Bud Foster’s defense suffered a fairly large setback late this offseason with junior cornerback Bryce Watts’ decision to enter the transfer portal on May 30. Watts, who spent the last two seasons at Tech, was expected to have made a leap forward in production this season alongside Caleb Farley after the two corners entered last year as the two starting cornerbacks, despite both entering the season with a combined zero starts.
Despite their growing pains throughout the season, the experience they both gained together last season was what was supposed to be what drove this group to be one of the more improved along the defense. Now, with Watts leaving to be closer to his New Jersey upbringing, the Hokies will have to turn to someone else to take his role alongside Farley.
The first name that comes to mind has to be Jovonn Quillen. Quillen, a senior from Hampton, Virginia, has the edge on other contenders for the job based just on experience alone, playing in 35 games and starting two of those in his time at Tech. Quillen’s time on the field has mostly been as a special teams ace, though he played admirably when given the chance at cornerback. How he’ll fair on a week-to-week basis is up in the air, but the fact that he played with both the first and second team defense during the Spring Game this year says something about the respect he’s earned from coach Foster and the coaching staff as a whole.
Quillen’s competition for the job will come down to how coach Foster sees the development of sophomore Jermaine Waller and redshirt freshman Armani Chatman, both of whom have impressed in the spring but lack the game experience that Quillen has accumulated.
Waller has been particularly impressive in the spring, bringing a physicality and grit to the position that wasn’t necessarily there last year between Watts and Farley. Waller’s performance in the Spring Game with the second team defense was a good taste of that physical brand of football, as he made one strong hit of note in the red zone against wide receiver DeJuan Ellis that left him physically shaken up after the play.
Chatman comes into the competition with the least amount of on-tape experience, playing in just two games last season against Miami and Virginia before getting a redshirt, but he’s said to have also had a strong spring and may be more in the mix for the job than previously thought. He’s certainly someone to keep an eye on early in the season as we’ll most likely see these three shuffle around opposite Farley to see who looks the best.
The final possible competitor for the job is JUCO transfer Jeremy Webb, who acts as a wild card option of sorts because of the uncertainty surrounding his health. A year ago, Webb would’ve been considered a lock as a starter after transferring to Tech from Asa College, but tears to both his left and right achilles in the past year have only muddled the situation. While it’s unlikely that he’s ready for the season opener against Boston College on August 31, he’s still someone to watch out for when he is ready to play.
Much like last season around this time, the cornerback position will most likely open the season with more questions than answers. It’ll be an interesting storyline to watch unfold as the defense as a whole looks to build off last season’s struggles.