The Virginia Tech coaching staff went into Spring Practice knowing they needed to improve at several positions on the defensive side of the ball. One of those positions was whip linebacker.
Mook Reynolds was supposed to start at whip last season, but was dismissed from the team in the summer after a felony arrest. Instead, Khalil Ladler and Devon Hunter battled for the starting position, with Ladler eventually winning. Neither player was particularly impressive in the opportunities they received, and Hunter eventually redshirted and moved back to rover.
True sophomore Chamarri Conner played rover a year ago, but moved to whip in the spring to challenge Ladler and JUCO transfer Brion Murray. Whip is a different position on the wide side of the field, as opposed to playing on the short side of the field like he did at rover. However, Conner seems to have taken to the position well, and looks like the favorite to start despite the adjustment.
“It wasn’t hard to transition because I was always playing different positions and moving around in high school,” Conner said. “I was already used to switching it up.”
At 6-0, 211, the staff initially wasn’t sure how well Conner could cover in space, but they’ve been impressed with him so far.
“He’s made good progress,” safeties coach Justin Hamilton said. “Chamarri was a guy that initially, playing rover, we’re thinking maybe a linebacker playing some DB, but he’s able to run and cover, which has been good.”
Besides transitioning from one position to another, Conner has also had to transition from one coach to another. Tyrone Nix departed for Ole Miss after the 2018 season, and Justin Hamilton took over. Conner credits Hamilton for helping ease his transition to whip by slowing things down for him.
“Transitioning to J-Ham, it was a good move, because I like J-Ham a lot,” Conner said. “He sits down and teaches you everything step by step, instead of trying to force you…he’ll take his time with you.”
Conner is expected to upgrade Virginia Tech’s physicality at the whip spot, but he also brings other aspects to the table. Starting rover Reggie Floyd called him a “dog” at ACC Football Kickoff, and Hamilton used similar terminology on Friday.
“Competitive, learns quickly, and he’s a guy that brings a type of dog mentality to the room that I really like.”
Conner was the first player to commit to Virginia Tech in the 2018 recruiting class, and Justin Fuente sees many of the same things Hamilton sees.
“I was pretty pleased with him coming out of spring, and I’m probably just as pleased now,” Fuente said. “He’s a big, strong kid who’s a good tackler, an intense competitor, was one of our better special teams players as a true freshman last year. He’s settled into that role pretty well. I’m excited about his future.”
King Impressing At Running Back
True freshman Keshawn King was a 4-star running back from the Jacksonville area when he signed with the Hokies over offers from Ole Miss, South Carolina, Arkansas, Kentucky, Miami and many others. Known for his explosive ability, he enjoyed a very prolific career at Oak Leaf High School.
As a senior, King rushed for 2,017 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry. He scored 30 rushing touchdowns while finishing with 100+ yards in eight of 11 games. For his career, King finished with 4,834 rushing yards, 62 rushing touchdowns, and averaged 8.2 yards per carry.
Word has leaked out of practice that King has impressed so far, as many expected him to do when he signed. Justin Fuente confirmed that in Friday’s press conference.
“Explosive,” Fuente said when asked about his initial thoughts on King’s abilities. “Had a couple nice runs in the scrimmage. He’s not scared. He pours it up in there. He’s got some elite quickness. He’s been fun to watch so far, we’ve got a lot of work to do with him, but he’s had a good camp thus far.”
While King is competing against more experienced players in guys like Deshawn McClease and Jalen Holston, he is considered to be Virginia Tech’s most explosive option. However, he still has plenty of work to do. Pass protection in particular is difficult for most young players, though Fuente says he sees King as a willing blocker at this stage.
“Being an every down back and running the ball occasionally are two different things,” Fuente said. “But what I have seen is that he’s a willing blocker. He’s not scared to run up there and throw what weight he does have around.”
Transfer quarterback Braxton Burmeister has had his appeal to play immediately rejected by the NCAA. He started for the Oregon Ducks two years ago before redshirting as a sophomore last season. He will appeal the decision.
Virginia Tech has still not received a decision from the NCAA on Coastal Carolina transfer Brock Hoffman.