With or without Justin Fuente, this surely would've been an interesting year in the development of the Virginia Tech offense. Even if Frank had stayed, I've got a suspicion that Scot Loeffler wouldn't have. There would have been new blood trying to get this offense to new heights, with or without Josh Jackson (we can tell Loeffler wasn't as key to Jackson's commitment as we had thought). The looming storyline, Bucky leaving or not, would of course still be present. But there's another reason, besides replacing a tight end, why Bucky leaving would be problematic. Virginia Tech has gone without tight ends before. We, as a fan base, had complained for years about the under-utilization of the tight end as we watched Dwayne Allen, Zach Pianalto, Coby Fleener, etc. rip through Bud Foster's defense like a hot knife through butter. The fact was, Bucky Hodges has become less a tight end and more a slot receiver. And that isn't exactly by choice. Partially, yes, it is. But it's also by necessity.
Can anyone name who the slot receiver is supposed to be? Anyone? It's not Deon Newsome- he was a healthy scratch the tail end of the year. It's not Greg Stroman- at least not insofar as we see outside of sub packages. He never actually recorded a catch- neither did Newsome. What about Demitri Knowles or Kevin Asante? Newp. Neither of them recorded a catch outside of the Furman game when we were throwing in backups. The problem is that it's a silly trick question- Virginia Tech functioned as a purely two wide receiver offense. No one stepped up and took control of that spot, or Loeffler couldn't figure out how to use what talent we had. Either way, it's a hole that needs to be filled for a functional offense. At Memphis, Justin Fuente ran an offense that had four receivers with over 20 catches apiece, totaling 295 catches offense wide. We had two wide receivers and two tight ends, and totaled 200 receptions offense wide. We've got another 95 receptions to distribute- not to mention 30 more carries (and we ran 502 times). That necessitates someone else developing or being force-fed. Now, Memphis didn't have someone that's as talented as Isaiah Ford or maybe even Cam Phillips. But they did probably have people that were close enough for government work that their QB ended up being a potential first round pick. You don't get that pub without having someone to throw to, at least at a competent level.
Well, considering we're bringing in brand new people in the spring, the depth chart is going to shift. Right now, you can only say that two spots are safe. So barring Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips, who exactly is in line to get those catches?
Welcome to the table of options. I'm not going to set values or buy or sell, but I AM going to say that there are certain players that mean more or less in terms of their success mattering for the future. Note that I'm not going to include commits entering for fall practice, because they can obviously still decommit before signing day. One other note: Graduating players include Demitri Knowles, Kevin Asante, and Michael Brainard. Certain players that we don't really have data on will obviously have their chances to stand out, but right now, we've only got certain ones that you would reasonably expect to see the field. They'll be listed at the age they'll be in the fall, though.
Jaylen Bradshaw (#39, R-So., Oscar Smith High School)
I'm including a high school for these guys for a reason- it means a LOT, especially in the 757, to have people succeed from certain areas and high schools. Right now they're trying to sell 4-star WR DJ Matthews (committed to Florida State, 2017) on what Isaiah Ford is doing at Tech- Ford was his teammate in high school. Right now, it would really help our recruiting to have someone from Oscar Smith to succeed, and Deshawn McClease is going to have a rough time cracking the starting lineup (Well, again, who knows. JC's gone and- WAIT, THAT'S ANOTHER ARTICLE! MOVING ON!). But the top recruit at Oscar Smith has gone to Virginia Tech three times since 2002 (Robert Parker, Greg Boone, and JC Coleman). Next year Shon Mitchell is their top recruit (one of a couple of quarterbacks in VA). And while it's not a SUPERPOWER in terms of recruiting, it's good to have a steady stream of guys that can and will come in and succeed in order to keep that pipeline going. Insofar as size-youth-talent potential, Bradshaw is kind of in the same mold as Phillips. He was a 3-star wide receiver coming out of high school, and could theoretically project as a slot wide receiver type. But the issue is, for all the shine he was getting in spring- Stinespring even answered a question about that from me at an event in NoVA last year naming him (for all that is worth)- he never separated himself. It'd be very important for him to succeed, but it doesn't guarantee him anything.
Charley Meyer (#83, R-Sr., Benedictine High School)
Well, interestingly, Tech's actually got something going at Benedictine. Nigel Williams, Raymon Minor, and Charley Meyer are all Benedictine grads (Richmond area, for you guy's information). Or, at least, we did. This year Benedictine had four rated recruits. None of them went to tech, and we weren't even in the running for the three wide receivers. Bracey and Layne committed a while ago, as did Tennyson. The big target next year is Ellis Brooks, a 4-star LB that we're in the running for. But it's going to be hard to wrest him away from Duke, if the 247 crystal balls are to be believed (DUKE!). But the point is that if Meyer is going to make hay, this is his last year to put it on the line and lay it on the field. He's not going to be tied behind anyone on the depth chart, and since everything's up for grabs, why couldn't it be him? He's, kind of obviously, in the Willie Byrn/Danny Coale mold of the possession guy, which we really could use as the sure hand over the middle. He could also pull out of the competition as the guy- but he's easily replaced as the old man of the group, and he's not going to be as important to the recruiting hook-up tango as Williams and Minor will be if they see the field this year (Williams more likely than Minor, but again, other article).
