When the Virginia Tech defense reported to training camp Sunday, defensive coordinator Bud Foster made it a point to discuss dealing with expectations during his initial meeting. A year ago, the Hokies’ defense entered the season with hopes of becoming the best unit during Foster’s tenure in Blacksburg, only to falter early in the campaign.
But on Monday, when Foster met with reporters for the first time since spring practice, he did nothing to ramp down the expectations being thrust upon freshman Kendall Fuller before his first collegiate snap. In fact, Foster all but declared the All-Met Player of the Year from Good Counsel the key to Virginia Tech’s nickel package this season.
On the Hokies’ initial depth chart, Fuller was listed as the co-No. 1 option at whip linebacker alongside last year’s starter, former All-Met Ronny Vandyke (South County). The thought is Fuller can fill the same versatile role his older brother, Kyle, assumed two years ago as a hybrid linebacker capable of blitzing the quarterback and covering wide receivers.
“I’m hoping he’s gonna be that impact guy we think he can be,” Foster said. “That gives him an opportunity to get on the field right away, with no experience at corner already. Our whole deal is when we’ve been good we’ve been able to execute at that position. When we haven’t been good, we’ve been trying to kind of piece work it, so to speak. . . .
“His brother has been coaching him a lot. And he’s got a good swag about him. I’m hoping he’s gonna be that five-star guy that we’re all counting on, and you know, if he is, then he’s gonna be a dynamic player for us and we’re just gonna give him that opportunity.”
Foster noted Kendall Fuller would be working with both the linebackers and cornerbacks early in training camp, but it appears the goal is to narrow his focus to the nickel package as August progresses. With cornerback Antone Exum’s status for the first month of the season in doubt because of a knee injury, sophomore Donaldven Manning and true freshman Brandon Facyson are listed as the co-No. 1 at field cornerback opposite Kyle Fuller.
Manning has added needed weight to his frame — he’s now listed at 181 pounds — and Facyson was one of the stars of the spring, wowing coaches with his quick acclimation after graduating early from high school.
In fact, Coach Frank Beamer said Monday after Virginia Tech’s first practice that he would have no problem with playing two freshmen (Fuller and Facyson) on defense when the Hokies take on Alabama to start the 2013 season.
“I think when you got good players, you probably need to go ahead and play ’em,” Beamer said. “We’ve saved a couple guys, redshirted, and then after the third year they’re gone and still had two years of eligibility left. So I think the guys that got ability, got ability that they’re probably gonna play at the next level, too, then more times than not, if you can play them enough plays, you go ahead and play them. I think those two kids fit into that category.”
One highly touted recruit who hasn’t made an immediate impact at Virginia Tech is redshirt freshman Joel Caleb, a four-star recruit from the Richmond area who chose the Hokies on National Signing Day in February 2012. The former high school quarterback spent the past year working at wide receiver, but the Hokies announced Monday that he will try out running back over the next month.
Running backs coach Shane Beamer, Caleb’s primary recruiter, said the move doesn’t necessarily mean Caleb won’t be a wide receiver in the future. But it was clear his development at the position had been “slow.” So not surprisingly, when Beamer told him about a potential change over dinner last week, Caleb responded, “Coach, I just want the ball in my hands.”
Frank Beamer was encouraged with what he saw from Caleb during Monday’s practice, especially because redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds is Virginia Tech’s only other physical back with Michael Holmes no longer on the roster.
“When Joel had the ball in his hands, he was really a good player in high school there as a quarterback, and then I think that’s what needs to happen here,” Beamer said. “I think he looks more natural. Tonight he made a couple of cuts that I’m kind of convinced we’re on the right path here and he’s another big back.
“You get past Trey Edmunds, we’re out of the big-back business, or the bigger-back business. . . . I thought it was almost night and day from spring practice to tonight with him, and so I think we’re on the right path. I think it’s a good decision for our team and him, too. I think he needs the ball in his hands, and when he does, I think he’s a threat.”
It should be noted Caleb’s status for the season opener is in doubt because of disciplinary reasons. When asked Monday if Caleb would be available for the Alabama game, Beamer would only say, “We’ll make announcements about those things later on.”