During Wednesday’s press conference, Virginia Tech football head coach Justin Fuente announced that safety Devin Taylor is no longer with the program.
“I’m not sure what his future plans are, but we will be moving on this season without him,” Fuente said. “We wish him the best in his future endeavors.”
Taylor, a 6-1, 203-pound redshirt senior, transferred to Blacksburg from Illinois State ahead of the 2020 season. He had ten appearances last year, including eight starts, where he recorded 55 tackles. He played alongside current Las Vegas Raider Divine Deablo in the secondary and tallied 1.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, four breakups and six pass deflections.
A Lansing, Mich. native, Taylor suffered a broken leg at the end of spring practice, limiting him at the beginning of fall camp. He was competing with Devon Hunter at the boundary safety spot before his departure. At Illinois State, Taylor earned All-Missouri Valley Football Conference First-Team accolades at cornerback in 2019.
Fuente said he’s confident in Keonta Jenkins and Jalen Stroman at free safety to fill Taylor’s void. Devon Hunter is currently at boundary safety. Vanderbilt transfer Tae Daley, who has practiced at both spots and was at free safety in the spring, could slide back over to the boundary if needed, Fuente said.
(Editor’s Note: Devin Taylor has entered the transfer portal as of Thursday, Aug. 19, per Andy Bitter’s report.)
More news and notes from Wednesday’s press conference:
Through 11 days of fall camp, offensive line coach Vance Vice knows one thing for sure: he’s got the potential for a deep group.
“We’re shuffling some guys around this week inside,” Vice said. “I try to get them out of their comfort zone a little bit. That may involve throwing Lecitus [Smith] at tackle and Brock [Hoffman] at guard, making sure they understand the scheme, not just understanding their job. If everybody can play multiple spots, I can be three-deep with seven dudes.”
Brock Hoffman, Silas Dzansi, Tyrell Smith, Luke Tenuta and Lecitus Smith were among the group of older guys that Vice mentioned. In the practices that were open to the media, all of them were practicing with the ones.
As for the young guys, Vice said Kaden Moore, a 6-3, 311-pound freshman from Bethlehem, Pa., has had a great camp so far. He’s excited about what Jesse Hanson, a Blue Ridge, Va. native, brings to the table. Derrell Bailey, Jr. continues to improve after moving from the defensive line, too.
Vice also praised Parker Clements, a 6-7 freshman who’s jumped in weight from 260 to 302 in the offseason.
“He’s competitive as crap, now,” Vice said. “He takes stuff seriously, which I like. He’s definitely someone that belongs in this room, and I don’t think I can be any more excited about what he brings us and his future and the success he’s getting lined up for.”
Having the newcomers digest the playbook in June and July is a huge difference too. Previously, freshmen would arrive in late July or early August. More time on campus means more time to gel and adjust to the college life.
“In June, they flop around like a fish on a bank and they can’t find study hall, can’t find the cafeteria, can’t do any of that,” Vice said. “But by the time camp rolls around, they’ve pretty much learned the lay of the land and that’s what we tell them in recruiting: ‘You’re going to come in here in June and die, we know that, because this group will push any newcomer to their limit with how they work, in the weight room, on the field, with their running.’ It’s a tough group just to not be noticed in there if you don’t know what you’re doing.
“This young group, they all want to come in and compete, like Jack Hollifield. He’s at center, and that’s a tough position for a young guy, but he’s caught everybody’s eye because of his athletic talents, and Brock holds him accountable to every call he makes and things like that. Hopefully you don’t have to throw those guys in too early, but in today’s world, you better be ready for anything.”
JUCO transfer Bob Schick and Maryland transfer Johnny Jordan, have quickly impressed as well. Both are battling for interior roles, per Vice. Cory Van Dyke wrote a feature on Jordan and his journey to Virginia Tech on Wednesday.
I’ll dive into the offensive line in more detail in my position preview on Thursday.
