Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray is tasked to replace two 3-years starters at the safety spots this offseason. The last two safety pairings, Kyshoen Jarrett-Detrick Bonner and Eddie Whitley-Antone Exum, were dependable units that provided stability on the back end of the Virginia Tech defense. That stability was critical from 2011 through last season because the Hokies played many young corners during that stretch.
While dependability was a strength of those groups, playmaking wasn't. When Coach Foster used Jarrett around the line of scrimmage, it forced Bonner into a role as a deep centerfield safety. As you saw on the game-tying touchdown against Georgia Tech, Bonner didn't have the range to provide deep help to Donovan Riley when he was beaten by DeAndre Smelter.
Most of the time, the Hokies safeties are only responsible for a third of the field, so it rarely hurts the defense. Having a safety with additional range and playmaking ability could only make the current scheme better.
To find that range and ball-hawking ability, Gray targeted Ocean Lakes safety Jahque Alleyne. Few programs have produced as many top recruits, especially in Virginia, as Ocean Lakes over the last handful of recruiting cycles, and Alleyne is certainly a tantalizing prospect. On film, he looks significantly bigger than his listed 6-1,180 pounds, and he demonstrates outstanding range and ball skills that could give Coach Gray the playmaker that the safety position has been missing.
Frankly, this play had me stand up out of my seat. Alleyne is playing a deep cover 2. You can see his progression on the play. He checks run inside, then turns his hips back to the outside to cover his deep half on his left. The entire time he is looking into the backfield, reading the quarterback. When he recognizes that the quarterback is throwing a deep post to his right, he completely turns his hips and undercuts the throw.
On the play, Alleyne covers between 15 and 20 yards from the moment that the ball is released to the ball's arrival. He finds the football, tracks it, and then plays it at the highest point. This is a thing of beauty. He is fluid in his hips and reads the play perfectly. He shows similar range in run support. Here, he is playing a centerfield free safety. The offense runs a toss sweep to the field side, similarly to the toss play that Georgia Tech has had success with against Virginia Tech.
As I pointed out when discussing Adonis Williamson, it is absolutely critical that Hokie safeties are strong in providing alley run support. Alleyne has the speed and range to provide alley support from a center field free safety alignment to both sides of the field. You can see his range and how he squares his body to the ball carrier. This is excellent.
Here is the frustrating part of the review. There were not many defensive snaps highlighted on Alleyne's senior film. Most of the footage came from Alleyne playing wide receiver. As with the other clips, Alleyne showed excellent ball skills that transition well to the free safety spot. Here is perhaps his most impressive catch; a leaping grab in between two defenders.
According to his highlight tape, Alleyne averaged over 25 yards a catch and had 8 touchdowns. He isn't a great route runner, yet he attacks the football and rips it away from defenders. He has good speed and broke several big gains off simple slant routes. Perhaps most exciting is that Alleyne was outstanding in the VHSL 6A state championship game against Centreville. Alleyne scored a second half touchdown after snaring a slant, and he delivered several crushing blocks. Here was one of several vicious crack back blocks on Centreville linebackers that Alleyne delivered that day.
The coaching staff faces a bit of a conundrum with Alleyne. While the Hokies don't have an experienced group at safety, the group is young and talented. Meanwhile, on offense, the Hokies are hopeful that Jaylen Bradshaw and Kendrick Holland can pitch in at wide receiver after a 2014 where other options like Carlis Parker and Deon Newsome never established themselves as anything but a threat on jet sweeps. It will be interesting to see if the Hokies offensive coaches are tempted to move Alleyne over to offense. He certainly could contribute immediately as a blocker and as a down the field threat who has a chance to make plays on jump balls.
If defense is the future for Alleyne, expect him to get work both at free safety and rover. There isn't much film of Alleyne in man coverage, and I think proving himself in man and adding strength to help his support in the running game will be focus areas for what likely will be a redshirt year. With his range, Alleyne can bring a unique style of play to the safety position in future seasons.