Brian Mitchell has been around the block a time or two. The Waco, Texas native enters his 24th year of coaching and third year coaching the cornerbacks at Virginia Tech.
In his nearly two and half decades of coaching, Mitchell has never encountered a situation like the one staring him straight in the face for the 2018 season.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been in this position not having a veteran guy coming back,” Mitchell said.
Here’s the production that Virginia Tech lost from 2017 and will have to replace.
- Greg Stroman – 20 tackles, 4 interceptions, 11 pass breakups
- Brandon Facyson – 19 tackles, 5 pass breakups
- Adonis Alexander – 27 tackles, 1 interception, 4 pass breakups
That trio anchored a unit that only allowed 48.6 percent of passes to be completed, first in the nation in 2017. Stroman, Facyson, and Alexander are now all gone, putting the Hokies in a precarious situation. Bryce Watts, who appeared in all 13 games last year mainly on special teams, is the closest thing the Hokies have to a veteran. He’s using the influence from Stroman and Facyson last year to step into a leadership role.
“I feel like I was grown into that,” Watts said. “(Stroman) did a great job explaining everything to me last year. So did (Facyson). They did a great job in teaching me how to become that leader.”
Despite Virginia Tech returning no one who has played more than 10 snaps on the outside, Mitchell is optimistic about the task ahead.
“This is the most excited I’ve been in a long time in going into a camp because I can see the end result,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited about a group of young men in a long time.”
In fact, while there’s a lack of experience on the outside, Mitchell insists that he has a bevy of talent that is more than up to the task in Watts, Jovonn Quillen, Caleb Farley, Jermaine Waller, and Nadir Thompson, while Armani Chatman is still making the transition from wide receiver to cornerback.
“With all the challenging things we put those guys in position wise, I feel comfortable with five of them right now,” Mitchell said. “And one, I would probably feel really good about him if he played the position. He’s a wide receiver that played very little DB, so you’re starting to teach him the fundamentals and techniques as well. There’s five guys in that room right now that we feel we can go out and compete, and do it at a high level.”
Speed kills. It’s a saying usually reserved for the offensive side of the ball, but Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks in 2018 would disagree. There are multiple former track stars on the perimeter, and even Mitchell himself ran the opening leg of BYU’s All-American 400-meter relay team while also earning All-WAC honors at cornerback in his heyday.
“I’m excited about my guys,” Mitchell said. “I’ve got Caleb Farley and Bryce Watts who are 100-meter champions in their prospective states. You’ve got Nadir Thompson who runs 20.9 in the 200 meters or close to it. You’ve got a lot of young men in that room who have a ton of talent.”
So who’s the fastest? Watts was asked and humbly responded, saying Farley would take home the prize. Farley is the player whom the Virginia Tech faithful is anticipating to see the most. He gave fans a glimpse of the impact he can have on the field in the 2017 spring game on the other side of the ball as a “borrowed receiver” as Mitchell put it.
“Each and every day you see those natural instincts that are starting to kick in,” Mitchell said. “Each and every day the kid is a sponge. ‘What more can I do? Give me something else to do. Give me something else to build on.’ Having Caleb back over there is going to be a blessing for all of us.”
Now a full year recovered from a torn ACL, Farley didn’t enter camp in the first team. Watts and Quillen earned those spots, but Mitchell even admitted that was just a starting point.
“I’m one of those coaches I believe in playing the best football player regardless of his age and regardless of where he comes from,” Mitchell said. “We’re going to develop and play the best guy that’s going to help us win.”
Notes on the Virginia Tech Safeties
Reggie Floyd returns to his rover spot, where he racked up 72 tackles in 2017. The battle between Divine Deablo and Khalil Ladler to see who replaces Terrell Edmunds at the free safety spot is still unsolved at this point in camp.
“Both kids are learning,” said safeties coach Tyrone Nix. “They’re continuing to compete. Neither one of them has started on a consistent basis, but they have a high ceiling. They’re very talented kids and they’re great kids. They have a tremendous work ethic. I don’t know who is going to start, but they’re both going to play come the first game.”
Deablo fits the mold better as the starting free safety, standing 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. He says he’s firmly locked into the position now and ready to start roaming in the secondary after missing the final nine games last year with a foot injury.
“My motivation level is out of the park right now,” Deablo said. “I’ve been waiting for so long just to get back on the field and play with my guys. I get the chance September 3.”
Devon Hunter spent last year learning from Mook Reynolds and studying what Reynolds brought to the team. Hunter will get his chance to take over the whip spot this year, and quickly realized the biggest adjustment he had to make when he moved from rover to whip.
“Playing man coverage,” Hunter said. “Coming from rover you really don’t cover a lot man-to-man in space. I know I have to come down a lot on slot receivers and play in open space and come off the edge a little more. I know I have to play better at that and that will come.”