Hokies Face a Cornerback Crisis

In the blink of an eye, Virginia Tech lost two would-be starters at corner. Film analysis and insight on how the Hokies cope at corner moving forward.

Adonis Alexander [Mark Umansky]

Cornerback Adonis Alexander's academic ineligibility, coupled with Jeremy Webb's season-ending achilles injury, hit the Hokies like a tsunami last week. The lengthy 6-3 Alexander started 15 games at Tech and his NFL Supplemental Draft status has already received buzz. Webb was a 247Sports Composite 4-star (0.8979) JUCO transfer targeted specifically to come in and play right away. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster was already tasked to retool a defense which lost 4 NFL draft picks. On top of that, he has to game plan for Florida State without a single cornerback that has taken a meaningful snap at the position.

Foster's choices are limited and assessing those options is very difficult given the lack of film for each candidate. Bryce Watts supported the run and chipped in a nice tackle early in the spring game, but was removed very early in the scrimmage. That indicated to me Watts was already counted on as a sure-fire contributor and Tech didn't want to risk exposing him to injury.

"Bryce Watts I thought had a big-time spring," said Foster after the spring game. "He needs to attack the weight room and continue to get stronger. But from a coverage standpoint, the ability to run, I thought he had a big-time spring."

As Watts watched, Tyree Rodgers, JoVonn Quillen, and Jermaine Waller rotated at cornerback. When I watched Waller's high school film, I became impressed with his ability to find the football. On this play, the true freshman early enrollee shows press initially, but right before the snap he bails out to play outside leverage. By allowing a free release to the inside, Waller baits the throw on the post. Because he is looking at the quarterback, Waller can then anticipate the throw and undercut the route.

Yet, my biggest concern as I evaluated his film was when Waller was forced to turn and run with receivers attempting to stretch the field. I wasn't sure if he could run with top-end speed receivers. He ran more like a wide receiver, and didn't seem to have a second gear.

The spring game validated some of those observations. Waller broke up several passes when Josh Jackson and Ryan Willis attempted to stretch the field. However, Sean Savoy adjusted his alignment to the inside to create more space for an outside release. Waller did not have the recovery speed to close the gap. After a perfect fade throw by Willis, Savoy was off to the races for a touchdown.

After the spring game, Justin Fuente noted Waller was limited throughout spring practice due to an injured hamstring. Perhaps that handicapped some of his long speed. Still, to go out there with a handful of practices and a hurt hamstring, Waller made some plays that grabbed everyone's attention, including Foster's.

"He's got length," said Foster. "He just kind of does things naturally. I think he's got some thick skin, which you need to have at that position a little bit."

The 6-1, 179 pound D.C. product would benefit from a redshirt year to get stronger and more comfortable in run support. Unfortunately, at this point that seems like an unlikely luxury.

"I think he's got talent, he's young," said Fuente. "We don't have the time to pull him aside and say, 'Just relax, we'll call you in a couple of years when it's time to play.'"

Tyree Rodgers is the veteran of the group and started next to Watts. Rodgers struggled mightily on the day. He stumbled on the Willis touchdown to Phil Patterson after a terrific run fake drew the safety out of the middle of the field. Perhaps more unsettling from my perspective was a very poor effort by Rodgers in run support. Rodgers was the free hitter trailing Patterson from left to right on your screen) on the Deshawn McClease touchdown run and he fell on his backside right as McClease stepped into the hole.

One stumble, even on a touchdown run, would not be concerning. However, there were several runs where Rodgers was in position to make a tackle and seemed very unwilling to stick his nose in. Most memorable was the first solid Coleman Fox run of the scrimmage.

Rodgers (No. 39) squeezes inside and is unblocked. Fox cuts to his left, right into Rodgers' path. Rodgers is a bit too wide, but he is close enough to Fox to at least attempt an arm tackle. Instead, Rodgers seemingly freezes. Fox runs by him in the hole and then Rodgers is forced to chase the play. In my live notes, I jotted down of a handful of similar plays. Rodgers played a ton of snaps during the game and perhaps the full length film tells a different story. However, based on what I was able to notice, Rodgers' opportunity to start took a major hit in the scrimmage.

JoVonn Quillen, who was noticeable as a special teams performer last season, didn't get as many repetitions as Rodgers and Waller. I have worries about Quillen's ability to get out of his backpedal and his ability to find the football. However, Quillen had a solid performance during the spring game. The only catch I noted against Quillen was Patterson's spectacular one-handed, highlight reel effort. Besides that, Quillen (No. 26) made several sound tackles in run support. For example, on this Coleman Fox run, Quillen is engaged with a blocker and still is able to shed and deliver a solid form tackle on Fox.

