Few conundrums in college football could be quite so accurately described as a "good problem" than the challenge of replacing players leaving early for the NFL.
Nevertheless, Justin Fuente will have his fair share of headaches as he sets about identifying starters to replace the Edmunds brothers and Tim Settle on defense.
The Hokies are also staring down the loss of other long-term starters like Greg Stroman, Brandon Facyson and Andrew Motuapuaka, players who have formed the core of Bud Foster's defense the last few years.
That means Fuente and company will have plenty of big decisions to make in preseason practice, particularly with several veterans set to be limited by injuries this spring.
In the second part of The Key Play's exclusive interview with Fuente, the head Hokie previews some of those position battles, from the secondary to the defensive line.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. If you missed part one of the interview, focusing on the offense, give it a read too.
The Key Play: After watching Caleb Farley last spring, I think a lot of people (myself included) assumed he'd be a big part of the offense this coming season, particularly as you look to make more big plays on the outside. But we arrive at spring ball, and he's slotted in at cornerback instead. What did you see from him that convinced you to play him there?
Justin Fuente: Everybody gets excited, and I love Caleb on offense, don't get me wrong, but my responsibility is to the team. It's not to the offense and not to the defense; it's to make the best decisions for the team.
In the longer term, I think he has a unique skill set at defensive back. Does it mean he won't move? The primary focus for him right now is to get healthy. But everybody sees him make a couple plays in the spring game against a walk-on corner, and the next thing you know, he's Jerry Rice. I'm not saying he's not, I love the kid. He's one of my favorite players we have here.
I'm not saying he's not gonna play offense; I'm saying, with our situation at defensive back, with a bunch of young people with no experience and a few older guys that have been uneven at best, at times, we have some serious needs there.
To find five defensive backs that can go play at the level we're looking to play at, he's got a definite opportunity to be one of those five guys. So that's where we'll start it out and see where it goes. Caleb's a team player and trusts us and knows how I feel about him on offense, but also knows I've got his best interests at heart and the team's best interests at heart.
TKP: You mentioned the team's youth in the secondary, but you're certainly young at linebacker as well. As you look to replace both your starters there, which players do you see taking reps at the mike spot vs. backer, and who will you need to see the most from this spring?
JF: We don't have a linebacker who's played a meaningful snap here at Virginia Tech, but I like all our guys. I'm excited to watch them go compete and work and see how good they can be, but they haven't played a meaningful snap.
We've got young guys all over the place that I'm excited to go work with. I watch them work and try to mold them and develop them moving forward. We're at different levels everywhere all across the board, and it's going to show in our youth over the next year or so, and I'm pretty excited about that.
We'll try and figure out the best two, who can handle what and certainly we'll have a starting point there. But we're not going to have the second best linebacker sitting on the bench because he's playing behind the first one. We haven't seen enough of those guys to know where it's going to shake out yet, we'll add a couple more guys when the summer starts and try to get it all figured out.
TKP: How surprised were you that Tim Settle decided to declare for the draft, and how did that change the equation at defensive tackle for you?
JF: It made Vinny [Mihota] move inside is basically what it did.
That was Tim's decision and we counseled him and got him plenty of resources for him to make a good decision and that's the decision he made.
How did it affect us? Vinny moved inside and now we've got to do a great job with some of our younger ends.
TKP: So who among those younger ends will you be watching most intently this spring? How do you feel about your depth on the defensive line?
JF: Ricky [Walker] and Jarrod [Hewitt] will get their reps on the inside, at end we've got those three freshman that we redshirted in [Nathan] Proctor, [Tyjuan] Garbutt and [Zion] Debose that need a million reps, and they're gonna get them.
Hopefully, Xavier Burke can come along at tackle to give us our fourth defensive tackle moving forward to give us more depth. He's had a good offseason, he's stronger, he looks better and, hopefully, Emmanuel Belmar will continue to get better and improve at end and give us some depth over there.