2022 Virginia Tech Defensive Back Preview
Virginia Tech has always had a history of good defensive backs. DBU (university defensive back), as many called him, became a staple of Bud Foster’s Lunch Pail defense under Frank Beamer. Now, thanks to cornerbacks coach Derek Jones, this room is embracing the “cheetah mentality.”
Jones has 24 years of coaching experience at the Division I level, but he’s also a motivational speaker in a way. In 2017 he wrote a book titled Always play to winand he tweets inspirational quotes every day to its 88,000 subscribers. But as a football coach, he tries to instill a mindset and a mentality in his players.
Jones, who joined the Hokies from Texas Tech in December, coined the phrase when he started playing football. This was only amplified at Duke when David Cutcliffe had each assistant come up with a phrase for their group of posts. As you guessed, Jones chose the word “cheetah”.
The characteristics of defensive backs and Cheetahs are similar, as he told the media in March. Both are predator and prey, and both hunt alone most of the time. The only exception is when they hunt with their brothers.
“They’re very strategic in the way they hunt, even though they haven’t practiced it,” Jones said in March. “Unlike a larger animal, everyone has a job. So when you think about a high school job, everyone has their job. … So it was a way of uniting a group. It’s a way of giving a mentality to a group.
“The Cheetahs are going to hunt for their own meals,” cornerback Dorian Strong explained after practice Aug. 12. It’s time to make a play.
Jones inherited a talented group of cornerbacks at Virginia Tech, a group where three of the seven guys in his room have starting experience. A fourth – DJ Harvey – played four games last year, mostly on special teams, before going redshirt. Here is a breakdown of the seven scholarship corners:
Armani Chatman (5-11, 208, r-Sr.*)
Brion Murray (5-10, 190, r-Sr.*)
Dorian Strong (6-0, 178, junior*)
DJ Harvey (5-11, 190, r-Fr.)
Elijah Howard (5-11, 176, r-Fr.)
Nyke Johnson (5-11, 185, r-Fr.)
Cam Johnson (6-0, 160, French)
*Chatman, Murray and Strong each have an extra year of eligibility due to COVID.
Although not the oldest or most experienced (by about 100 snaps) of the group, Strong is the No. 1 corner for the Hokies. He’s taken on more of a leadership role since the spring, and he’s admitted he was a little complacent at times in the second year. This has changed.
Strong said he became more vocal and learned not to take things from coaches to heart. He’s matured and become more coachable, and the game is starting to slow down for him.
“I think the biggest thing with him is just the attention to detail of playing the position,” Jones said of Strong. “There are a lot of things you can take for granted when you’re a talented guy, but football is a game of thumbs. When you look at the cornerback position in particular, a lot of times you’re almost there, a lot of times you take a break rather than an interception, and when you go back and watch the movie, it’s as simple as not being in the right position, not having your eyes in the right place.
“Those are things that as a coach I have tried to nag him on and improve his game. And the other thing is probably just the leadership aspect. Trying to explain to him and make it clear that these guys in this room are following him.
Behind him is Chatman, who has the most career photos (1,140) in the room. He played 38 games in four years at Blacksburg and has 67 career tackles, 15 pass breakups and one interception.
When Jones spoke to the media on Aug. 12, he said Chatman was probably the player who improved the most throughout fall camp based on things the staff wanted cornerbacks to work on. during the offseason.
“Armani is probably one of the smartest football players I’ve ever coached,” Jones said. “Armani is a guy who has a deep understanding of the whole package, of everything we do. He has a very physical presence. I think what we do is going to work in his favour.
The third corner in the mix is Murray, who has 31 appearances (nine starts), 55 tackles and three interceptions to his name. Strong described him as a “little ball of energy” who always keeps everyone on their toes, and Murray is battling Chatman for the No. 2 cornerback role.
“He’s going to make jokes with the coaches and stuff,” Strong said of Murray. “But when it’s time to get serious and shut down, … he’s the guy to watch.”
Between them three there is a wealth of experience – 93 appearances, 38 starts, 2,743 snaps and 167 tackles, to be exact. Jones ideally wants to have four corners he feels comfortable with before the season, which brings Harvey into the conversation. He’s one of Tech’s options at nickelback, and he’s doing well in that fourth cornerback spot. Strong said “he’s going to be a real complete football player.”
Young players like Elijah Howard, Nyke Johnson and Cam Johnson also received praise from the staff. The latter two were mentioned by Jones and Strong as guys who stood out in one of the scrums the Hokies had in fall camp, and Pry said Cam Johnson is “making tremendous progress,” although that it is uncertain whether the freshman will be able to help the team in 2022.
Like Jones, safety coach Pierson Prioleau has a handful of depth at his disposal in 2022. It starts with team captain Chamarri Conner and Nasir Peoples, two players who started all 13 games for Virginia Tech last season. . They were also second (Peoples with 88) and third (Conner, 86) in tackles behind Dax Hollifield’s 92.
Here is a list of the seven stock exchange securities:
Chamarri Conner (6-0, 206, r-Sr.*)
Nasir Peoples (6-0, 205, r-Sr.*)
Ny’Quee Hawkins (6-0, 198, r-Jr.*)
Jalen Stroman (6-1, 200, So.)
Jalen Hoyle (6-0, 191, r-Fr.)
Devin Alves (6-3, 190, Fr.)
Mansoor Delane (6-1, 177, Fr.)
* Conner uses his COVID year, while Peoples and Hawkins each have an additional year of eligibility due to COVID.
Much like the corner, the Hokies have experienced safety corps, headlined by Conner. Entering his fifth season with Tech, he has played over 2,200 snaps in 50 games (37 starts) and has 248 career tackles.
“He’s a guy with a lot of reps under his belt,” Prioleau said of Conner. “So there are a lot of things he can do comfortably. More importantly, being a leader for that defensive backfield is his primary responsibility. It’s great to have a guy who’s been in the field, who’s seen the ropes in a lot of different positions.
Peoples is in a similar boat, though it’s hard to match Conner’s experience. He’s seen action in 28 games and has 90 career tackles, and he’s been doing his best since the new staff arrived this winter. Peoples now has a better understanding of defense, especially with improved fundamentals. He and Conner are also roommates and they have great chemistry.
“Nasir has been of great value to this team,” Prioleau said. “He’s a really tough, smart player, and he too started every game for us last year. Coming back to this team gives us a lot of leadership and experience in high school.
Behind them are five unproven guys. Hawkins has seven career appearances while Stroman has played in all 13 games in 2021 as a true freshman. Hoyle wore a red shirt in 2021, and Alves and Delane are fresh out of high school. And while a lot of these guys haven’t been mentioned a ton since Pry’s arrival, Delane was referenced on Tech Talk Live on August 19.
“Another guy who kind of came on the scene, and he’s not even in full contact yet, is a young DB, Mansoor Delane,” Pry said. “He’s still there with a blue shirt, but he’s about to be full, and he looks really good, he’s made some great plays.”
The depth behind Conner and Peoples has yet to be determined, but the piece certainly seems built for the future.