Virginia Tech wrapped up spring practice on April 20, although questions remain heading into the summer that won’t have more definitive answers until fall camp. Nevertheless, the spring cleared up some things. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be taking a look back at what the Hokies figured out and what remains a work in progress.
– WR: D.J. Coles, Sr. (starter), Josh Stanford, r-Fr.
– WR: Demitri Knowles, So. (starter), Kevin Asante, So.
– TE: Ryan Malleck, Jr. (starter), Duan Perez-Means, Jr.
The group showed a renewed spirit under new coach Aaron Moorehead, whose energy was infectious. Sesveral players remarked about how practice was fun again. The two spring standouts at receiver were probably Knowles and Stanford. Knowles began to round out his game more, becoming more than just a deep threat and polishing up his routes. Stanford, who took a medical redshirt last year with a knee injury (something that’s still pending, by the way), made major strides all around, gaining Logan Thomas‘ trust in the process. He had three catches for 86 yards in the spring game and showed he’ll be a big contributor this year. Coles lined up all over the place, and it looks like Tech will use him some as an H-back to exploit mismatches. At tight end, Malleck seems like the well-rounded player who will be the starter. He had the only offensive touchdown in the spring game. Zack McCray might be new to the position, but as Thomas’ cousin, he clearly has a comfort with him. A four-catch, 65-yard spring game was a nice capper.
Drops and drops and drops. Oh, the drops. There were so many. By everyone, In every scrimmage, it seemed. They were so plentiful that Frank Beamer made it a point in his post-spring press conference to note that pretty much every receiver and tight end on the team needs to catch about 100 balls a day on the JUGS machine. Think that might be a concern? The other downside was the inconsistency of the groups. The receivers are still extremely inexperienced. That’s most evident with guys down the depth chart like Joel Caleb and Charley Meyer who haven’t been in the program long (and in Caleb’s case, hasn’t even been playing receiver for a full year). Ditto for the tight ends, where Perez-Means and McCray are converted defensive linemen who are still learning the position.
HELP ON THE WAY
There’s not a ton of players who seem like they could contribute immediately. David Prince will start out at receiver and probably Deon Newsome too (although he’s been mentioned as a DB candidate by Bud Foster as well). Quarterback Carlis Parker took some reps at wide receiver this spring after enrolling early, although he looked very raw at a position he’s never played before. Coaches mentioned on signing day that Kendall Fuller could be a guy who could possibly play offense too. That might be a stretch this year, considering how excited the defensive staff is to get him on the field early.
Since Knowles established himself a little bit last year, let’s go with Stanford. The Canadian-born receiver was one of the last members of the 2012 class to sign, but it’s clear the Hokies got a steal on that one. He was going to be in Tech’ s plans last year before the knee injury set him back. He seems eager to have a big role this year, and is a smart player who picks things up quickly. If the Hokies go with three wide receivers, expect him to be one of them.
BATTLE TO WATCH
The trio of Coles, Knowles and Stanford seems like a very good bet to get tons of playing time. It’s the players below them on the depth chart who will be competing to get on the field. Guys like Asante, Caleb, Meyer, E.L. Smiling and Willie Byrn are in that second-tier that needs to advance their games enough for the coaches to trust putting them on the field with any regularity. Whoever can get over that hump will play, because Tech won’t be able to get by with just three receivers.
THEY SAID IT
“I’d rather have a group of guys that are a little more established, but you know what? This is my group. Of course you can mold them the way you need to mold them, but 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. If you come in up tempo and every week you’re coming in and you’re fired up, you’re ready to go and you’ve got play-makers, you’ll be good.” — Moorehead
It’ll be a brand new look at receiver this year for the Hokies, who have bid adieu to Danny Coale, Jarrett Boykin, Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts in the last two years. Those five guys caught nearly all the team’s passes. With the exception of Coles, it’s a fairly inexperienced group, one that’s going to need to progress rapidly for Thomas to achieve a comfort with them that makes passing games so effective. There’s some promise. Coles, if he gets healthy and in shape, could be primed for a big year. Knowles and Stanford have promise. And Malleck is a decent option at tight end. But Tech will need more than them to be effective, leaving plenty of opportunities for whoever wants to seize them.