BLACKSBURG—Virginia Tech went radio silent this summer as it welcomed recruits on campus during a busy June.
Tech coach Justin Fuente will meet with reporters for the first time in three months when he takes the stage on Wednesday in Charlotte. The Hokies are also sending quarterback Braxton Burmeister, safety Chamarri Conner and tight end James Mitchell to represent the team.
How will Hunter’s return shake up the secondary?Fuente hadn’t mentioned Devon Hunter since the safety was suspended in September, and given the seriousness of the allegations against the defender, his return to the team was always viewed as a longshot.
He accepted a plea in early May that reduced the felony charge he was facing to a misdemeanor, and Tech lifted his suspension a month later.
Hunter was expected to start at boundary safety before he was suspended before the 2020 season, but Tech has added a lot of depth at the position in the intervening months.
Illinois State transfer Devin Taylor made great strides at the position last season—the former corner changed position four weeks into the season—and Tech added Vanderbilt transfer Tae Daley.
Daley had 108 tackles (74 solo) with six tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, three interceptions and one forced fumble in 29 games (17 starts) playing in the SEC. He earned rave reviews during the spring as he competed with Taylor for playing time.
Tech has Chamarri Conner entrenched at nickel, but is less experienced at free safety where Keonta Jenkins spent most of spring camp with the first team defense. Jenkins made two starts at free safety last season.
Will Tech shift guys around to balance out that experience? Hunter already got an audition at free safety during the 2019 season before he decided to take a redshirt while Murray has already changed positions once since enrolling last August.
The ACC Kickoff will be Fuente’s first opportunity to address the team’s plan at the position since Hunter was reinstated.
Is there a shortage of scholarship players at defensive end?Tech coaches felt good about the team’s depth at defensive end coming out of spring camp.
Former linebacker Amare Barno emerged as one of the most productive edge rushers in the ACC with 6.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in his first season at defensive end. The coaches anticipate him terrorizing opposing quarterbacks this fall after getting a full offseason of practice.
The plan was to team him up with Emmanuel Belmar, who took advantage of the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted all student-athletes to play a sixth season. Belmar was limited in the spring, but was fully cleared to participate in the team’s summer workouts in June.
Tech was eager to get a trio of promising second-year freshmen—2020 signees Alec Bryant, Justin Beadles and Robert Wooten—into the mix alongside a group of veterans that also includes Jaylen Griffin, TyJuan Garbutt and Eli Adams.
Wooten worked his way into the rotation as a true freshman, and the staff projected Beadles as an impact player with a year of two of experience under his belt.
That depth evaporated when Beadles entered the portal in May while Wooten and Bryant followed suit on July 12.
Their departures leave Tech with seven scholarship defensive ends on the roster including a pair of true freshmen who enrolled this summer (Cole Nelson and Mattheus Carroll).
So what’s the solution?
There was talk about moving tight end Wilfried Pene over to defensive end even before the numbers crunch. Tech has healthy numbers at tight end, and already have two verbal commitments at the position for 2022 (potentially three with Daequan Wright being a bit of a hybrid between tight end and receiver).
One alternate solution could be moving a linebacker up to play at defensive end considering much of the playing time there is expected to go to Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale. Instead of spending much of the season on the bench, could Marshall transfer C.J. McCray be productive at defensive end on pass rushing downs?
Tech could wait a few weeks to see if Nelson or Carroll are ready for an immediate role before making any changes, but Fuente will probably already have a backup plan in mind.
What’s the plan for Maryland offensive line transfer Jordan?Virginia Tech’s first-team offensive line coming out of the spring was Luke Tenuta at left tackle, Lecitus Smith at left guard, Brock Hoffman at center, Silas Dzansi at right guard and Parker Clements at right tackle.
The question going into fall camp for the offensive line is where Maryland transfer Johnny Jordan fits in? Jordan was All-Big Ten honorable mention last season as the team’s starting center, and has 16 career starts at the position.
Tech offensive line coach Vance Vice could slide Hoffman over to right guard and use Jordan at center or have Jordan battle it out with Dzansi at right guard. Dzansi will likely get playing time no matter what as the only other tackle on the roster besides Tenuta with experience.