When redshirt freshman tight end Bucky Hodges hauled in his first career touchdown catch in Saturday's second quarter against William & Mary, it was a welcome sight for Hokie fans. Not only did the opening win display offensive efficiency from the quarterback position for the first time in nearly three years, but the win revealed a much deeper revelation about the plans for Scot Loeffler's offense in his second season as the offensive coordinator in Blacksburg. Maybe, just MAYBE, there will finally be an emphasis on the tight end position in the passing game, which is something that has not even been a consideration in Tech's recent offensive past.
Hodges finished the afternoon with six catches for 38 yards and a touchdown, marking a successful collegiate debut for the former quarterback recruit. Opposite Hodges at tight end was Ryan Malleck. Malleck, who missed all of last season due to a shoulder injury, played well in his return to the field as he finished the game with three catches for 40 yards.
Two players. One position. Nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for the opening game with an offense that has struggled to produce consistency in the passing game over the last couple of seasons, especially at tight end.
Take this into consideration:
Last year, the Hokies started true freshman Kalvin Cline at tight end. Cline, who logged a total of 617 offensive snaps on the season, finished the campaign with only 26 catches for 321 yards and two touchdowns. If you tuned in to any of the Hokies' games a year ago, it was pretty clear by the eye test that Cline was productive when the ball was in his hands. So why did Cline only have the ball in his hands on 4.21% of his 617 offensive snaps a year ago? Sure, the offense was abysmal last season, perhaps the worst it has been in the last decade. However, even an offense that was as bad as the Hokies' last season could have gotten the ball into the hands of one of their best playmakers more than the team did with Cline in 2013. As an aside, Cline is currently injured, but is expected to be a contributor in the coming weeks when he is back to full health.
In 2012, the Hokies' two primary tight ends, Randall Dunn and Ryan Malleck, combined for 29 catches between the two of them for 302 yards and three touchdowns. On most functioning offenses, these are the statistics for a second-string tight end by himself. If that isn't enough for you, how about 2011? Chris Drager, the starting tight end, had only 15 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Even former NFLer Jeff King, caught just 25 passes for 304 yards and 4 TDs in 2004. And 65 of those yards came in the FedEx Field loss to USC.
Get the picture?
So Hokie fans, we need to come away from the opener against William & Mary extremely excited. The biggest assets of both Hodges and Malleck are their size and athleticism. It finally appears that tight ends may be the focus of the offense, which can ultimately lead to a more diversified passing game, and open running lanes for all of our backs. Next Saturday against Ohio State, look for the Hokies to utilize Bucky Hodges and his 6'6" frame and line him up in the slot and on the outside in a variety of offensive looks. This match-up problem will open up the middle of the field for guys like Ryan Malleck and Willie Byrn, providing the best possible chances for the team to be successful against the stout Buckeyes defense.
The question for all of us fans throughout the rest of this year is not whether or not we have the tight ends to produce, but whether or not Loeffler uses his assets at the position to the best of his ability. Only time will tell, but until then we wait, hopeful that the production at tight end will continue throughout the rest of the season.