Spring Practice Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

by bmann4 on February 23, 2013 · 5 comments

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Perhaps no position on Virginia Tech’s roster has witnessed as much turnover as wide receiver in the past two years.

Just two years ago, the Hokies had the top two receivers in school history: Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Behind Boykin and Coale was juniors Marcus Davis, D.J. Coles, Dyrell Roberts and inexperienced former track star Corey Fuller.

The Hokies’ receiving corps struggled in 2012 with the departure of Boykin and Coale. However, the group’s struggles were more indicative of the entire offense, not just one specific position group.

Quarterback Logan Thomas was inconsistent throwing the football all season for a multitude of reasons. One reason was a lack of trust in the wide receivers. Davis stepped up to have one of the better seasons in school history but he had consistency issues as well. Fuller was the biggest surprise on the team in 2012 and it was unfortunate he completed his eligibility just as he was getting started as a college football player.  

Coles, who fought a knee injury last offseason, re-injured the knee in the season opener against Georgia Tech and missed the rest of the reason. He was granted a medical redshirt and will undoubtedly be one of the Hokies’ starting receivers come August. Coles is a big possession receiver at 6-foot-4 who runs strong routes. If Thomas can develop a trust with him, in particular on third downs and in the red zone, it could go a long way in helping this offense take a step forward in 2013.

Sophomore Demitri Knowles is the most talented receiver on the roster. Knowles, who was born and raised in The Bahamas, didn’t start playing football until high school. One of the fastest players on the team, Knowles has developed much quicker than many anticipated and was very good when given the chance in 2012. He finished the season with 19 receptions for 240 yards and a touchdown.

At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Knowles has good size to go along with his blazing speed. His development as a route-runner will be crucial for the Hokies this spring.  The Hokies need Knowles and will be depending on him to take a big step forward in 2013. He has an opportunity to be one of the better receivers in recent years for the Hokies. His athletic ability and size remind many of former Hokie great Andre Davis.

Joshua Stanford and Kevin Asante are next in line for playing time behind Coles and Knowles. Asante, a rising sophomore, was impressive last offseason and posted one of the faster 40-yard dashes on the team. He could be an ideal slot receiver.

Stanford caught only one pass for six yards in 2012 before a knee injury ended his season. He has solid size at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and is surprisingly strong. Spring practice will be important for Stanford as it gives him a chance to make a move up the depth chart.

Junior E.L. Smiling is another player to watch as he has the best combination of size and speed of all of the receivers. Smiling, at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, has also been timed at 4.43 seconds in the 40. He dressed for only a few games without registering a catch in 2012.

Sophomore Christian Reeves is an interesting name in this group. He is a big target at 6-foot-3 and was a highly accomplished tight end in high school. Reeves has worked at split end since enrolling two years ago.

Joel Caleb is the one player Hokie fans are most excited about. Arguably the best player in the state of Virginia in 2011, Caleb was the Hokies’ top recruit last year. He redshirted as a freshman as he struggled in his move to receiver after playing quarterback in high school.

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The Hokies hope that Caleb will be much further along this year than last. Having a full offseason to adjust to receiver should benefit Caleb. New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler will surely be watching Caleb in the spring, as the Hokies believe he has the kind of talent to be a star.

At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Caleb has good size. He is extremely strong and more quick than fast. He is a good open-field runner, which should make him explosive after the catch.

David Prince is the only player the Hokies recruited this year to play receiver. Prince was a dynamic quarterback in high school and is extremely fast. He is a candidate to redshirt as he could use one year in the weight room as he makes his transition to receiver.

This is undoubtedly an unproven group of players. However, it is a talented bunch. Much of this year’s progress will depend on Coles’ health and Caleb’s progress. Knowles will be good but the Hokies need others to step up opposite of him. Keep an eye on Asante.

Tight Ends:

Three of the top four tight ends from 2012 have graduated. Junior Ryan Malleck returns and he should be the starter entering spring practice. Malleck is a solid blocker who showed good hands when given the opportunity. He is not a big-play guy but can move the chains. It will be interesting to see how Loeffler incorporates the tight ends in his offense.

Two converted defensive linemen are now tight ends: Juniors Zack McCray and Duan Perez-Means. McCray, the cousin of Logan Thomas, was a highly recruited defensive end out of high school but never could crack the top four in the defensive end rotation. He is an explosive athlete with great size.

Perez-Means is much like McCray in terms of size and athletic ability. He made the switch one year before McCray so it would seem he should be ahead in terms of development.

