BLACKSBURG – Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray likes to wear a broad-brimmed straw hat with a Virginia Tech logo on it during practices and scrimmages. When one of his guys botches a play, it's not uncommon to see him yank off the hat in disgust, revealing his bald head.
It may be the best mechanism Gray has to stifle his verbal frustration this preseason — and there has been plenty of it with a predominately freshmen and redshirt freshmen backup group of defensive backs.
In Charlottesville, Virginia cornerbacks coach Chip West feels Gray's pain, except West is going through the same situation with his first and second teamers.
Oh, and if that's not enough to keep Gray and West busy, they've both had their hands full on the recruiting trail, too.
"Yelling and screaming at a bunch of freshmen isn't necessarily going to make them know (what to do)," Gray said. "A lot of times, they don't know. You understand they've got to go through it five, 10 times, unfortunately, to get it right.
"If those guys were (a year older), and we were still making those same mistakes, they're going to get coached a little differently. … It's definitely not (a process that's) as fast as I want it to be, or as good or as perfect as you want it to be."
Tech's backup secondary this preseason has been composed of true freshman cornerbacks Donaldven Manning and Donovan Riley, redshirt freshman strong safety Michael Cole and sophomore free safety Boye Aromire. When Cole and Aromire have struggled with nagging injuries, true freshman Desmond Frye has gotten work.
Manning, a guy who essentially has just 15 more practices than the other freshman defensive backs because he enrolled early, already is considered Tech's third cornerback — the first one off the bench.
"I'd say coach Gray treats us all the same, but I can see he has very high expectations for me," said Manning, who added he gets questions about details like pre-snap alignment that other freshmen don't get in the defensive backs meeting room.
"He's staying on top of me very hard, which is a good thing because a great coach always wants his players to improve. I can say he goes a little harder (on me)."
West's most experienced cornerback is sophomore Demetrious Nicholson, who started all 13 games last season. On the other side of the defensive alignment, sophomore Drequan Hoskey is trying to hold off true freshman Maurice Canady for a starting role. Sophomore Brendan Morgan and true freshman C.J. Moore are factoring into the cornerback mix as backups.
West, a Kecoughtan High graduate, has been in a similar spot recently. In 2009, when he was Old Dominion's defensive backs coach in the school's first season back on the football field in 77 years, West didn't have a single junior or senior defensive back.
"One thing about coaching (Football Championship Subdivision) football is it was huge as far as the development of players," West said. "It wasn't like we were getting a whole bunch of 5-stars, not to say we are (getting them at U.Va.), but it was a development process. I felt as though that prepared me well."
Of course, Gray and West also have been essential in the past month in adding key pieces for the future of each of their respective programs.
Gray was responsible for getting a commitment in July from Kendall Fuller, a senior at Our Lady of Good Counsel High in Olney, Md., considered by most recruiting analysts to be one of the nation's top five cornerbacks. He's Tech's biggest commitment since former Hampton High quarterback Tyrod Taylor pledged to the Hokies in July 2006, according to the Rivals.com recruiting website rankings.
This week, West tapped into his Hampton Roads connections to get Taquan Mizzell, a senior at Bayside High in Virginia Beach looked upon by most analysts one of the nation's top 30 running back prospects. Mizzell's the most coveted recruit to commit to U.Va. since offensive tackle Eugene Monroe committed in June 2004, according to Rivals.com rankings.
Gray admits this has been one of the toughest months of his coaching career, but the teaching part of it isn't anywhere near complete.
"If we had to play and expect those (backups) to win for us, we'd still have to simplify it," Gray said. "We couldn't run our package the way we want, but they are getting better."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times