I am unsure if Quillen will ever become an effective starter at corner. He plays a little stiff and doesn't seem to find the football quickly. He projects to be a CB who stays close in coverage, but will get beat on some 50/50 passes. However, I think you can steal some repetitions with him with the right defensive calls — play zone coverage and let him see the play in front of him and come up and support — and he will continue to be a valuable special teams performer.

The other options are mysteries. I have been very vocal about my opinion that Caleb Farley would be a huge difference-maker at wide receiver. Coming off an ACL injury, I also feel that corner would put more stress on his knee than at wideout. However, Foster finds himself in the position where he desperately needs Farley to be an All-ACC caliber corner sooner rather than later. Last spring Foster exclaimed about Farley at corner as a "dynamic athlete with dynamic potential". Hokie Nation should hope Foster's bullishness is justified.

Freshman early enrollee D.J. Crossen played cornerback for Dudley HS and perhaps is a possible option at the position. However, based on how his playing time was allocated in the spring game, Crossen seems slotted as a backup at free safety or whip/nickel. While there is a significant need at corner, Crossen struggled mightily in space against former Hokies recruit Bryce Thompson at the Carolina's Shrine Bowl. In particular, Crossen had a difficult time getting out of his backpedal when Thompson curled up against man coverage.

There is also value having a converted corner, who can cover man-to-man, at free safety. The comeback win over Arkansas is a great example. The biggest defensive adjustment Foster made in the Belk Bowl was playing Reynolds over whip Anthony Shegog. Reynolds found himself blitzing him off the edge while the free safety covered the slot man. I believe Crossen has higher upside long term at free safety.

The Hokies also have Nadir Thompson and DeJuan Ellis, a pair of young athletes and 2018 signees, who could make an impact on offense or defense. Thompson, an explosive athlete with incredible short straight-line speed, was likely already accounted for as part of the defensive secondary. Ellis signed as a QB, and fans have clamored for him to play in the slot, but he has the perfect frame and explosive change of direction to be an outstanding cornerback. If the veteran options don't pan out, I wouldn't be shocked if either got an opportunity to make noise at corner.

Right now, Bryce Watts appears penciled in at one CB spot. Reggie Floyd and Divine Deablo are a pair of rangy safeties, and with inexperience at corner, they will need to be sufficient in coverage to protect the newcomers. A big unknown is Mook Reynolds. Reynolds lined up at corner in high school all-star games, but he struggled some in a cameo at free safety last season, and whether or not he has the flexibility to slide out to the corner is unknown. It may not be the final lineup Foster rolls out against Florida State, but because of his experience I wouldn't be shocked to see Reynolds to take first team repetitions at corner opposite of Watts on the opening day of camp. If Farley can turn heads at CB as quickly as he did at WR, Reynolds can move back to free safety or whip/nickel. Deablo suffered a foot fracture last season and was limited with an injury this spring. Reynolds' experience at free safety will likely require the lone returning multi-year starter to move around until the group finds their footing. Devon Hunter, the crown jewel of Tech's 2017 recruiting class, gained a spring's worth of experience at whip/nickel in Reynolds' absence. The possibility of Hunter starting at whip/nickel would allow Foster to move Reynolds to safety or corner as needed.

This season will appear to be a huge test for Foster. Historically, two positions have yielded the biggest impact for the Virginia Tech defense. When the Hokies' defensive tackles are solid, the Hokies' run defense is usually one of the best in the nation. When the Hokies have three solid corners, the Hokies usually are strong against opposing passing games. And when the Hokies have an NFL-caliber cornerback capable of taking away a third of the field in man-to-man, Virginia Tech can use combo coverages to completely unsettle most quarterbacks. Beyond Ricky Walker this season, all of those tools are unknown or nonexistent. It will be fascinating to see how Foster adjusts his scheme to put his inexperienced corners in the best position to be effective.

Comments

1) I really hope that we can get Watkins as a transfer from ND. He would bring experience and talent to the secondary. VT has a history of developing DBs, he would have a great opportunity to start immediately (what he is looking for), and he would also get to play against his former team this fall.

2) I would have to imagine that Mook or Hunter gets a look at CB. They are great players and you can't have one of them sitting on the bench, IMO.

3) Could Deablo get a look at corner? Maybe make Ladler a safety?

I don't think Hunter is an outside corner type guy. If they move him back to safety and bring one of the safeties to corner, I could see something like that.

"I'm too drunk to taste this chicken" - Colonel Sanders via Ricky Bobby

If Ladler's knee had ever fully healed, he'd be the guy moving out. He was moving much more crisply this spring versus last spring, but I don't know if he will ever be anything other than a free safety. Mook got work at corner in high school all star games so we will see if that is where they go. Deablo is a free safety or a rover. Floyd is a free safety or a rover. Hunter is an amazing athlete, but he needs to be at whip or safety.

