Monday marked practice number eight of the Hokies' fall camp. With three weeks until Virginia Tech-Florida State, it was a defensive flavored media session this afternoon.
"Big" Man on Campus
"He's really really big,"
"Honestly, I thought Coach Nix might have been a player, how big he is."
"Pretty big dude."
That's how Khalil Ladler, Divine Deablo, and Devon Hunter described new safeties coach Tyrone Nix. For a position coach, Nix's experience is equally as impressive as his stature. Bullet points on his resume include defensive coordinator stops at Southern Miss (at 29-years-old) and Ole Miss. Last season he served as senior defensive analyst at Texas A&M. There was also a co-defensive coordinator gig at Middle Tennessee State, and ultimately that's the road that led to Blacksburg.
After the conclusion of a Memphis-Middle Tennessee State series in 2014, the two opposing staffs shared thoughts on the film and that's when Justin Fuente caught a glimpse of what Nix had to offer.
"We've coached against each other before," said Fuente. "At the end of our series when I was at Memphis and he was at Middle [Tennessee State] we visited on the phone the day after the game because we weren't scheduled to play each other anymore ... A kind of exchange of ideas to help each other get better. Between the people that I know in this business really well, my limited interaction with him before we had an open position, and then after we had an opening, as that kind of slowly went through what I thought we needed ... I felt like he was the perfect fit for us."
Fuente heaped praise on Nix, respect by the spoonful. For a head coach known to be reserved, the gesture stood out.
"He has a tremendous amount of experience," added Fuente. "He's coached in or done about everything in terms of schematically. He certainly has a presence about him. He's demanding. Hold those guys accountable. I think he's exactly what we needed. Happy to have him on board. Certainly has those kids ears in the back end. I think he has instant credibility when he walks in the room. Those guys are responding and learning from him."
And while the players joked about Nix's physical presence, they also made clear they're happy with his coaching style as well.
"He's fitting into the system pretty well," said Deablo. "He knows a lot, you can tell he knows a lot. I like the energy he brings into the position room. He makes jokes sometimes, but he'll also get on you a lot."
Five Guys, Blacksburg
Given the departure of talent from the cornerbacks' room, one might expect CBs coach Brian Mitchell to be bearish over a group that has zero combined starts.
"This is the first time where I've been in this position," said Mitchell. "Not having a veteran guy coming back. I'm excited about my guys. I think, top to bottom, I'm just as talented, if not more talented."
You can't coach speed, and Mitchell is working with some burners and former track standouts.
"I've got Caleb Farley and Bryce Watts who are 100-meter champions in their [respective] states," explained Mitchell. "You've got Nadir Thompson who runs 20.9 in a 200-meters, or close to it. I've got a lot of young men in that room that have a ton of talent."
On top of that, Mitchell elaborated and said he has five guys that he feels really comfortable with. He didn't provide names (the media goofed and should've asked for those), but in addition to Farley, Watts, and Thompson, the consensus in the room was Jovonn Quillen and Jermaine Waller.
Speed kills, but experience matters too. How does Mitchell reconcile that age barrier?
"You can't close the gap until they get on the football field against Florida State," admitted Mitchell. "In the meantime, we can be assignment sound, we can be running to the ball. We can be doing all those things technique and fundamental wise that are going to make us successful, and make us good football players like Greg [Stroman] and Brandon [Facyson]."
Circling back to Farley now. For anyone that doesn't know his storied adventure. The 247Sports rated 4-star athlete was coveted by Tech coaches on both sides of the ball. Two springs ago, he came in as a CB, then moved to wide receiver after seven practices, stood out in the 2017 spring game, tore his ACL early in the following fall camp, and is now back on the defensive side of the ball. Mitchell wanted everybody, especially me, to know the ballyhooed redshirt freshman was simply on loan to the offense.
Henry: "You've mentioned Caleb Farley just now, obviously he was wide receiver last year in the spring game and then --
Mitchell: He was a borrowed wide receiver. Just, yeah.
Mitchell went on to praise Farley.
"Each and every day, you see those natural instincts, starting to kick in," noted Mitchell. "Each and every day the kid is just a sponge. 'Coach, what more can I do? Give me something else to do. Give me something else to build on.' I couldn't ask for a better room of kids ... and yes, they know they're young, but they're hungry too. Having Caleb back over there is going to be a blessing for all of us."
I know that there's been lots of discussion about whether moving Farley away from wide receiver was the right move. I was pretty neutral about it up until today. The way Mitchell talked today about his mental and physical skill makes me a firm believer in what the coaching staff has done up to this point with Farley.
Odds and Ends
- Fuente noted in his opening statement this is the first week of practice where the players are out of summer school, and how that's nice for the freshman to get into the flow of just practicing.
- When asked about what freshman have stood out to him in the first part of camp as players who can take coaching and take it to the field, TE James Mitchell was the first name out of Fuente's mouth. He also listed LB Dax Hollifield, and "all of those young DB's," as players who continue to improve as they go through camp.
- Fuente also said the team plans to scrimmage for the second time of camp tomorrow. Their first scrimmage was a few days ago, but didn't allow for much free-flowing action.
"Totally controlled, all normal down and distance. We didn't drive the ball, we lined up, and saw who could go play. Base offense and base defense," explained Fuente. "Very little scheming going on ... it was a little bit more of 'what do our guys know?' and 'who can go play?'"
The second scrimmage will be much less controlled. Fuente mentioned running red-zone situations, special situations, down and distance. All that fun stuff.
- Fuente also showed off his stand-up comedy skills when talking about Lecitus Smith. Now at offensive guard, Smith came in as a tight end. He was "fighting to stay at 280". The coaching staff told him to "stop fighting it and, like a lot of us, just 'let yourself go buddy'". That drew a chuckle from the assembled media. Smith, by the way, now weighs 313 pounds.