Sophomore Darius Redman is an intriguing prospect. He is the fastest player among this group but questions persist about Redman’s blocking. If he has improved as a blocker don’t be surprised to see him as part of the rotation.

Redshirt freshman Dakota Jackson looks like the typical Virginia Tech tight end. At 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, he has similar size to Redman and is a better-than-advertised athlete. Jackson’s blocking, like Redman, will determine how high he climbs up the depth chart among Virginia Tech tight ends.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

fernleyhokie February 23, 2013 at 6:57 am

Good write up Brian.

I am much less concerned with WR now that Kevin “Waiting for Daivs to breakout” Sherman is gone and we have someone that is highly vocal about accountability and work ethic for our receivers. I think we’ll actually see a much improved receiving corps in terms of actual play, even if we don’t have an 1,000 yard receiver or breakout player. if we can get good blocking, crisp routes and, dare I say, receivers besides someone named Fuller that can actually catch a ball then we should be fine.

I am more concerned with TE’s. We haven’t had a real threat at tight-end in years. I can’t remember the last effective TE, and I know that had a lot to do with the offense we were running and its lack of focus on their use. While good players I can’t see any of our current roster being a solid Stanford type TE that would be a real threat. Hopefully, Stinespring can return to excelling as a position coach and get this sorted quickly.

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VThokie18 February 23, 2013 at 9:02 am

“I am more concerned with TE’s. We haven’t had a real threat at tight-end in years. I can’t remember the last effective TE, and I know that had a lot to do with the offense we were running and its lack of focus on their use. While good players I can’t see any of our current roster being a solid Stanford type TE that would be a real threat. Hopefully, Stinespring can return to excelling as a position coach and get this sorted quickly.”

If you are looking at this from a receiving standpoint the last real threat at tight end we had was Jeff King and he was a pretty good one all around. Our run first offense has never relied too heavily on TE’s, however I am truly hoping that Loeffler involves these guys more in the red zone and in short yardage play action than Stinespring or O’cain have over the past few years. You look at most of the top teams nationally over the past decade and alot of those teams have TE’s that were heavily involved in the offensive production. I hope that McCray can break out at TE since he struggled at DE he is a really good athlete and is a good person overall would really like to see him succeed before his time is up at VT. I also recalls us losing out on a player you may have heard of before Heath Miller. He went to Honaker High which is ALOT closer to Blacksburg than it is to Hooville, now that could have been for a couple of different reasons Honaker is a single A school out in the middle of nowhere in Southwest VA I didn’t follow Heath’s recruiting but chances are because of where he was from he was flying under the radar quite a bit whenever you get South of Roanoke the amount of D1 athletes drops off alot and I’m sure alot of that has to do with the level of competition in the area. Another reason Heath may have ended up at UVA instead of tech is simply because of the way we utilized out TE’s. In all honesty I’m suprised we even landed LT since he was the #1 TE in the country and came to VT initially thinking he was going to be a TE. Now you tell me if we would have kept LT at TE how do you think he would have played out in our system I know he has the size but overall ability I just don’t forsee him being a get down in your stance and block 95% of the time type of player. If Loeffler opens up our TE position to become more of a playmaking position that will open up another strong recruiting opportunity for us.

Justin with our overall lack of depth and experience on the OL do you foresee Dakota Jackson packing on 15 to 20 more pounds and getting thrown into the rotation at Center, or possibly an athletic guard? That seems like logically something that would of happened in years past, but now with Grimes in the system looks to me like to get linemen that are big and strong straight out of HS not TE’s that have a possibility of turning into an Ed Wang at Tackle.

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JustinC February 23, 2013 at 7:41 pm

As a fellow Viking, I’m really hoping Jackson can make a splash at TE this spring. He’s a hard working kid so I’m confident that he’ll be successful during his career here at VT. But, I don’t see him as a guard or a center. I don’t think he has the frame that could support that much weight. Plus, with Grimes, he’s going to advocate for more NFL caliber OL. So, I doubt you see many of our TE’s switching unless they’re just not grasping the tight end position for whatever reason.

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Jordanafanatic2 February 23, 2013 at 8:00 pm

What about Mark Irick and Thomas Smith? Both of those guys looked very promising. If I remember correctly Irick will be a redshirt Fr and Smith comes in June.

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JustinC February 24, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Irick will have a chance to impress this spring. Smith is a big guy at 6’3″ and 225 pounds. But, he still has to get some work done before he gets here. Fingers crossed.

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