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The Xs and Os of X-Y-Z and Sometimes B

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Sometimes it seems that a quarter of the team is going out for a pass. Looking at the roster of Hokie receivers, and wondering just how the knot gets untied.

Returning Hokie Tight Ends, Ryan Malleck and Bucky Hodges
Returning Hokie Tight Ends, Ryan Malleck and Bucky Hodges
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Ok, I am an old lineman, and I preferred playing defense, so what possibly could I know about running rubs, sluggos, drags, posts, and outs... among the two dozen other descriptions of a reasonably fast guy with reasonably good hands running into the defensive backfield to have another offensive player - usually the quarterback - throw me the ball?  Lineman... remember?  ‘Nuff said.

I am not going to go into the hoary details of route running; the efficacies of rub routes, or the increasing dependency on hot reads.  That's lots of lovely passing game theory that I could spend hours on a white board detailing and dreaming about.  It's not the purpose of this piece.  We are looking at people, and just how those people are going to fill the various positions generally labelled ‘WR' on a roster, but are also supplemented by a few ‘FB's and sometimes ‘RB's.

There are three classic receiver positions in the offensive formation:

  1. Tight End - this position's utility and its prominence depends wholly on the offensive scheme.  The position is traditionally eligible to go down field and catch a pass because it's the uncovered outside position on the offensive line.  A TE is also a critical Offensive Lineman (I omitted the position from the Line chart for a reason that I will go into a bit later in the series) when the offensive scheme runs more than passes.
  2. Spit End - no, it's not what happens to long hair.  It's the traditional name of the eligible receiver in a Wing Tee formation that is split out away from the main formation but ON the line of scrimmage.
  3. Flanker - (old old name Flanker Back) Sometimes folks think of "flankers" as the Split End, and given a more complex set of alignments a Split End can step back off the Line of Scrimmage and a Wing Halfback can step up onto the line to cover a Tackle... well then the Split's a Flanker, and the Flanker's a Split.  AND the only people who care are the Zebras with their little flags and various potential formation violations. (Something that we have some issues with occasionally... well, more than occasionally...)

It's important to remember that the modern Wide Receiver, is basically a smaller faster Halfback (Tailback in the current scheme of things) moved out to the edges of the formation and more or less dedicated to running pass patterns and hopefully catching a few in the process.  So, as the modern offensive formation evolved, the old names, with the exception of the Tight End (The advent of the mostly receiving TE has offered a naming challenge - the good hearted bombast of the most excellent Shannon Sharpe comes to mind, but there are other greats) the names have all been lumped into the general designation of Wide Receiver.

Pass heavy offenses are not well served by offering only three receivers running down field.  Besides the dearth of potential targets, there are just not enough decoys and well players setting picks (Ok, one day we'll talk about rub routes, and other gray areas in the receiving rules... but not now.)   Where to the extra people come from?

The answer is, that it depends (no stunned mullet looks here... it really does depend...).   Since Halfbacks have become just general ‘Tailbacks' any RB can be a receiver, that's pretty old hat, but here's the modern kicker.  Someone thought of putting a tight end back in the formation, substituting him for the Fullback and lining him up where ever it was tactically convenient for the play as long as it was in the backfield.  So the H-Back was born.

So we have progressed from the Wing formation which Sid Luckman revolutionized into the Tee formation.  Then it was modified to the Wing Tee formation, and lost a halfback to the Power I formation, and now we have the Spread formations that look much like the old Wing formation that Sid Luckman found so wanting.

Well now, Mr. History major, how does that all fit in with Virginia Tech football in 2015, and the Spring game in particular?  It's important because the Depth Chart, and the Roster, have different position names for players that might not be playing that position in the Depth Chart, tomorrow, or next week, etc.   The Spring 2015 Depth chart for the wide-outs, tight ends, and fullbacks is arranged by route assignment, not position.

We have the ‘X' position which kits out to be the traditional wide receiver.  We have the ‘Y' position that lists all of the players who are Tight Ends and H-Backs, We have the ‘Z' route which looks like a mixed lineup of slot type players, and the ‘B' route list which contains the Fullback/H-Back roster slots.  The Depth chart ‘A' route listing is the current stack of RBs.  We'll talk running backs in another article.

The following is the current Roster-Depth Mashup:  (Don't get dizzy, I did)

Number

Name

Exp

Position-Depth

Height

Weight

Year

25

Jerome Wright

1

FB/B - 1(2)

6' 2"

231

Jr

19

Logan Adkins

-

FB/B - 2(3)

5' 11"

208

r-Fr

32

Steven Peoples

-

FB/B - 3(4)

5' 9"

214

Fr

21

Dalton Roe

-

FB/B - 4(5)

6' 1"

235

r-So

88

Ryan Malleck

3

TE/Y - 1

6' 5"

245

r-Sr

7

Bucky Hodges

1

TE/Y - 2

6' 6"

249

r-So

89

Kalvin Cline

1

TE/Y - 3

6' 4"

245

r-So

49

Dakota Jackson

-

TE/Y - 4

6' 3"

269

r-Jr

82

Xavier Burke

-

TE/Y - 5

6' 3"

261

Fr

87

Matt Hill

-

TE/Y - 6

6' 5"