Greg Stroman (#3, Jr., Stonewall Jackson High School)
Stroman's one of the two current Stonewall players on the roster, with another two currently committed (Reggie Floyd (2016) and Devante Smith (2017)). So we'd obviously like him to succeed to keep them interested (Floyd being more in the bag, though). But the issue is that Stroman's career has been...confused at best. The coaches have flipped him in and out, between offense and defense, in the season between the seasons and even in the games. And while we can all agree that he shouldn't be returning punts, you can't say that he hasn't had highlights. Last year he was a hero of the Military Bowl against Cincinnati. This year he had two interceptions, including the one to end the game in Boston College (though the game was out of hand, it sealed it). Personally? I think that with all the Wide Receiver talent we're bringing in, that Stroman gets stuck at cornerback and gets to spend a season learning the position for real. I don't expect him to be here by fall- and maybe even as early as Spring.
Joel Caleb (#15, R-Sr., Clover Hill High School)
The only Clover Hill grad on the roster, and with none conceivably in the pipeline, Caleb will end his career at Virginia Tech exiting with a lot less fanfare than he came with. Originally a coveted athlete, Caleb has bounced back and forth between wide receiver and running back as depth and the whims of the staff have demanded. He's never really stuck somewhere, and now it's his redshirt senior year. He's in the same position as Meyer with more supposedly inherent talent and even less at external stake. Honestly, he's the kind of guy that might be in line for a transfer to some FCS school so he can play immediately. There's always the chance that if he sticks at Wide Receiver this year that he finally pulls it together, but since his old positional coach is still on the staff, we'll see how that plays with Fuente and Holmon Wiggins. It's just kind of another sad tale of Tech getting a highly ranked recruit and then having the career- for whatever reason- peter out into nothingness. I do hope that he finds somewhere to succeed, but much like Meyer, it could very well not be here. We're already bringing on three commits early, and we've still got Phillip Patterson, and potentially even more receivers entering in the fall. It's going to be hard for a senior that hasn't shown much yet to beat out a guy that you'd rather get in and develop.
Also under consideration are obviously the various walk-ons: Sean Daniel, C.J. Carroll, Tyler Fitzgerald, Ryan Palmer, Alden Carpenter. Deon Newsome is still there, but he recorded exactly 1 tackle on the year. Who knows what'll happen to him. He does have a brother, Dazz, at Hampton where he plays with current commitment Jovonn Quillen, and there's a 2017 DE from there that has some offers (Elijah Conliffe), but Hampton right now looks dry as the sites show. He might've also played- or rather, not played- his way out of sight or off the roster. Let me underline this- no one below the top two wide receivers is safe, especially with so many new recruits coming in.
As for the new kids coming in in the spring? None of them are at schools where Rivals currently sees someone in the pipeline, though obviously that could change. I'll drop their high schools for now.
Denmark is the pure burner in this lot, bringing something we've not had in a while to our receiving corps- breakaway speed. Knowles was supposed to be that guy, but he never developed. Roberts was fast, but injuries sapped his effectiveness. Denmark is the ‘go-long' guy that would complement the two guys on the outside being, ideally, your short- to mid-range savvy receivers (Phillips did a great job at developing awareness of the sticks as the season went on). I think that's interesting to throw over the middle, sure- cutting through the defense with a seam, fly, or deep post can free up the underneath stuff for both the tight ends and the other receivers rather than leaving clogged passing lanes. Think of it like we're learning to think about basketball. You don't want two guys with similar skill sets clogging the lane and screwing up the spacing of your offense for the shooters or the drivers. Now, you want maybe one pivot guy and a lot of passers, and that's how teams like the Warriors and Spurs get better shots. With that deep target and taking the top off the defense, you get the middle of the field unclogged for someone like Bucky or for Phillips to attack.
Starting Kumah, I think, would actually necessitate a change in how the corps is configured. The thing with a Justin Fuente based spread offense is that while there may be ‘primary' receivers, there's not a huge difference in number of receptions or targets between them. Kumah, in my opinion, would offer us some outside height and size to go up one-on-one with corners, or simply muscle through them for YAC (yards after catch, and in this case, contact). He's a massive receiver at 6'-3", 205, and I'd guess that he could probably gain another inch and/or 10-20lbs in college. For reference, that's the size of Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas. That's already bigger than Jarrett Boykin, and he was a big guy. It's not as big as Marcus Davis, but it's not hard to work harder than Davis did. That raw size and strength could definitely pose a problem for opposing defenses- and it's not like he's a leadfoot, either. Maybe not as fast as Deablo or Denmark, but he's not slow by any stretch. This could of course kick Phillips into the slot, but if that's the case, I think I'd be comfortable letting a tall guy go up and get it one-on-one against corners left on an island.
The winner for the best name of the recruit class, Deablo is also a very solid wide receiver that does show a nice combination of skills that put him somewhere on the ladder between Denmark and Kumah. He's got enough speed, enough hands, and enough route-running sense that it could be argued that he's the most ‘finished' prospect between the three early enrollees. But that lack of a speciality might be his undoing in getting first-year playing time. He's not small (6'-3" like Kumah, but only 180lbs, so leaner), and got enough attention to get to the NC-SC Shrine Bowl game. His offer list is suitably impressive (among others: North Carolina, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Florida), which reinforces his talent. It's just that he could be stuck in the muddled middle due to not being able to overly distinguish himself.
Personally, I think it'll be interesting to see who walks out of this game of musical chairs with the slot position. Will it be someone on the roster right now? Someone coming in the Spring? Or someone that won't even show up until the Fall? One thing's for sure, this offense will get a lot wider spread. Let's hope that the wide receiving corps is up to the task.