Intense Battle for Virginia Tech's Second Starting Cornerback Job

Intense Battle for Virginia Tech's Second Starting Cornerback Job
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Aug 24, 2021

Virginia Tech has lots of experience at the cornerback position entering 2021 with 5 players who have at least started one game in their Hokie careers. Jermaine Waller will certainly be Tech's top cornerback now that he's back healthy and in form after an injury-plagued 2020 with hopes that he can be one of the best in the country this year.

However, the battle for the second cornerback spot continues to be intense with Dorian Strong, Armani Chatman, Brion Murray, and Nadir Thompson all involved in the competition with CBs coach Ryan Smith enjoying what he's seeing in that battle.

"It's been a fun camp to watch those guys battle. Dorian, Armani, Brion, even a guy like Nadir Thompson who started the game against Duke; they've been battling. I would not say one guy has emerged to be the starter," Smith said.

However, a couple players in that competition appear to be separating themselves some.

"I'll say Armani Chatman is having a phenomenal camp, probably the best I've seen him play since I've been here. Dorian Strong is having a really good camp. Those guys show up, they have been battling and working. They've improved a lot since the 2020 season. Both of those guys started against UVA to finish the season off, and I'd say they are much improved since then," Smith said.

The focus entering fall camp was heavily on Dorian Strong given the promise he showed getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman and earning 5 starts on his way to 22 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception.

However, Armani Chatman, despite all his experience, seemed to enter this fall camp under the radar and projected by many on the outside to be a top backup despite the fact that he made 6 starts in 2020 and had 32 tackles plus a team-high 6 pass breakups.

While the projections may have leaned towards Dorian Strong entering fall camp, the comments from coaches including Justin Fuente point towards the older Chatman having the edge currently.

"Armani (Chatman) has had as good a camp as he's ever had. He's highly intelligent who understands the scheme inside and out, has played a lot, played well for us on special teams. He may end up playing a huge role for us not just playing cornerback but also on special teams as well," Fuente said.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Dorian Strong isn't right there as well as Justin Hamilton, like Ryan Smith, made clear in his comments about the second cornerback spot battle.

"In that position, that's going back to the one-on-one situations. You see a lot of one-on-one plays. A lot of those guys have been in those. Dorian Strong did a nice job throughout camp. Armani Chatman had the best camp that he's had since he's been in here. He's developed his body. He's been locked in and focused. He understands the system, very intelligent guy," Hamilton said.

Beyond them, Brion Murray brings loads of experience, but seems to be the fourth cornerback though he has Nadir Thompson and potentially even freshman Elijah Howard plus former walk-on Keondre Ko pushing him. However, Hamilton did have similar praise for the intelligence of Murray in his comments that continued right after his compliments of Strong and Chatman.

"Brion is the same way. He's still continuing to grow in his knowledge of football. He's been productive. Nadir Thompson was solid throughout camp. He's another one who is still growing in his understanding of the scheme and understanding of what an offense is trying to do. Elijah Howard is a young kid that I think is talented and has a chance. Keondre Ko, he's been a big time contributor for us on special teams. He's a veteran guy out there, just turned 24 the other day," Hamilton said.

Regardless, it seems clear at least to Justin Fuente that there will be plenty of rotating guys in at cornerback given how close this battle is with the guy having the best game at that time set to get the most playing time.

"They're all going to play. Who takes the first snap, when you got good people, is really inconsequential. They all have played and they all will play," Fuente said. "I don't know who's going to trot out there for the very first snap, but we feel good about all of them."