To me, it is either a freshman like Waller (or a new arrival on campus) or Farley being really good right out of the gate, or Mook will get work at corner to see if they can play him there. If he can, expect Bud to try and get him in on the boundary because Mook would excel as a corner blitz option.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

I could have sworn Mook started out playing corner as a freshman, and looked pretty good doing it along with Terrell. They both moved, but I thought at the time that had more to do with depth at corner than their playing. Maybe I'm mis-remembering though.

I really hope that we can get Watkins as a transfer from ND

Whats the latest on him? I heard he was transferring a while ago and I know its been referenced a few times on here, but I haven't seen anyone of note playing the prognostication game as to where he'll end up. Anyone know of anything? If so, link me.

Could be first time in a long time we don't leave cb's on an island. It's a great opportunity for young players to make a name for themselves as well. we all better brace ourselves for the amount of long completions that are headed our way and this in a year where we don't have a clear and present danger on pass rush. Paging Ricky walker... If ever there was a season to break the single season sack record, it is now.

Breaking the sack record as a DT rather than a DE would be pretty difficult

Breaking the sack record as a DT rather than a DE wouldwill be pretty difficultimpressive

If you're reading the above post and thinking, "is this guy serious?!?," you can safely assume I'm not.

I'm interested to see what approach Foster will take to the situation. Will he be hyper aggressive and send lots of pressure from his front 7 in order to throw off opponents' rhythm in the passing game and keep his inexperienced corners from being caught on an island in coverage for too long? Or will he tailor his system to be more conservative, utilizing more safety help in coverage and more zone coverage in a bend but don't break philosophy? History says Foster is more of a break but don't bend defensive tactician. This will be a very interesting offseason for the entire program. It's hard to predict right now exactly what we will see for FSU.

I am not sure how he will handle the free hitter situation, but when he doesn't feel strong up front, he uses a bunch of designed run blitzes that feature a ton of lateral movement to free up linebackers. Last year I highlighted a bunch of plays where the DTs slanted away from a blitz and the DE opposite of the blitz dropped off. Watching closely, you will see that there should be a defender in accounting for each gap and then a free hitter. Those kind of designed stunts, where the defenders know where they are going as soon as they see run, should speed up their feet.

The challenge with that approach is defending the read option. Historically when Foster resorts to more stunts rather than slanting, the read option can be difficult to stop. I didnt see Taggart at Oregon so I am not sure how effective his QBs are running read options. GT, ND, UNC, Duke, and Pitt (Pickett is a very good runner) could present challenges with scheme or personnel.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Having watched a few USF games the last couple years and generally keeping tabs on Oregon last year, I can say he runs the qb a lot and they looked option-oriented, at least to a non-expert watching casually. Definitely a lot of RPOs. Then again, Quinten Flowers and Justin Herbert were two of the more dynamic qbs in the country the last couple years, and I really don't see anyone of that caliber at Florida State

Also, someone else posted this a few weeks back and it's a good read on Taggarts offensive approach https://www.thedailystampede.com/2018/5/21/17375644/the-gulf-coast-offen...

Well, the positive side is we will have some super experienced corners in a few years.

"I'm too drunk to taste this chicken" - Colonel Sanders via Ricky Bobby

TL;DR- the offense better be able to put up some points this year because our secondary screams "big play potential" for the other team.

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

So the GT game isn't going to look good is what you are saying.....

(yes I'm still bitter that's how the beat us, but it was my 6 yr olds first game and he now hates GT so that's good)

If you don't want to recruit clowns, don't run a clown show.

"I want to punch people from UVA right in the neck." - Colin Cowherd

That is not one of my favorite matchups.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Of the incoming Freshman, Armani Chatman is going to be a factor at CB this year. He is thin, but he is aggressive, quick twitch, and will be a great VT corner.

"Dick to Hyman? DICK TO HYMAN!" - Guy in Lane Stadium crowd when Richard Johnson hit Josh Hyman on reverse pass in 2004.

I hope so. He is the one freshman defensive back who I have not had an opportunity to do a detailed film review on. He is a bit of a mystery to me.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

I know this is a lofty comparison, but he reminds me a little of Jayron Hosley. There is definite natural talent and not super straight-line speed, but good overall athleticism, smoothness, ball skills, and instincts.

"Dick to Hyman? DICK TO HYMAN!" - Guy in Lane Stadium crowd when Richard Johnson hit Josh Hyman on reverse pass in 2004.

