Hokies Camp Report: Defensive Backs Edition

Virginia Tech cornerbacks, safeties, and their coaches talked with the media.

Caleb Farley and Brian Mitchell

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.


OK is it just me or does Fuente appear to be preparing for Bud's eventual departure sometime in the future? Just the way he talked about Nix having the big picture.

Edit: Thanks Skutt, nice article.

"Don't go to, go through"

Fuente has to prepare for this, for sure. But, I think Bud wants to see the team return to prominence before bowing out. He knows something special is around the corner and wants to see it through. In 2019 and 2020, the sky is the limit. I can't imagine him leaving before that and can see him staying well beyond it.

Simply, well said. PERIOD

I just posted about this (not specifically about Bud), I think 2020 is our year, for a lot of reasons. 2019 will have too many question marks on the lines, but 2020 seems to be set up pretty nicely.

I didn't get that at all. With all the experience Nix has, I could see him leaving before Bud if the right situation came up for him. Meanwhile, Bud's not going anywhere unless he wants to.

If Coach Fuente is the next VT "Beamer" and here for the long haul, that will be his most important decision- Bud's replacement. Bud is a huge part of why the program has been so successful the past 25 years. VT is never going to recruit in the Top 10 of the country, so he needs to hit a home run with Bud's replacement.

The year is 2040. Bud Foster's been happily retired for 15 years. Somehow, he makes the mistake of cutting down a sick Christmas tree that dies two weeks before Christmas. So he puts it on the street in front of his Claytor Lake home for garbage collection. Someone tweets a picture of it, we get flighttracker up and running, and have a total meltdown about Bud leaving us.

More likely the RT will report that Bud is leaving based on that tweet.

I'd have to dig to find it, but there was a great article from when Fuente's Memphis team initially broke out about how the moment he became a head coach he made a concerted effort to hire coaches who had been head coaches or coordinators before because of what he could learn from them and that they had that capability to consider the "big picture". It's just an attribute he holds in high regard.

You guys need to calm down. As the prophecy fortells:
Quincy Patterson will not just become a mechanical engineer that plays football, but his destiny is to become a mechanical engineer that will change Bud into a Cyborg that cannot be scored on and live forever. Unfortunately, something will go horribly wrong after the operation as Bud defects and takes the DC position at Texas A&M. Quincy will rely on courage, determination and his teammates to make it to the national title where the Hokies meet with Foster and the Aggies. Even with the help of his #1 receiver and fullback Cam Rogers (NCAA has no restrictions about reclassifying as part cyborg at this time) the Hokies are huge underdogs with a defense that has given up infinitely more points to opposing offenses than A&M (3 points, purple pirate sons-a-bitches). It is here in Shreveport, LA (Bowl game locations will be randomized in 2020) where the greatest football game in history will take place. Blow after blow, the Hokies will finally wear down Foster's defense and will go down in the history books as national champions and the only team to win a game 3-0 in double triple overtime!

Cam Rogers

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

you talking about the burbon bowl? I think the mud dogs already got that one on lock.

twitter @smithey_daniel
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I got a feeling Bud is here til the end. If he was going to leave for greener pastures, it would have been after Beamer retired. New head coach, he himself was passed over for the job, and the new coach brought his old DC with him? If he was going to walk away, that was the time.

I think we're going to see Bud here til he retires, and he's got a while to go before that happens. He strikes me as the old Eagles DC, Jim Johnson type who will basically coach til he's dead.

In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.

I agree. I think Bud will coach as long as he has a supportive and challenging work environment with co-workers he likes and trusts. As long as he feels good about coming to work every day, he'll be there, and I really believe VT will be his last coaching job.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

I'm not so sure. I would be surprised if he doesn't have strong aspirations to be a HC. I think it's entirely possible that he has some type of informal agreement to stay with Fu for the first whatever # of years before putting himself fully on the market. As a fan, I hope he stays forever, but he certainly has the qualification for head gig if he wants one.

"Don't go to, go through"

Of course it is possible that Bud would uproot and move on, but me, I would be surprised if he does. He is qualified and capable, but I think he needed the gig to be perfect for him to justify the move. Maybe he's happy with his niche, proud of his accomplishments, and not in need of climbing the ladder to a HC position that might not be nearly as enjoyable as his current job. What he does, he does so well, we love him doing it, he seems to love doing it. I think he keeps on doing it.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

Pretty sure Bud's retirement is the point here. Assuming Fuente stays long-term, he will probably have to find a new DC in probably 5-8 years, if not sooner.

