Every day for the next seven days leading up to the Georgia Tech kickoff game we will be previewing seven aspects of Virginia Tech’s team that will be important to not only the upcoming season, but the Georgia Tech game too. Today, we will be starting with the cornerback duo of Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum.
Kyle Fuller – Boundary Corner
As the boundary corner, it’s Kyle Fuller’s job to lock down the opposing team’s best wide receiver. Lined up on the outside, he will likely be working a decent amount of man-to-man coverage. One of Fuller’s strengths has always been his ability to stay close to wideouts, making their jobs much harder. If Virginia Tech wants to succeed this season, Fuller will have to be at his best.
Last season, injuries forced Fuller to move down into the linebacking core, specifically at the whip linebacker position. The whip linebacker is a hybrid position that typically involves more pass coverage responsibilities. While playing whip, Kyle Fuller also showed his abilities as a sure tackler, amassing 65 tackles, and a team-high 14.5 tackles for loss. It’s likely that Fuller won’t have as many tackles for loss this season since it’s likely that he won’t be moving down to whip again, but Fuller should still put up impressive pure tackling numbers.
It’s likely that teams are going to try to throw opposite Fuller, seeing as he is arguably Virginia Tech’s best defensive weapon this year. Because of this, Fuller is going to have to really be solid when called upon. This could prove to be a tall task against a group of talented wide receivers within the ACC. Players like Sammy Watkins (Clemson), Conner Vernon (Duke), and Rashad Greene (Florida State) could give Virginia Tech’s secondary trouble. Last year specifically, Watkins and Vernon abused Virginia Tech’s secondary that included Jayron Hosley. Fuller is going to have his hands full against some of the ACC’s best wideouts.
Against Georgia Tech, Fuller’s sure tackling ability will be imperative. As a run-heavy system, it’s easy for Georgia Tech to wear down defenses. Fuller will likely have to come up and make some open-field tackles after a QB keeper or a sweep outside. But Fuller will also have to be ready in the instance that Georgia Tech does actually throw downfield. Fuller has a good head on his shoulders, and he should be prepared for any situation (however strange it may be) that Georgia Tech might put him in.
Like last season, it’s likely that Fuller will be Virginia Tech’s best secondary player again this year. Last season, Fuller was a Second-Team All-ACC selection. If he plays to his full potential, Fuller will earn first-team honors.
The second piece of Virginia Tech’s cornerback duo is a newcomer to the position, converted safety Antone Exum.
Antone Exum – Field Corner
Last season, Antone Exum spent time at both free safety and rover. Due to Jayron Hosley leaving early for the NFL, the Hokies had a hole at corner all of a sudden. In the spring, the coaching staff decided to give arguably their best athlete among the defensive backs a chance to prove himself at corner. And just like that, Antone Exum found himself starting opposite Kyle Fuller.
Antone Exum will be an interesting project as the season goes along. In fact, it’s probably for the best that the Hokies open up against a team like Georgia Tech instead of a more pass-heavy team. Exum needs all of the time that he can possibly get to learn the intricacies of the corner position.
During the summer, we saw flashes of talent at corner from Exum. There were times when he would make acrobatic plays on the ball midair, and there were also times that he broke down in the fundamentals and got beaten by his man. Transitioning from safety, Exum has had to work on man coverage and keeping his hips fluid as he tries to keep with his man. Luckily for Exum, his natural athleticism helps make up for his technical shortcomings at times.
Exum led the team with 89 tackles last season, and earned an honorable mention for the All-ACC team. If Exum wants to see success this season, he needs to use his size and physical nature to his advantage. On smaller, lighter receivers, Exum needs to press hard off the line of scrimmage and jam receivers up. At 6’1, 224 pounds, Exum is one of the bigger corners in the ACC, and certainly one of the more physical corners having transitioned from safety.
If Fuller locks down his side of the field, it’s likely that Antone Exum could see more balls thrown his way. Exum will have to stay technically sound throughout the season in order for the Hokies to have success.
Tomorrow we’ll examine the collective running back group for Virginia Tech.