If he can sit back and bait throws like Jayron, that would be nice. Punt returner is a question mark now too and Jayron was strong in that area as well.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

French, does the inexperience lean towards more man or more zone calls for us on defense?

"I'm too drunk to taste this chicken" - Colonel Sanders via Ricky Bobby

It really depends on what the guys are good at. If they can turn and run and align properly, but have no clue where to be in a zone (which happens more often than not), Bud will put them on islands and hope for the best. If they are sound in alignment and assignments, but are stiff in their hips, Foster will play more zone.

Foster was masterful in Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson's freshman year. He would line Fuller up on the slot and press, and then play Facyson off a bunch where he could use his (back then) amazing ability to explode and jump routes. Foster could do that with Facyson because Fuller didn't need help in man to man, and he could rotate a safety/corner hybrid in Bonner over the top so Facyson was playing a bunch of short flat zone that looked like man to man at the cornerback spot.

Last year, Facyson was aligning like a corner, but he would bail out and essentially play a deep half like a two-deep safety. That protected him from being threatened over the top while at the same time gave Bud a reliable deep safety who would be in the correct position. Most forget that the biggest reason Adonis Alexander was moved from safety to corner besides need was that Adonis (way too often) had a tendency to bust assignments, and the safety just can't be out of position, especially with run support in the alley, in this defense.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Outspoken team cake advocate. Hates terrapins. Resident Macho Man Gif Poster. Distant cousin to Dork Magic. Frequently misspells words.

Were it not for the static, this is a great gif.

The Poster Formerly Known As The Spirit Of Bernard Basham

Outspoken team cake advocate. Hates terrapins. Resident Macho Man Gif Poster. Distant cousin to Dork Magic. Frequently misspells words.

Lebowski always gets legs

Bacon strips &
bacon strips &
bacon strips &
bacon strips

This season will appear to be a huge test for Foster.

Hope he passes. I trust Bud will put the best duo out there. A good amount of young talent is going to have to mature very quickly at Linebacker and DB if we want to make any noise in the ACC.

"What are you going to do, stab me? - Quote from Man Stabbed

Hope he passes.

I see what you did there

I just sit on my couch and b*tch. - HokieChemE2016

If he passes, can he be promoted? /s

We put the K in Kwality

At the end of the year when Fuente leaves for Texas A&M

"What are you going to do, stab me? - Quote from Man Stabbed

Outspoken team cake advocate. Hates terrapins. Resident Macho Man Gif Poster. Distant cousin to Dork Magic. Frequently misspells words.

If you're reading the above post and thinking, "is this guy serious?!?," you can safely assume I'm not.

We put the K in Kwality

I hope the offense has gotten better.

Is it football season yet?

If the QB position is more efficient, not dynamic but efficient, the offense should be better because it will have more players that the defense has to actively account for.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

I got bored today and went back and watched the OKST game and I really think that you are right and that just experience will be a huge part of it. With Isaiah and cam although it worked still some they didn't really fit the jet sweep mold type guys and last year we were just so young with savoy and JJ running most of the jets and inconsistency at the RB position, I really think Holston is best suited for the option plays? (correct me if im wrong on that French but its what he ran in highschool and seemed to be who was in last year on the actual true option pitch plays after travon). as the year went on the motion stopped freezing some of the Ds because we just had poor execution and josh was so banged up no one really expected him to run it or with any effectiveness if he did. Another year and more PT & experience for savoy and grimsley with the timing and mesh and the backs with Jackson and the mesh points and we have to be better I don't see how we cant offensively actually have an offense that could carry us to some wins this year but at the end of the day a lot of that will come down to the QB play and if we can competently spread out defenses and make the respect the motions and fakes.

#Bapn ain't EZ

Wanna win put boobie in! Let boobie spin coach!

Any word on Nick Watkins, grad transfer from Notre Dame?

https://247sports.com/Player/Nick-Watkins-18713

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

Bud Foster.

Also, thanks for the review, French!

If I were the coaching staff, I would have the Seminole war chant autoqueued to play non-stop when guys are working out in the Athletic complex this summer. Seriously that needs to be beaten into their heads. With this much youth and inexperience, we can't let them get distracted by the stage and the moment.

If I were the coaches I would also tell the players if we get a nice lead on them early, those war chants tend to die down quickly.

I like it. Get them used to Florida State harassment.

Agree with everything but the last sentence. They play that damn war chant for EVERYTHING!

80 yard FSU td run..... obvious war chant
Get a third down stop..... war chant
Pick six on their next offensive drive...... maybe the war chant will turn things around?

Even better. Associate the war chant with adrenaline for VT!

I wants the war chant! I needs it!

If Diablo is healthy, and Reggie Floyd is slender-er... it's going to be alright.

Leonard. Duh.