Yes, the Hokies will miss Exum. When you play a team such as Alabama, it's often best to employ an all-hands-on-deck approach. The Hokies will do so, but they are missing a fairly significant set of hands.