BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech secondary coach Torrian Gray watches games from a booth high above the field. He could see exactly what redshirt freshman cornerback Detrick Bonner did wrong during the third quarter of last week's game at Wake Forest.
As the Demon Deacons lined up for first down and 10 at Tech's 39-yard line, Bonner walked toward the line of scrimmage, playing press coverage against Wake's best wide receiver, Chris Givens. Too close. As Gray watched, he was powerless to correct the mistake and just had to hope it wouldn't burn Bonner, who was playing for injured All-American Jayron Hosley.
Givens burst off the line past Bonner and quarterback Tanner Price lofted a pass toward Givens. Everybody in the stadium knew Bonner was in trouble. Bonner never saw the pass. But at the last minute, he stuck his hands up and deflected the ball before Givens could catch it. Gray knew he'd need to talk about the play with Bonner later, but he admired how the kid recovered in a tough spot.
"It's a play where a young guy in that situation could possibly panic," Gray said. "It really was a hell of a play for him to catch up against a fast guy and not be able to see the ball and play through his arms [to break up the pass]. From a 'you shouldn't have been in that situation in the first place' [standpoint], that's just a freshman that has to grow up and learn through experience."
Bonner will make his first career start Saturday against Boston College as Hosley will not dress because a left hamstring injury. He tweaked the hamstring in the first quarter at Wake. (Defensive end James Gayle missed the Wake game with a sprained left ankle, but will start.)
Saturday also will be a chance for Bonner to show the Hokies what they can expect from him next year. Hosley, a junior, should be a strong candidate to leave early for the NFL, though he hasn't said anything about it. If he turns pro, Bonner would likely start opposite Kyle Fuller, a sophomore in his first season as a starter.
Bet on Boston College going after Bonner, just as Wake did, and as Marshall did in Week 4 when Hosley was limited because of a broken blister on his foot. Knowing Wake would pick on him actually forced Bonner to stay alert.
"That helped me a lot," he said. "I knew they were going to come my way. I'm the new guy."
Bonner has played 89 snaps this season, including 49 against Wake and 12 against Marshall. Gray, who is brutally honest with (and about) his players, liked what he saw from Bonner during spring and preseason practices, so he trusted Bonner to play him against Marshall and Wake, though he made some mistakes in both games.
Against Wake, on the play following his pass break-up, he slipped while trying to tackle Givens 10 yards off the line after a quick pass. Givens gained 31 yards to Tech's 8, which set up a touchdown. Gray said Bonner made "a lot" of errors against Wake in terms of his alignment and leverage, though he also made plays on the ball when he had to. Against Marshall, he gave up a touchdown pass on his first play in the game.
"My strength is I can make plays," Bonner said. "But my weakness mainly is focusing in, reading my keys, knowing what I've got to do, knowing if I've got to have inside leverage or outside leverage. Stuff like that I've got to focus on more. But besides that, I feel like I'm going to be all right."
Gray was hard on Bonner after the Marshall game "because I didn't think he was mature about the situation. But I also expected a competitive response from him, and that's kind of what I got the next week of practice and what I've seen from him.
"I saw him after that Marshall game really come out and focus in practice. He's standing behind when Jayron's in the game and he's really paying attention, and I'm like, 'OK, he's starting to mature. He's starting to get it.'"
• Read Darryl Slater's Virginia Tech blog at VTeffect.com