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Virginia Tech 2022 fall position previews: Three thoughts on the secondary

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Virginia Tech 2022 fall camp photo gallery: Practice No. 2

Virginia Tech safety Chamarri Conner runs drills during a fall camp practice on Wednesday.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech safety Chamarri Conner is looking to get a boost from the new defensive-minded coaching staff.

Conner leads linebacker Dax Hollifield in career games played — they both have started 37 games — but both came back for a fifth year hoping their best collegiate football is in front of them.

The defensive back developed a reputation as a hard-hitting playmaker back in 2019 playing the whip linebacker/nickel for then-defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Conner led the team with 5.5 sacks as a sophomore and was second on the team with 10 tackles for loss.

He played a similar role for Justin Hamilton, Foster’s replacement, and remained productive while showing remarkable durability throughout his career. According to Pro Football Focus, he led the team in snaps played in 2020 and 2021.

Conner heads into 2022 with 248 career tackles (170 solo), 19 tackles for loss, four interceptions, 21 passes defended and four forced fumbles.

It’s a decent resume for a three-year starter, but it wasn’t enough to make him a surefire draft pick. He opted to return to Virginia Tech and play for Brent Pry, a coach with a long history of developing NFL talent on the defensive side of the ball.

Pry was grateful Conner gave him the chance.

"I don't know that there's a more well-rounded player in our program,” Pry said on Wednesday. “He's mature, he's smart, he's tough, he works, he's talented. He keeps getting better. He's not satisfied where he's at.”

With Pry installing a more traditional 4-3 defense, Conner is changing positions to free (field) safety. He will be asked to be further back in the defense than he was as whip linebacker and cover more of the field.

“I wasn’t sure at the onset of spring if he could be the field safety,” Pry said. “Had a lot of confidence in him being on the boundary, but he really plays the game fast. He can play in open space. He can play top down on things. He’s got some coverage skills, and he’s a very smart football player.”

Breakout potential

Armani Chatman is Tech’s most physically imposing player at corner.

The 6-foot, 208-pound defensive back made five starts last season and played a career-high 525 snaps, but was still the team’s third option behind Dorian Strong and Jermaine Waller. He led the team with seven pass breakups.

He’s battling Brion Murray for a spot in the starting lineup this fall at boundary corner across the field from Strong. Chatman will likely get the nod if he can harness his size and strength on a more consistent basis.

“He can be a real presence,” Pry said.

Wardrobe change

The redshirt freshman from Tech’s 2021 signing class who could see the most playing time this fall is defensive back DJ Harvey.

Harvey maintained his redshirt last season playing in four games (31 total snaps).

Running back Chance Black, linebacker Jaden Keller and defensive lineman C.J. McCray might give him some competition, but Harvey entered fall camp leading the way on the depth chart at nickel and is also in the mix to land on the two-deep as a backup corner.

Tech will call on the nickel in passing situations, and part of assistant coach Shawn Quinn’s role is to help develop the short list of players at that spot. Most of that work comes in the meeting room while he spends his time on the practice field working with corners coach Derek Jones.

The Hokies would welcome consistent reps and production from one of the underclassmen as the new staff looks to lay a foundation for the future.

Projected depth chart

Cornerback

1. Dorian Strong

2. DJ Harvey

Cornerback

1. Armani Chatman

2. Brion Murray

Free (field) safety

1. Chamarri Conner

2. Jalen Stroman

Strong (boundary) safety

1. Nasir Peoples

2. Ny’Quee Hawkins

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