Over the past two games, Virginia Tech has suffered multiple injuries to starters on defense with the worse happening this past Saturday as Bryce Watts suffered a fractured forearm during the Hokies’ first defensive possession of the game. On Monday, Justin Fuente had a further update on Watts stating that he isn’t done for the season just yet, but is out for this week’s game against Pittsburgh.
“I would stop short on saying that he is done for the year, we just don’t know. We should know more in a couple weeks. Obviously, he’s not going to play this week. We’ve been mixing those guys in there at corner and we’ll continue to bring those guys along,” Fuente said.
With Watts out, Bud Foster has an idea of who the Hokies will turn to for filling the void left including junior Jovonn Quillen, the likely starter for the Hokies against Pittsburgh this week.
“We’re just going to kind and see. Jovonn [Quillen] has a shot to come in. He has to be consistently good,” Foster said.
Quillen was the first man up when Watts left the game on Saturday, and has also come in at times as a third cornerback when either Watts or Caleb Farley have struggled. His most prominent rotation in came against Duke when the Hokies’ starting cornerbacks were struggling mightily and Quillen seemed to help slow the bleeding on the outside of the Hokies’ defense.
Quillen hasn’t been too bad so far this season with 29 tackles including 1.5 total tackles for loss and 1 sack, plus a pair of pass breakups and an important fumble recovery against North Carolina. While Quillen may be a downgrade in pass coverage, one area that he should help is around the line of scrimmage as a solid tackler and better-than-usual run defender at CB.
However, don’t expect Quillen to take all the reps or to get this spot without strong competition as fellow backup CB and true freshman Jermaine Waller is in line to also get some opportunities to show what he can do.
“[Jermaine] Waller is a guy that has a lot of talent. We want him to step up and now he’s going to be in a position to perform,” Foster said.
Waller has received some limited playing time this season with 5 tackles so far and also came in some against Boston College for the injured Quillen. Part of the reason why Waller has been the first cornerback up among the true freshman likely is due to the fact that he as the only one who arrived early this past spring where Waller put together
How large of a role Waller has remains to be seen, but it appears to be clear that the true freshman from Maryland will be one of the Hokies’ top cornerbacks battling for the starting job opposite Caleb Farley and has the potential to take that spot from Quillen later on this season should Watts be unable to return.
Foster also has a third option in his cornerback stable in Armani Chatman who seems poised to take advantage of the redshirt rule even if Bud Foster isn’t so sure of it at this point.
“There’s another guy named Armani Chatman that is a young guy that we were hoping to redshirt, but he’s going to end up being thrown in the fire. I do like what I have seen from him, but it’s kind of where we are with the position with injuries,” Foster said.
If Chatman plays this Saturday, it will be his collegiate debut, giving him four games to play without burning his redshirt. If the Hokies don’t end up using Chatman Saturday, it’s a certain guarantee that VT can play him the rest of the season and still redshirt him while also being able to sit him out of a bowl game if the Hokies get to that point and play four games over these final 4 weeks.
Chatman is definitely an unknown at this point, but the 757 native was an intriguing, versatile athlete coming out of high school and is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
If injuries become of greater concern at cornerback, the Hokies also have the option of moving Tyree Rodgers back to cornerback temporarily from safety.
“Obviously, you could take Tyree Rogers and move him back to cornerback. He’s another guy we have discussed. He has played there before and we really just moved him to safety this year, so I think that would be a move that we could do with a guy that has played a little bit there,” Foster said.
While that seems unlikely given Rodgers’ steadily improving play at safety, it’s an option that Bud Foster has especially if he decides to go with more zone and even eight-man coverages like he used against Duke.
Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that Bud Foster will need younger, more inexperienced players to step up down the stretch of the season at a position that was already quite young and inexperienced to start with, and the Hokies’ long-time defensive coordinator knows it.
“It’s going to be time for some young guys to step up.”