BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech’s loaded receiver room isn’t making it easy on the secondary this fall.
Damon Hazelton, Tre Turner, Hezekiah Grimsley sit at the top of the depth chart, but the position group has a long list of dynamic receivers including a bunch of talented true freshmen that arrived over the summer.
“It started in the spring,” Virginia Tech defensive backs coach Brian Mitchell said. “That’s probably one of the most competitive springs I’ve been a part of. And coming into fall camp, no different. I mean, they’re talented. I think I’ve got a group of talented guys. And it’s competitive, every rep, every day.”
Virginia Tech had plenty of players sidelined with injuries during the spring, but all the receivers were healthy and only one defensive back missed camp (Jeremy Webb). Both position groups were healthy to open fall practice.
“Getting all of our guys out there to go compete against each other on both sides of the ball is huge,” Fuente said in the spring. “It’s important for our corner position that Damon Hazelton practiced, that they go against Damon, that they go against Tre, that they go against Phil Patterson.”
Tech’s defensive backs probably won’t face a more experienced or talented group of receivers in the ACC this season. Senior defensive back Jovonn Quillen offered his own colorful description of what it’s been like facing the group on a daily basis.
“The receivers, they’re going to come hard every day,” Quillen said. “They’re coming fast, they’re coming strong, their routes are extra crispy, so they’re only going to get the corner’s game right. I mean, I just want them to keep pushing us, so we can be the best in our room.”
Tech’s coaching staff hopes the constant competition will help improve a pass defense that was a major factor in the team’s disappointing 6-7 record.
The Hokies gave up 228.4 yards per game last season (ranked No. 63 in FBS) while giving up 7.6 yards per attempt (85th ranked in FBS). The Hokies gave up 48 plays of 20 yards or more (108th of 130 teams). It was the first time since 2010 the program had a pass defense ranked outside the top 35.
Virginia Tech defensive backs feel better going into 2019 than they did a year ago when they had about 10 reps of experience at the position. The Hokies have returning starter Caleb Farley pencilled in on one side of the field while they look to replace Bryce Watts on the other.
Watts surprised the team when he decided to transfer after the spring, but two of the players competing for that spot (Quillen and Jermaine Waller) played last year.
“We all just every day trying to get better and compete and make the next person better,” Waller said. “So it’s not like last year, (when) we were all new to it. But now it’s like, we know more so we can also help on the things that Coach Mitchell can’t pick up.”