239

r-Fr

1

Isaiah Ford

1

WR/X - 1

6' 1"

180

So

81

Kevin Asante

1

WR/X - 2

6' 0"

189

r-Sr

83

Charley Meyer

2

WR/X - 3

6' 1"

215

r-Jr

38

David Prince

-

WR/X - 4

6' 1"

180

r-So

3

Austin Jones

-

WR/X - 5

6' 2"

193

r-Jr

5

Cam Phillips

1

WR/Z - 1

6' 1"

196

So

80

Demitri Knowles

3

WR/Z - 2

6' 1"

177

r-Sr

20

Deon Newsome

1

WR/Z - 3

5' 11"

186

r-So

21

Jaylen Bradshaw

-

WR/Z - 4

6' 0"

188

r-Fr

22

Michael Brainard

-

WR/Z - 5

6' 0"

189

r-Sr

86

C.J. Carroll

-

WR/Z - 6

5' 7"

163

r-Fr

23

Alden Carpenter

-

WR/Z - 7

6' 1"

187

r-So

Note: Sam Rogers is on the Injured List, but will presumably be the 1 FB on the depth chart to start August practices.  To help see how that breaks out on the Roster Mashup the Spring depth position is listed as s(f) where s is the position at the start of Spring, and f is the presumed rank in the Fall.

When I look at this list I get a headache.  We have 23 receivers of various position designations, and 4/5 Fullbacks when we almost never use a fullback in our offensive scheme.  We have 12 wide outs and 6 (SIX!!!) Tight Ends.  Remember to be mindful of the need to have a competent three-deep roster that leaves the Hokies with eight more people than realistic slots on the depth chart.   I can accept a four deep if we start throwing in Redshirts for practice periods, but more than a three deep at skill positions starts getting a bit difficult to manage.

I am all Hokie, and Tech is the best school on the planet, but if I am low man on the totem pole of this particular depth chart, AND I want to play football, I'm looking up and down I-81, East on I-64, and perhaps taking the slow tool down US460 back toward Chesapeake.   Maybe there is a good FCS school looking for receiver talent.

Most of these kids just aren't going to play.  This team never needs more than two Fullbacks on the Roster, and since we still haven't learned to use Tight Ends (We used to know how, what happened?) the B-List looks way too long for good use.  Add to that, we haven't even gotten near the Tailback position as it relates to the passing game.

I would love to get into the details of who gets to start, what sort of packages they'd play in, and who was going to be the next Coale or Boykin, but this chart just looks like a jumbled up mess.  Are we going to assembly line them in rotation until someone actually consistently shakes free and catches something significant?  When you have seven players on the chart at one position, something has to give.  Someone has to win consistently and someone has to find some other place to be.  It's just that simple.

So, I am going to take some sort of stab at this, and see if I can make heads or tails out of what we are looking at for the future, both near and the Fall.

Fullback should be fairly obvious since we use fullbacks in every formation for every inside run and every flare or screen, right?  Oh? Sorry we are talking Virginia Tech's offense, here.  I am surprised that we even have a Fullback position on the depth chart at all.  I think that barring a career ending injury, Sam Rogers is going to be the Fullback for the Fall campaign, and he'll fill pretty much the same H-Back role that he did so well at last season.  He's an underappreciated asset who has also filled in at virtual Tailback in a pinch.  This team needs more players like Sam Rogers, but it also needs a few fewer Fullbacks unless it develops a true two back offense.

Tight End is not so easy.  Malleck is 1 in the depth chart, but Bucky is right behind him, if not realistically a co-number one slot.  Cline has proven himself in game situations, and the remaining three are on the bump up train, since Malleck is a Senior this season.  That really leaves us with three too many TE's in the current mix, and maybe someone can take someone under their wing to play something like Linebacker.

The Wide Receiver chart is quite frankly, silly.  There are far too many players chasing two/three positions (depending on the formation).  One would think that the competition is a good thing, but in this case it's more an element of confusion than it is a clarifying stability in the Receiver to Quarterback relationship that's so necessary.  Quality routes, great timing, and crisp execution are all creatures of repetition and practice.  There is no way for even the most masterful Quarterback to get enough work in with 18 players to iron out those kinks.  This is critical, and it will remain critical until the depth chart is whittled down and the starting QB, whoever he is (and it's still Brewer's to lose - more on that later) has regular targets to work with.  There will be little or no movement from the Ford/Phillips/Knowles configuration, unless someone is just crazy good, and develops a great rhythm with Brewer.

So, to wrap this one up, I have to say that the receiver situation is as confused as the offensive scheme.  Maybe one is a symptom of the other, but there are just too many pass catchers chasing too few playing slots, when those roster slots should have gone to much needed Linebackers or Offensive Linemen. If there is wisdom in all of this, please clue me in.

We will see what it all looks like on April 25th.  Last year, neither offense could get its act together.  There were flashes of brilliance, but overall there wasn't the timing or the skill needed.  Not having Brewer was a real handicap.  This will be the first Spring Game for a few guys who played with each other last season but haven't done a full practice series.  I am hoping for some serious improvement.

Next in line: is the Defensive Front Four (We need a nickname).