Watching that Nix interview was so endearing to me. I really like this guy. I'm hoping he can blow it out of the water with these safeties.

Also, I'm interested to see what James Mitchell can bring. Despite the good reviews from coaches I'm not expecting to see him play all that much with Keene and Cunningham ahead of him and he being only a true freshman - maybe One or two targets a game.

Same here. Like his accent and seems to be a good guy with good values.

Keene is a true H-back, Cunningham a true in-line TE and Mitchell seems more like a Bucky-type (who can hopefully stay on his feet more than 2yards after the catch) who can be flexed out wide just as much as he stays inside. Lots of versatility and talent in that group.

TE might be my favorite position group for many years to come. You didn't even mention Dieulius who is a combo of all three roles and has some of best hands on the team. I really hope we utilize the TE/H-Back role to max potential because we have 4 playmakers (about to be 5 with nick gallo) at the position.

This. Keene, Cunningham, Deiiulius. Now Mitchell. They compliment each other so well and have a ton of talent. Dalton was just talking about Drake's hands and route running the other day. And Keene is a stud with a hell of a frame for how young he is.

Mitchell is the real deal, and you will see a package of Keene, Cunningham, Delelius, and Mitchell on the field. Hey D coordinator, defend THAT. I love it. 4 huge athletic dudes to try to cover

I love it. 4 huge athletic dudes to try to cover

Nothing says the King's English like gif responses!!

"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."

Don't we coach these kids on how to talk to the media anymore. It's: "but he'll also get after ya a lot".

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

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

I had forgotten that. thanks for the reminder. that was nothing short of EPIC. really man. EPIC.

"I play real sports, not trying to be the best at exercising..." - KP

There's a lot of talk about all the "talent" we lost at DB this past year. And yet, we were destroyed by OSU in the bowlgame. I know that doesn't fall solely on the DB group for that failing, but I'm having a hard time believing we lost all that "talent" too.

Destroyed? I wouldn't say we were destroyed at all. What was it....30-21 or something like that, against one of the most high powered offenses in the country. That isn't bad at all.

...In fact, sour grapes, ...I think we should've won that game.

...this sounds familiar, I ever tell yall I hate fumbles.

I would argue destroyed. We held TOP (yes i know a useless stat, but still....) and they dropped more points and had more yards than we did. I don't understand how if we had the ball ~70% of the time we could lose? Is this how CPJ feels like when GT loses?

1. You can argue the word "talent", but Stroman, Alexander and Terrell Edmunds were all drafted and have good shots at making their NFL squads, so I would agree with the word talent.

2. "Experienced" might be a better word than "talent", because if Adonis and 'Rell were starting in 2018, the secondary would have much more experience than it does now.

3. OK St had a ton of firepower and experience with a senior QB and a senior WR putting up big numbers all year. The QB threw for 4,900 yards and 37 TDs, and the WR caught 1,549 yards and 13 TDs. Pretty good. Interesting note, both were also drafted by the Steelers in the 2nd and 3rd round, and are fellow rookies with 1st rounder, Terrell Edmunds.

4. OK St was held under 40 points 3 times in 2017, beating Texas 13-10, and losing to TCU 31-44, and beating VT 30-21 in the bowl game.

5. A good secondary cannot be expected to dominate every team they play, and cannot be expected to dominate a top offense, but the hope is that a good secondary will be able to win some battles and keep the offense from destroying them. 351 yards passing, 141 rushing, 233yds and 10 receptions to the top 2 WR, 21 receptions to 7 different receivers and only 2 TDs through the air, I would not call that being destroyed.

6. I will admit that a high powered OK St offense put up about 500 yards of offense and made enough plays to win the game, that they possibly could have destroyed the VT defense if OKSt had had more time to work and needed to put up more offense, but given what actually happened, VT played pretty well against NFL caliber talent, with NFL caliber talent.

Yeah, because giving up a lot of yards and points to the best WR corps in the country and a top 3 QB in CFB with your 4th string free safety and backup whip means that the top 25 pass defense with 4 NFL players (including a 1st rounder and 2 other draft picks) on it had no talent.

asshokie - if you read my original comment you'll see that I said that one couldn't solely blame the DB group since Defense (especially Fosters) requires the entire D to work together. But if we were that talented, then it shouldn't matter if we did play "the best WR corps in the country and a top 3 QB in CFB". Seems like everytime we do that though our DBs routinely get exposed or we barely scrape by the skin of our teeth (a la WVU). Agreed we were without several key players in DB though that game, so that point is taken.