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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.
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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