The Virginia Tech secondary possesses a problem that would make any coach jealous: a wealth of talent and not enough room on the field.
But the Hokies' coaching staff is ready to manage the return of second team All-ACC cornerback Antone Exum.
“It’s a good situation to have, I guess, where you’ve got (Exum) coming back,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “You’re going to see (Exum and Facyson) play, now to the extent, whoever the hot guy is, you want to go with him. I want to make sure (Exum) feels comfortable. At the same time, he’s been a leader for us and if he’s not 100%, I hope he’d be man enough to tell me when it’s all said and done, that he can’t go full speed.”
Exum returned to practice this week after being cleared by Dr. James Andrews for full participation. Exum felt pretty confident going into the test that he would be cleared this week, but there was just a shade of worry.
“I wasn’t nervous but I knew how hard I had worked for this and I felt like I was really ready, so going into it I was very optimistic,” Exum said. “But it was in my head, like, ‘Man, what if I don’t know what’s best and he just comes in and is like, ‘No, five more weeks.’’ I’d be crushed.’ I’m happy that I preformed well. They said I did excellent on the test so that made me even more confident.”
With Exum returning the backfield, there had been talk of possibly moving him to safety to relieve Detrick Bonner, who struggled recently against Georgia Tech, from the starting free safety role.
This would allow the Hokies to get the most playmakers in the secondary on the field at once. Exum started his career at Tech as a safety, but defensive backs coach Torrian Gray emphasized that Exum is a cornerback.
“We’ve got two very good safeties and (Exum) is a corner, and that’s his position,” Gray said.
Freshman Brandon Facyson is going to be the guy in the secondary that will lose the reps at corner with Exum returning. With Facyson sliding out of the nickel corner position, there will be some changes for the remaining guys in the secondary.
“It’s obviously going to be a change with the chemistry and all of that,” Gray said. “I mean it’s just an adjustment period we have to go through but we’ll be fine.”
The coaches, specifically head coach Frank Beamer, talked to Facyson about getting him involved on offense to a degree since his reps at cornerback are going to drop.
“I talked to Facyson on Sunday about it,” Beamer said. “It was good. He’s eager and I think he wants to do whatever he can to help the football team.”
But Hokie fans will have to temper their expectations for Facyson as a wide receiver. As impressive as he’s been at cornerback through five weeks, he won’t see the same workload on the offensive side of the ball initially.
“No, we were just playing around, messing around with him in a few combinations,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “It’s nothing significant enough to even talk about.”
The coaching staff believes that Exum and Facyson will split the reps about 50/50 each this week, but it depends on how Exum looks in practice leading up to the game.
“I think the two questions are what kind of game shape (Exum) is in, and what do we think after Thursday’s practice and how well has Brandon picked up the offense we’ve put in for him,” Beamer said.
As Exum integrates into the starting lineup through the next few weeks, freshman Kendall Fuller will be playing the nickel corner position.
Through the first five weeks of the season he has been very good, but teams have tended to try to throw against Facyson a little bit more. But, as he’s already proven with two interceptions of his own, Fuller is a talented corner as well.
The talented Hokies secondary will be tested again this week when UNC’s spread offense visits Blacksburg.
"They like to throw it around, they’ve got a couple weapons and a good quarterback," Exum said. "So it’s definitely a test, I came back right in time to get tested. I know they’ll come at me.”