2022 Virginia Tech Football Fall Camp Preview: Safety

2022 Virginia Tech Football Fall Camp Preview: Safety
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Aug 02, 2022

Our position previews ahead of the first season of the Brent Pry era for Virginia Tech football continue as we end our look at the main 22 starters at safety where the Hokies have a returning star at one spot and a massive competition at the other.

Check out our breakdown of the Hokies' safety room along with the rest of our previews to date.

Projected Free Safety Depth Chart Starting Fall Camp

  1. Nasir Peoples OR Ny'Quee Hawkins OR Jalen Stroman
  2. Nasir Peoples OR Ny'Quee Hawkins OR Jalen Stroman
  3. Jalen Hoyle

Boundary Safety

  1. Chamarri Conner
  2. Nasir Peoples OR Ny'Quee Hawkins OR Jalen Stroman
  3. Mansoor Delane OR Tyler Matheny

Chamarri Conner leads the way for the Hokies while a three-man battle rages opposite him. Nasir Peoples enters as the returning starter and favorite while Ny'Quee Hawkins has emerged as a contender after a strong spring and Jalen Stroman may have the highest ceiling. Jalen Hoyle is an unknown farther down the depth chart while walk-on Tyler Matheny has some experience from the 2020 season and Mansoor Delane could play either DB spot and is a potential wild card at safety for the Hokies this fall camp.

Tech's Biggest Star Chamarri Conner

One of the biggest weaknesses of this Virginia Tech team entering the 2022 season is the lack of surefire star talent. Tech's safety group has one of the few star-level players in Chamarri Conner, arguably the best player on the 2022 team.

Conner earned All-ACC Honorable Mention honors for the second-straight season in 2021 after having a career-high 86 tackles including 5.5 for loss with 2 sacks plus 1 QB hurry, 1 interception, 5 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, and a blocked kick. Conner continued to be an effective player around the line of scrimmage while he also showed signs of growth in man coverage especially against jumbo slot receivers and tight ends.

Conner now slides away from the whip linebacker/nickelback spot to his more natural boundary safety spot that should look very much like a strong safety role.

That shift should fit Conner's skill set well as a safety who is stronger around the line of scrimmage and can be used in a multitude of ways. He also can be used more on bigger receivers and tight ends in man coverage and less on speedy slot receivers who have given Conner plenty of issues in man coverage during his career.

Conner has proven to be a big play machine at times though one thing he does have room to grow in is knowing when to go for the big hit, and when to go for the solid tackle instead of a big hit attempt that could easily be a missed tackle instead. If he can clean that up, he could easily become an All-ACC First Team caliber player this season.

On a team lacking difference-making stars, Chamarri Conner is one of them and could be poised for a career year now at a more natural boundary safety position that should highlight his strengths and minimize his weaknesses.

Starting Battle Opposite Connor

Opposite Chamarri Conner, a battle for the starting job at free safety (assuming Conner is at boundary safety) should be one of the most intriguing battles of fall camp. Entering the spring, Nasir Peoples appeared to be the favorite with Jalen Stroman being the primary competition. However, Ny'Quee Hawkins had a strong spring highlighted by a big Spring Game performance that made it clear this was a tight, three-man battle.

Peoples brings the most experience by far to the table having a solid first season as a starter in 2021 with 88 tackles including 2 for loss plus 1 interception and 3 pass breakups in addition to earning All-ACC Honorable Mention honors. Peoples was a solid starting safety for the Hokies and definitely would be a quality starter should he win the job again.

The experience and high floor that Peoples brings continue to make him the favorite to be the starter but Tech's younger safeties also have shown loads of talent combined with higher ceilings that make them contenders as well.

Jalen Stroman may be the long shot of the three, but played rotated in some on defense and played special teams on his way to having 8 tackles. He also stepped up as he gained more opportunities with 3 tackles at UVA followed by 3 more tackles against Maryland in the Pinstripe Bowl where he was one of the few bright spots.

Stroman felt like the main challenger to Peoples after that game and is definitely a future starter (more on that in a second), but the primary challenger for Peoples appears now to be Ny'Quee Hawkins.

Hawkins was a four-star recruit coming out of high school but struggled to find traction and work his way up the depth chart for years. However, a new staff seems to have been the secret for him to find his footing in Blacksburg.

Hawkins was one of the best players in this year's Spring Game with 5 tackles including 1 for loss while he was all over the field working quite well at free safety. He looked very natural in that spot while the pairing with Chamarri Conner also looked like a very good pairing of skill sets given how effective Conner is playing closer to the line of scrimmage.

Though Brent Pry said the teams were randomly split up, the pairings within position groups tended to generally be in line with what you would expect the first and second strings would be in terms of the splits. While we don't want to read too much into that, it's also impossible not to wonder if that's a sign Hawkins is in position.

Right now, Nasir Peoples is the frontrunner to start, but Hawkins has found his footing and is starting to realize the potential that his four-star rating showed he had.

The Next Starting Stroman at Virginia Tech

It may not happen in 2022, but the Stroman family is going to be the latest to have multiple defensive starters over the years at Virginia Tech with former standout VT CB Greg Stroman paving the way and young safety Jalen Stroman following on it.

Jalen Stroman's path to becoming a starter seemed possible as soon as this season and still shouldn't be ruled out though Nasir Peoples plus a breakout Ny'Quee Hawkins have lowered those odds in the short term.

However, the talent is undeniable with the younger Stroman who may have been the Hokies' best player during the ugly Pinstripe Bowl with three tackles in that game. Stroman looked the part of a future standout safety for Virginia Tech and was the type of player Tech fans could be excited about watching that day.

Jalen Stroman also should know Virginia Tech's DBU tradition about as well as anyone given that he's the younger brother of Greg Stroman and got to watch him shine in Blacksburg. We've seen it before with Tech brothers excelling together or one after the other whether it's Terrell and Tremaine Edmunds or Kendall Fuller following Kyle Fuller who followed Vincent and Corey Fuller.

Jalen Stroman is going to be a quality starting safety for the Hokies in the not too distant future even if that may not be till 2023.