Kyle Fuller being selected by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the NFL Draft helped Virginia Tech build upon its reputation as DBU. The Hokies return two sophomore cornerbacks with elite potential in Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, while highly recruited safety prospects Holland Fisher and C.J. Reavis join the program this fall. With this strong foundation in place, Coach Torrian Gray has been hot on the recruiting trail looking for the next generation of terrific Hokie defensive backs.
Gray's sites are set firmly on Northern Guilford High School corner prospect Mook Reynolds. Reynolds is a 6-0, 175 pound cornerback prospect who rose rapidly in recruiting rankings after several strong performances in seven-on-seven camps.
Interestingly, Reynolds did not play much cornerback for North Guilford. A review of the film showed that Reynolds was used as a hybrid boundary safety/outside linebacker and game-breaking wide receiver for the perennial North Carolina 3AA championship contender Nighthawks. In an interview with Thekeyplay.com, Reynolds noted that the Hokie coaching staff envisions him playing a hybrid nickel corner-whip linebacker, much like Kyle Fuller did often throughout his career. In an era filled with spread offenses where the slot corner must be able to tackle in space, it is critical for any Hokie playing that role to be a physical player who can disguise his coverage and be an effective tackler in tight space. Reynolds, despite his small frame, is a terrific tackler around the line of scrimmage with a unique ability to slip blocks. He also excels in robber coverage, where he aligns showing man coverage, reads the quarterback, and then undercuts routes to make plays. His incredible ball skills, honed as a wide receiver, allow him not only to find the football but created turnovers with his great hands and technique.
Much like Fuller, Reynolds spent most of his boundary safety snaps as an edge defender close to the line of scrimmage. From this alignment, he could play a contain role, get lost in pre-snap checks by the offensive line and blitz, or pursue running plays down from the back side. I was really impressed how he avoided blocks without losing his gap fit responsibility in the running game. His tackling technique is beautiful to watch.
Here the offensive runs a power isolation play from the spread. Their goal is to turn out the defensive end and block down on the nose tackle, creating a seam. The lead blocker, most often a fullback, "isolates" one-on-one with the middle linebacker. There is a jet sweep option fake added designed to influence Reynolds.
At the snap, Reynolds steps outside to address his contain responsibility. When he identifies that neither the motion man nor the quarterback has the football, he hops back behind the kick out block of the tackle on the defensive end and steps into the hole to make a perfect form tackle on the tailback. You will note that Reynolds timed this perfectly, otherwise he could have been "picked" by the defensive end or the fullback could have isolated on him. In Foster's system, good players execute their responsibility on each defensive snap. Great players execute their responsibility and then go make plays. Reynolds executes his assignment and then goes and makes a play time and again on this film. He has tremendous timing, speed, and tackling ability. While I watched him running down plays from the back side, he almost reminded me of Alonzo Tweedy using his blazing speed off the edge. Here is a tremendous example.
Note how Reynolds times the snap count, takes the proper flat angle down the line of scrimmage, and then drags the running back down from behind. With college teams usually running into the boundary, and Reynolds likely earmarked to play the whip/nickel corner, he is perfectly suited to make plays in space rather than take on blockers at the point of attack 20 plus times a game. Still, his shiftiness in tight quarters, like here where he dodges a fullback lead blocking on a jet sweep and then cuts down the runner, will allow him to be very effective just like Kyle Fuller around the line of scrimmage.
All of Reynolds film shows him aligned as the boundary safety, so it is a little tougher to project how well he would cover as a traditional cornerback in man coverage. But in zones, he showed the ability to hide in coverage, read the quarterback, and turn the football over. He also demonstrated the same physical edge that made Kyle Fuller such an effective hitter.
On this play, Reynolds aligns as a deep middle safety against an offensive formation with double slots and a flanker to the field (along with a running back to the field) He shows a deep zone; he has not moved over to align directly over one of the slot receivers.
This is beautifully disguised. The field safety and field corner double the wide receiver. From his centerfield alignment, Reynolds undercuts the outside slot receiver's corner route. He never is in the QB's field of vision. The QB sees the field safety playing over the top on the wide receiver and expects that the corner route from the slot should be open. Reynolds covers a huge amount of space and undercuts the route for the interception. This is tasty stuff.
He also has the jump to fool quarterbacks into thinking they have a wide open receiver, and then close the space to intercept the pass. Brandon Facyson mastered this at his field corner spot last season. Here, the receiver is dragging across the field. Reynolds is playing deep. He turns his shoulders outside to anticipate and take away the slant route, and when he identifies that slant isn't a threat, he turns back to robber the quarterback. The quarterback's eyes take Reynolds right to the football.
Reynolds looks like a promising wide receiver on film as well, and on the above play, he attacks the football and makes a solid-hands catch to complete the play. Reynolds wide receiver film is impressive. He snaps his head around and rips the ball out of the air with his hands. On this play, he even saves a sure fumble and turns it into a solid gain after the quarterback pitches the ball well behind Reynolds. Watch his hands snap out and grab the ball out of mid-air.
Those ball skills make Reynolds ready made to create turnovers against unwary quarterbacks. But, as much as we laud BeamerBall and the defensive secondary's ability to force turnovers, Kyle Fuller made his money as a physical intimidator with his tackling. Reynolds isn't a big kid, but he is a tremendous form tackler who has the timing and closing speed to go for the big hit at the right time. Here are two really impressive hits that echo Fuller and former Hokie Brandon Flowers.
First, we have a bubble screen. Reynolds steps back, recognizes the play, and beats the blocker to the spot.
And, perhaps if Foster wanted him to play as a free safety, he can find the football and lay a lick.
Based on this film, Reynolds could be a solid ACC player at nickel corner, safety, corner, wide receiver, and a kick returner. Even though he will need to add muscle to his frame, Reynolds has a skillset that could make him a unique weapon perfectly suited to Bud Foster's defensive concepts. His versatility allows him to move all around the field and show up in places where the quarterback doesn't expect a defender to be able to defend the run and force an interception from the same alignment. Reynolds has started to get on the radar of other national powers, but I hope that Coach Gray and the Hokie staff can get his signature on National Signing Day. If so, he should be the next pillar of DBU.