The rewards of injuries that wrecked the initial first unit of Bud Foster's 2011 defense will be felt in 2012, when the Hokies return nine starters from that opening day defense as well as five guys who started at various times as the season progressed. Today, we identify who will be take the place of the departed Jayron Hosley and Eddie Whitley in the starting lineup and take a stab at determining replacements on special teams as well.
Potential Candidates: Detrick Bonner, Kyshoen Jarrett, James Farrow, Donaldven Manning
With Jayron Hosley departing, Kyle Fuller will take over the role as the lockdown corner, opening a starting spot likely at field corner for a new cornerback to fill in. Two sophomores, a redshirt freshman, and a true freshman will all battle for that starting spot, starting this spring. One guy in particular has the early edge.
Detrick Bonner impressed enough last spring to earn himself split duty with Cris Hill as the team's #3 cornerback in 2011. He played over 300 snaps on defense this year as a redshirt freshman and given recent history, that experience makes him likely to make a huge jump during his sophomore season. Jayron Hosley played a bunch of snaps his freshman year, and then led the country in picks in 2010. Kyle Fuller started seven games as a true freshman, and then became the best player on the defense in 2011. Bonner enters the spring as the favorite.
Next in line if Bonner can't win the job outright is Kyshoen Jarrett. Jarrett played 25 snaps on defense in 2011, so he has a little bit of experience to help his development over the offseason. He is the most likely to challenge Bonner for the starting job and I suspect it will be a very close race between these two.
Two freshmen that will be participating in their first spring practice round out the competition, although one can redshirt and one cannot. James Farrow spent the fall redshirting and enters his first spring looking to impress. There's a chance he could move to free safety, but with really only five scholarship corners and one of them being a true freshman, I bet he sticks at corner for the time being.
Donaldven Manning is going to be one of the more intriguing prospects to keep an eye on this offseason, as he enrolled early so he could participate in the spring and hopefully play on the fall. Torrian Gray is not afraid to play true freshman, as evidenced by the playing time received over the past few seasons at corner by guys like Eddie Whitley, Hosley, Fuller, and Jarrett. Manning, who will wear No. 5 for the Hokies, will play if he proves himself capable.
Prediction: Detrick Bonner starts, Kyshoen Jarrett plays nickel back, Farrow gets the fourth spot, and Manning redshirts.
Potential Candidates: Boye Aromire, Theron Norman, Ronny Vandyke, James Hopper, Michael Cole
There's a chance this could turn into a battle for the rover spot, but with a spring and fall to get a starter acclimated and multiple guys with experience in the system, I think Antone Exum stays at rover. He's better suited for that position and it would give Tech an exceptionally strong front eight when Bud Foster decides to bring the rover into the box.
James Hopper has been in the program the longest, but he's been switching positions almost every practice session, whether it is spring camp or fall camp, in order to help fill out the depth chart. He knows the system, but he doesn't seem to have the athleticism necessary to play a huge role in the secondary.
Theron Norman is the second most experienced of the group, entering his redshirt sophomore year next season. He is a long, rangy athlete that looks to have a bunch of potential, but he just hasn't stayed healthy this year. He needs to impress this spring or face the possibility of spending his career as a backup.
Boye Aromire only played a handful of snaps on defense in 2011, but he played a lot on special teams and his work on the big squad for practice will be helpful. He is a big kid, bigger than his Hokiesports profile lists him (6 foot, 201 pounds) as I think he's closer to six foot two. I'll save you the trouble of looking down to the end of this section, I think he's going to win this position and start for three years at free safety for the Hokies.
If there's a dark horse in this race, it is Ronny Vandyke. The former four star redshirted this past season and is just as long and rangy as Norman at six foot three and nearly 210 pounds. He's got the size to be a terrific free safety, but is this year the year? He's probably a year early, so look out for him in 2012.
Finally, there is Michael Cole, who is listed as a free safety on Hokiesports but is probably best suited to play at rover. He could be Exum's top backup there as early as the fall.
Prediction: Boye Aromire starts, Norman backs up, Vandyke third.
Potential Candidates: Michael Branthover, Conor Goulding, Ethan Keyserling
This one is moot if Cody Journell is reinstated, although that seems unlikely at this point. It's even tougher to predict when you consider that the only placekickers listed on the roster were Justin Myer and Tyler Weiss, who both graduated. A whole new crop will be added in the spring, so we will be able to get a better read on that at that point, although Branthover could have the edge if he picks place kicking up again in the off-season.
Potential Candidates: Joe St. Germain, Lukas Stump
Joe St. Germain was a highly coveted walk-on long snapper from California and chose the Hokies in order to play for Frank Beamer. He served as Colin Carroll's backup during last season, dressing for games but only getting in for one snap against Appalachian State. He'd be the heavy favorite for this game, but the word on the street is he recently broke his ankle, which may affect his status for the spring practice.
If he can't practice in the spring, the job will fall to Lukas Stump, a walk-on who joined the team the same year as St. Germain.
Prediction: St. Germain comes back and wins the job handily, Stump backs him up.
Kick Returner/Punt Returner
Potential Candidates: Dyrell Roberts, Tony Gregory, Demetri Knowles, Kyshoen Jarrett, J.C. Coleman, Donaldven Manning
David Wilson left early, opening at least one kick returner spot on special teams. Tony Gregory tore his ACL and just wasn't very effective for the Hokies in 2011, so there is a distinct possibility the Hokies will open 2012 with two new kick returners. Also, Jayron Hosley left early as well, opening up the punt returner spot as well. The candidates? Well, include just about every athlete on the team.
Dyrell Roberts, who will be nearly two years removed from his devastating compartment syndrome injury when the 2012 season kickoffs, figures to claim one of the kick return spots.
The favorite at the other kick return spot is Demetri Knowles, who impressed everyone with his incredible speed during the fall while he redshirted. While he likely won't be more than a fourth receiver this year, his speed could make a huge impact on special teams. He could also claim the punt returner job.
Kyshoen Jarrett was the up-man on punt returns with Hosley for much of this season and has vast experience in high school, so he might be the biggest competition to Knowles at punt returners and a solid candidate on kick returns.
The other guys, Coleman and Manning, were listed specifically based on their athleticism and playmaking ability coming out of high school.
Prediction: Roberts and Knowles on kick returns, Kyshoen Jarrett on punt returns.
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