In a way, everything Virginia Tech has at receiver is new this year. The players are almost all young and inexperienced. Even the most veteran of the crew, senior D.J. Coles, is coming off an injury that kept him out for an entire season.
And, of course, receivers coach Aaron Moorehead is new to Blacksburg and, really, to coaching. This is his first full-time gig as a college coach, having worked as a graduate assistant at Stanford previously.
Does the fact that everybody is going through that newness together a good thing?
“Ehh … I’d rather have a group of guys that are a little more established,” Moorehead said. “But you know what? This is my group, and what you said has some merit. Of course you can mold them the way you need to mold them. …
“Anyone who has played this game understands when you step off this practice field and step onto the game field, there’s a different aura. And you have to be able to do the same things. And sometimes young guys take a little longer. So that’s why I say that having some guys that have played in the games makes you sleep a little better at night. But these guys are working hard and I look forward to continue to work with them all spring.”
It’ll be a completely new look at receiver this year for the Hokies. Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts are gone, as is coach Kevin Sherman, who was in Blacksburg for the previous seven years. That trio of players accounted for 84.6 percent of the receivers’ receptions last season, 88.0 percent of the receiving yards and 92.3 percent of the touchdowns.
Coles, who is back for a second shot at his senior season after suffering a knee injury, and Demitri Knowles, a speedster who is only a redshirt sophomore and still raw at the position, are the only two players who have gotten any extended playing time in their careers.
The rest of the players on the two deep and beyond — Kevin Asante, Josh Stanford, E.L. Smiling, Willie Byrn, Joel Caleb and Charley Meyer, among others – have plenty to prove before they can be trusted on the field.
“We’re going to have to grow up fast, because as you guys know, the ACC is a good football league and there are a lot of good football teams, and if you go in flat, you’re going to have some really slow Saturdays,” Moorehead said. “With young guys, developing consistency is so hard. Because mentally they’re just not where they need to be yet. The Josh Stanfords of the world and the Kevin Asantes of the world who just got a touch last year, they’re going to be counted on to do more things.”
Caleb, Moorehead said, is the “poster child” for this, an intriguing talent who was the top-ranked recruit in the 2011 class but one who last year had to make the transition to receiver from quarterback while redshirting and now has to adjust to a new offense and a new coach.
“But Joel is a tough, tough, tough kid, now,” Moorehead said. “He’s going to work his butt off. He’s going to do everything you ask of him. When he gets it, I think he’s got a chance to be a really, really good player.”
It’s that newness that has Moorehead hesitant to single out anybody he’s excited to work with this spring. He doesn’t want to draw any conclusions until he has some time to work with the new players and understand their makeup.
“I think some of the techniques that I’m teaching is a little different from what coach Sherman was coaching,” Moorehead said. “And it’s not that it’s better or worse or whatever. It’s just different.
“I just want those guys to play hard and play fast, because once they put the pads on, we all know the receiver position changes drastically. There’s a lot of people that go out there and play in shorts and T-shirts and there’s probably a lot of them sitting in the NBA right now. When those pads come on, them boys don’t want to play football. They want to go back to playing 7-on-7.
“So right now, I’m just excited about the effort the group made. Can’t wait to watch it with them and can’t wait to see how they pick up and they strive [going forward].”