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May 18, 2012

Staff's moves in the secondary leave them feeling positive coming out of spring

By: Jimmy Robertson

Detrick Bonner

The secondary spent much of the spring in the spotlight because of all the juggling of positions that took place before practice started. Coming out of spring practice, defensive backs coach Torrian Gray expressed optimism – in fact, so much so that he plans on keeping everyone at the same spots heading into next August.

“We felt the moves worked out positive for us,” Gray said. “We’re pleased with Detrick Bonner at one safety spot, and we think Kyshoen Jarrett’s going to come along [at free safety] as things slow down for him. A guy like Boye [Aromire] has lined up at both safety spots and has made a nice progression, so I’m encouraged by that. With the way Antone [Exum] has played [at cornerback] and Bonner has played at the safety spot, I feel good about the moves.

“We’ll go into the fall leaving things as is.”

The big decision came when the staff moved Exum from free safety (11 games last year) and rover (three games) to cornerback. They gambled that he would perform even better without the worry of making the defensive checks and calls from the back end. The move paid well, at least according to his solid play this spring.

“I loved what I saw,” Gray said. “He had a great spring. He was very physical from the corner standpoint. The coverage aspect and the mental aspect, he did a great job. I thought he had a tremendous spring.”

Exum’s move to cornerback and Eddie Whitley’s departure left vacancies at the rover and free safety spots. So Tech’s staff moved Bonner from corner to rover and moved Jarrett from corner to free safety.

Jarrett felt his way around the position a little – and his summer preparation will be key – but he showed enough to ease the minds of the staff. As for Bonner, he was as good as any defensive player this spring. He made plays in coverage and played physical against the run.

“I’m surprised with Detrick at how quickly he picked things up mentally,” Gray said. “I knew he was a smart football player, but he’s very, very sharp. We played those guys [Bonner and Jarrett] left and right, so they were basically learning both safety positions, and he [Bonner] did a great job of getting lined up. And then, he was super-productive and showed some instincts, so I was very encouraged by the way he played this spring.”

Aromire, who played sparingly last year as a true freshman, got better as the spring went along, and he goes into August as the backup at both rover and safety. At free safety, redshirt freshman Michael Cole missed some valuable reps with a hamstring injury and has some work to do to completely earn Gray’s trust. So in the meantime, Aromire backs up both spots.

Donaldven Manning, a freshman from Miami who enrolled for the spring semester, finds himself in a similar spot, as he goes into next August as the backup at both cornerback positions. Quite simply, with the moves of Bonner and Jarrett, the Hokies lack depth at cornerback.

Still, Gray liked what he saw from Manning, who lacks size, but possesses good instincts for a cornerback.

“I’m impressed at how far along he’s come at this point,” Gray said of Manning. “For a guy of such small stature, he really plays a lot bigger than his size. If he continues his progression, which I expect him to do, then he’ll be the third corner, kind of by default. But I don’t feel we’d have to move Bonner or Kyshoen back to corner if we had an injury. I feel he’d be able to step in and be solid for us.”

Gray added that he expects incoming freshmen Davion Tookes and Donovan Riley to come in and compete for playing time immediately at cornerback.

Of course, any mention of cornerbacks should include Kyle Fuller, arguably the defense’s best player from a season ago. The staff didn’t play any nickel defense [five defensive backs] this spring, and Fuller is the nickel defensive back, which resembles the whip linebacker role.

“I thought he was very good this spring,” Gray said. “I think not playing any nickel helped Kyle. He was forced to work on his coverage skills, and I thought that was good for him. I think that will make him an even better player.”


Field corners

17 Kyle Fuller (6-0, 181, Jr.)
30 Donaldven Manning (5-9, 155, Fr.)

Boundary corners

1 Antone Exum (6-0, 219, r-Jr.)
35 Carl Jackson (5-8, 182, r-Soph.)
18 Nick Bush (5-10, 177, r-Soph.)

Free safeties

34 Kyshoen Jarrett (5-10, 188, Soph.)
21 Theron Norman (6-3, 207, r-Soph.)
2 Michael Cole (6-1, 200, r-Fr.)


8 Detrick Bonner (6-0, 186, r-Soph.)
23 Boye Aromire (6-0, 196, Soph.)
40 Wiley Brown (5-10, 207, r-Sr.)