Before Wednesday, there wasn’t much clarity in the running back room outside of the knowledge that Jalen Holston, Raheem Blackshear and Keshawn King were going to compete for the starting role. Running backs coach Adam Lechtenberg echoed that to the media, praising all three backs.
The compliments about King were the most intriguing because he’s more of a wildcard out of the three backs. Blackshear and Holston both played last season, but as Chris Coleman detailed in his RB analysis, it’s time for King to turn it on. From what Lechtenberg said, it sounds like King’s made progress in that area.
“Keshawn is a talented guy, he’s always had some big-play potential, and he’s showing up to be more consistent and accountable in his assignments, on and off the field,” Lechtenberg said. “We’re really pleased with his fall camp so far. In the spring, he was really good, he had a good summer workout-wise, so we’re really excited for his potential as a big play guy. He’s just been more consistent and he’s acting like more of an older player, where he’s helping the other guys out, which is what we need from him. That’ll help him get his opportunities.”
Lechtenberg mentioned that while there are two “tiers” of backs, the trio that gets reps with the starters, and then the rest, are all pushing each other.
“The second tier group is pushing the first tier group,” Lechtenberg said. “Raheem, Jalen and Keshawn, they’ve all continued to push each other and will continue to do that over the next few days, competing for the job…they’re putting themselves in a good position, and that second tier is getting better every day. It’s pretty good competition, which is exactly what we want.”
In terms of the second group, Lechtenberg mentioned Marco Lee and Tahj Gary are both understanding the offense better. Out of the newcomers, Malachi Thomas, a 6-0, 197-pounder from Hartwell, GA, is the furthest along in understanding the whole offense.
The return of junior veteran corner Jermaine Waller after missing the majority of 2020 means one spot is up for grabs opposite him. Cornerbacks coach Ryan Smith said Dorian Strong, Armani Chatman, Brion Murray and Nadir Thompson have all been battling for that role.
“It’s been a fun camp to watch those guys battle,” Smith said. “Dorian, Armani and Brion, even a guy like Nadir Thompson who started against Duke, they’ve been battling. I won’t say one guy has emerged to be the starter, but Armani Chatman is having a phenomenal camp, probably the best I’ve seen him play since I’ve been here, and Dorian Strong is having a really good camp. Those guys show up, they’re battling and working, they’ve improved a lot since the 2020 season. Both those guys started against UVa to end the season and they are much improved since that.”
Smith noted he’s fortunate to be in a room full of guys that have played a bunch of snaps. He’s said he hasn’t led the group as much as guide it due to the leadership of the room.
“I’ve got some guys that have started some games and have real game experience that know the tricks in the trades of playing the position,” Smith said. “They know what it’s like to be a young guy that doesn’t know where to go when the whistle blows. I’ve been fortunate to guide the room, it’s their job to lead it, but to just kind of guide them, set parameters and let the room take care of the room.”
Smith had praise for freshmen DJ Harvey, Nyke Johnson and Elijah Howard, too. Johnson, who was an early enrollee in the spring, is a player that “can contribute for us in multiple different ways,” according to Smith, while the other two have impressed in just a few weeks.
A quick #Hokies injury update:
LB Will Johnson (shoulder), DT Desmond Mamudi (knee) and walk-on WR William Kakavitsas (knee) are out for the year. Johnson and Mamudi, two 2021 signees, had surgery recently.
— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) August 18, 2021
Mamudi, a 6-3, 296-pound Floridian from Tampa, was a part of a defensive tackle group that doesn’t have much depth outside the top four, and might’ve had an opportunity in the rotation.
Johnson, a 6-2, 218-pound freshman from Leonardtown, Md., likely wasn’t going to find himself in the linebacker rotation this year.
Kakavitsas, a 6-1, 190-pound redshirt freshman from Charlotte, mostly worked with special teams but might have found some playing time at receiver this fall.