Frank Beamer is looking to get the Virginia Tech Hokies back to their winning ways after a disappointing 7-6 campaign in 2012. He’s got plenty of questions to answer on offense and was counting on a stout defense to hold the Hokies over until it got figured out. That plan took a hit, however, when all-ACC senior cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in late-January. Can Beamer find someone to step up in his place this spring?
The other corner position is in good hands with senior Kyle Fuller locking it down, but there are few experienced options behind him after Michael Cole‘s departure from the football program. The Hokies did sign a bevy of secondary players in their highly regarded 2013 recruiting class, but only Brandon Facyson enrolled early and will be eligible to participate in spring practice.
That opens the door for a pair of sophomores to show what they can do and lock the position down before the fresh faces hit campus this summer. Cornerbacks Donaldven Manning and Donovan Riley have an opportunity to solidify their roles on this Hokies’ team next fall while the competition is thinned out. Both of them have something to prove, however, before they can be relied on.
Manning struggled during his freshman season in 2012. At just 5-foot-9, 160-pounds, his size is a disadvantage that he’ll need to learn to overcome, but he has the tools to be an excellent coverage corner. He’ll have to overcome some off-field issues and show a better understanding of defensive coordinator Bud Foster‘s defensive schemes, but a good spring could earn him a spot in the defensive rotation next fall.
Meanwhile, Riley doesn’t have the size concerns that Manning does at 6-feet, 200-pounds, but he’s been plagued by inconsistency. He often appeared confused in coverage during his freshman season and struggled with his tackling. He flashed some excellent playmaking, however, which could give him an edge this spring. He will have to prove he’s improved from last season to more consistently contribute on the field next fall.
If neither sophomore is able to stake a claim for Exum’s vacant starter’s spot, one of the rash of freshmen coming in for fall camp next season could impress and find playing time right away. One way or the other, Virginia Tech has to find a competent corner while Exum is away, or their defense will not be able to support an offense filled with question marks, and another .500 season could on the way.