Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
After looking at the offensive and special teams depth charts yesterday, we turn our attention to the defensive side of the football where Virginia Tech had a major surprise and a couple of other noteworthy decisions.
Below is a look at Tech's current depth chart.
So with that, here's a look at three of the most notable things on the Hokies' first defensive depth chart.
Keonta Jenkins Starts at Rover
There's no doubt that the biggest surprise came at rover with true freshman Keonta Jenkins listed as the starter.
Now a surprise name of sorts was expected given Devon Hunter's indefinite suspension and that expected backup Nasir Peoples is out for the season due to a non-COVID related injury. If anything, my personal expectation was that we would see either Tyree Rodgers or J.R. Walker fill that role, or Tech shift Chamarri Conner there and use a cornerback like Brion Murray in the nickelback role with the ability to use three safeties or even three traditional linebackers when needed.
Instead, the job goes to Jenkins with fellow true freshman Lakeem Rudolph backing him up.
Part of the reason for going with Jenkins has to be due to his strong camp with Justin Fuente already praising him multiple times this fall. Fuente also isn't the only one heaping praise on Jenkins.
Fuente praises DB Keonta Jenkins as a freshman who's picked things up pretty quickly. DE Robert Wooten is a bit more of a developed guy on the line. Running backs Jalen Hampton and Jordan Brunson are more developed physically for freshmen too. #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) August 25, 2020
Dax Hollifield on his impression when he first saw true freshman safety Keonta Jenkins: "I said, he's going to be a stud one day. His length, his speed. He deserves that spot." Said he'll help get him straight out there in what will be Jenkins' first start. #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) September 22, 2020
Jenkins has clearly earned this opportunity to be Tech's starting rover and will likely be comforted by the Jacksonville roots he shares with Chamarri Conner who took on his major role early in his career.
Of course, expectations will be high for Jenkins given that he's a true freshman claiming a starting job regardless of the circumstances and teams may try to target him. Additionally, his inexperience may cause him to have a short leash especially with a veteran safety like Tyree Rodgers on the roster and the ability to shift Conner to rover with a backup cornerback like Devin Taylor or Brion Murray being able to slide into the nickelback role.
However, all signs are that Jenkins is more than up to the challenge and could be one of Tech's biggest surprises in 2020.
Dax Hollifield OR Alan Tisdale at Backer
This doesn't come as too much of a surprise but it's clear that the Hokies will continue to do what they did last year rotating Hollifield and Tisdale in and out while also using both of them together at times when Rayshard Ashby needs a breather.
Hollifield and Tisdale both bring different things to the table that will allow the Hokies to rotate them in and out in certain moments. Within that, both are more than competent overall but their fits at the backer spot vary with Tisdale being the better fit but Hollifield being the more talented player.
Hollifield isn't as athletic as Tisdale and has had some struggles in pass coverage whereas Tisdale has proven to be a very good pass coverage backer and could be especially valuable against spread offenses or in any passing down situation.
Meanwhile, Hollifield is definitely the bigger, more physical playmaker who is great working in the box and being a run stuffer while also being able to take on a spy role as well at times. Hollifield seems likely to be the early down backer more often than not and could also play a ton against more pro-style offense and power-running teams like this week's opponent N.C. State and Pittsburgh later in the season.
Get ready to see plenty of Hollifield and Tisdale rotating with this likely being the future starting LB duo in 2021 unless Rayshard Ashby decides to turn down the NFL for one more season in Blacksburg.
Armani Chatman Earns Starting CB Job Opposite Jermaine Waller
Armani Chatman has been the favorite to win this job so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he is the #2 cornerback. Of course, the addition of Illinois State grad transfer Devin Taylor did appear to complicate things some, but Chatman always was the frontrunner after a solid 2019 as the Hokies' third cornerback.
As mentioned in our previous breakdown of the cornerback battle pre-Taylor transfer, Chatman was actually one of the best freshman cornerbacks in the country in 2019 per PFF via Tech Sideline's Chris Coleman. While Chatman got lots of his attention for his worst moments against UVA and Kentucky, he was consistent overall and flew under-the-radar because he did his job but didn't have the interception volume that Caleb Farley and Jermaine Waller had to go with their dominance.
Chatman has a very bright future and definitely has the potential to grow a lot from 2019 to 2020 similar to what we saw from Waller from 2018 to 2019 after he went from top backup to starter.
Now some may be surprised that Taylor isn't but think about the fact that he has likely only had a couple weeks of full practice at most after transferring and going through COVID protocols to get to that point. Combine that with having less than a month to learn the defense and no one should be surprised to see Taylor as a backup.
That doesn't mean we won't see more of Taylor or Brion Murray especially in games against skilled slot receivers where Tech had their struggles using Chamarri Conner and other bigger nickelbacks last season. Additionally, Taylor and Murray will likely put tons of pressure on Chatman and make heavy pushes to try to take his job especially if Chatman has some struggles.
However, no one should be surprised to see Chatman starting if you watched him carefully throughout last season and not just his few missteps.