As a true freshman last year, cornerback Jermaine Waller saw most of his playing time on special teams. Yet after a solid spring and summer, he is emerging as a frontruner to earn the second starting cornerback job across from Caleb Farley this fall.
"The first person that comes to my mind is Jermaine Waller," said Justin Fuente on who is fighting for the cornerback spot opposite Caleb Farley. "With the offseason he's had and how he's played through camp, he's been really really good for us."
Even though Fuente has yet to officially name a second starter a cornerback, this is not the first time Waller's name has come up this summer. Earlier this month, defensive backs coach Brian Mitchell said that Waller is "bringing the lunch pail" to practice every day.
While Waller mainly saw time on special teams during the beginning of the 2018 season, he began to earn more playing time at corner in later games. That was due both to his improvement and the rash of injuries that the Hokies suffered.
His two best games came against Pittsburgh and Marshall. He was a lone bright spot in an otherwise discouraging game at Heinz Field. Waller came in as a replacement for the injured Bryce Watts, and he recorded two solo tackles
and a forced fumble.
Though Waller did not get the start against Marshall, he saw a significant amount of time at cornerback and recorded a pass breakup.
Perhaps the biggest complement that Waller received came from fellow DB Reggie Floyd at the ACC Media Days in July. Floyd said that Waller reminds him
of former Hokies' and current Redskins' cornerback Greg Stroman.
"[Stroman] wasn't the biggest, but he would always attack you no matter what," said Floyd. He added that Waller has that same mentality.
Cornerback has been a position of need for the Hokies, especially after Bryce Watts announced this offseason that he would be transferring
to North Carolina. Along with Waller, JUCO transfer Jeremy Webb is fighting for playing time as he returns from multiple achilles injuries.
"I would say he looks good physically, and I'm pleased with what he's out there trying to do," said Fuente on Webb. "He just hasn't played a lot of football."
Webb missed huge chunks of practice with his injuries and did not get into a consistent practice routine until just a couple of weeks ago. So, it's understandable that he may need a bit more time to adjust.
The Hokies are in a better position overall than they were last year at cornerback, but most of the players on the roster have seen little to no actual game time. Here are a few of the options that Tech has outside of Waller and Webb:
First, both Nadir Thompson and Armani Chatman are redshirt freshmen. Thompson played in 3 games last season (mostly on special teams) and then redshirted. He also missed the spring with an injury, so he certainly has some ground to make up in order to challenge for a starting role.
Chatman played in two games, primarily on special teams as well, and took advantage of the new redshirt rule. He looked like a good candidate to challenge for the job, but his name has been rather quiet this fall compared to Waller.
Next, the Hokies have a pair of newcomers who could be names to watch in JUCO transfer Brion Murray and freshman Ny'Quee Hawkins. Murray has worked at nickelback a lot but has the versatility to push for playing time at cornerback while Hawkins may be headed for a redshirt as the Hokies figure out if his best position is either cornerback or safety.
Lastly, senior Jovonn Quillen is fighting to keep his name in the mix. While Quillen has struggled to secure a starting spot throughout his career, he did record four pass breakups
and appeared in all 13 games last season.
Quillen finished the season strong with at least 1 PBU in each if the last three games (Virginia, Marshall, and Cincinnati). Of all the cornerbacks on the roster, he is probably the most experienced, which may give him a bit of a leg up.
Still, given the lack of experience for many players on the roster, it is very possible that Waller will get the nod at the second cornerback spot to start the season. Should that be the case, Fuente seems confident in what Waller can do.
"He's always been a highly intelligent guy who's picked things up quickly," said Fuente. "He's kind of putting it all together for us right now, and he's been really, really consistent through camp."
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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