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The Virginia Tech Hokies Receiving - Can We Chew Gum, too?

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A look at the Receiving game roster and what it means to the Hokies this season. There are some differences, and they are spelled Ryan, Bucky, and Kalvin. Tight Ends become key, and that's new.

2015 might be the Bucky and Ryan Show down field.
2015 might be the Bucky and Ryan Show down field.
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Now, Chew.  Chew.  Chew.

This has to be one of the most difficult roster analysis jobs.  Virginia Tech has never been known as a passing team; but our recent run in with the lack of any run offense has re-awakened an awareness of the need for a credible passing game.  Our reputation has not been the grandest example of moving the ball through the air.  There is a sort of unrecognized truth, though.  In 2009 and 2010 the Tyrod Taylor lead Hokies could throw the pigskin around.   It's also true that we had some serious muscle and speed in the backfield.  The 2011 Hokies still had the benefit of David Wilson doing dual duty, and two of Tech's best wide outs; Jarrett Boykin (on the outside) and Danny Coale (in the Slot).  In fact Boykin and Coale were a significant presence between 2009 and 2011.  That era wasn't hurt by the playing of Dyrell Roberts, either - whose place in the record books is very respectable.  So there is a certain myth to the heavy run Virginia Tech Offense.  We have actually had passing and receiving talent, and that passing game has been important to the success of the team.

The Hokies have produced some great receiving talent in the not too distant past, as well.  Josh Morgan, Eddie Royal, Antonio Freeman, Andre Davis... the list of fine players many of whom played or are playing actively in the pros speaks to the sneaky reality that Tech has routinely fielded a credible passing offense.  We haven't been just a low point scoring power run team.

Until recently that is.  The Logan Thomas experiment started out bright as a road flare with the talents of David Wilson, Jarrett Boykin, and Danny Coale, Thomas's limited passing repertoire was maximized and supplemented by having a credible offensive line and the added surprise of Thomas being so huge and physical he could pull the ball down and run.  This masked his problems reading the defenses downfield and offered more promise than was possible when the running back talent evaporated.

At some point, Tech also lost any understanding or strategic deployment of the Tight End position, as a receiver.  During that era, we went from the multi-role Greg Boone to nothing special other than a second tackle on the strong side of the line.  Gone were the Jeff King days where the Tight End was a real receiver that offered an entirely different set of zone busting possibilities than is possible with just wide outs and running backs in the pattern.

So in the spirit of what seems to be a real revival, we'll start off looking at the Tight End position, and who is likely to be at the top of the Depth chart, and why.  The following is a class/experience order listing of the current Tight End Roster.  Within the chart you'll also notice that there is a column denoting the style of play of the player.  Some tight ends are just extra Tackles (Tech has converted more than a few TEs to OTs over the years.) and would be styled as a "Block".  Some guys are truly modern TEs and do both credible regular jobs blocking but also have good hands and a good downfield pattern running capability.  These are "Dual" threat style players.  Then there is the Shannon Sharpe, Jimmy Graham type receiving Tight Ends, who are basically H-Backs or large framed Slot Receivers.  We have our own future Sharpe or Graham in Bucky Hodges.  It isn't to say that Bucky won't block, I've seen him put his nose in and do some good quality shoving several times.  But using Bucky Hodges as a Blocking Tight End is a total waste of talent and possibility.  If he wasn't so big, I'd probably have called him an actual H-Back or Slot Receiver in any offense that I designed around him.  And yes, I'd be bold enough to design more than a few series around his talents.

It's also hard to pass up excellent talent like Ryan Malleck and Kalvin Cline.  Both of them are Dual threat Tight Ends with Cline balancing more toward the receiving, and Malleck looking more and more like the next Heath Miller.  So, right now, the current top three positions on the experience sorted roster are also the standing depth positions with the Bucky and Ryan show often on the field together since Bucky can seamlessly replace a wide out.  I am not going to leave out Cline, either.  He's showing up more often, and with increasing effectiveness, and I look to see him stepping in for Malleck after this season.  If the offensive scheme doesn't include these three young men in a very regular basis, the Offensive Coaching staff is not planning effectively.

Tight Ends:

No.

Name

Exp

Style

Height

Weight

Class

Notes

88

Ryan Malleck

3

Dual

6' 5"

252

r-Sr.

Co No. 1 with Hodges

7

Bucky Hodges

1

Pass

6' 7"

242

r-So.

1 or 2 depending on the formation

89

Kalvin Cline

1

Dual

6' 4"

237

r-So.

2 or 3 depending on the situation

8

Matt Hill

-

Dual*

6' 5"

241

r-Fr.

Unless someone gets hurt Hill will ride the pine.

85

Chris Cunningham

-

Pass*

6' 2"

236

Fr.

Expect a Red Shirt

82

Xavier Burke

-

Block*

6' 2"

264

Fr.

Expect a Red Shirt

* Note: This is a general evaluation based on size and projection, not actual observed performance.

Wide gap in Wideouts

That's the subtitle that comes to mind the best when going through the list of Wide Receivers.  As I scan the list I am forced to hit the search engine on the net to give me some sort of idea or guidance as to who these players are, and what they are potentially capable of.  While there is a reasonable class spread, and more than half of the players have at least one season's experience, there are only three or four who even bubble to the top of the immediate recognition window; Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, Demitri Knowles, and Joel Caleb.  Some folks might get the "um yup, him" sort of recognition from Deon Newsome, but basically this is a list of relative unknowns beyond the three deep.

Receivers:

No.

Name

Exp

Pattern

Height

Weight

Class

Notes

80

Demitri Knowles

3

WR

6' 1"

180

r-Sr.

Likely 3 on my Depth chart, biggest impact on kick returns last season.

81

Kevin Asante

1

WR

6' 0"

182

r-Sr.

Mostly a Special Teams player in 2014.

21

Michael Brainard

-

WR

6' 0"

191

r-Sr.

He's probably a fine young man.

83

Charley Meyer

2

WR

6' 0"

220

r-Jr.

Charley made his mark on special teams last season.

15

Joel Caleb

1

WR

6' 2"

187

r-Jr.

Mostly a Special Teams player, he's also filled in at Tailback.

20

Deon Newsome

1

WR

5' 11"

187

r-So.

Played some Offense, but mostly Special Teams.  Expect increased Offense.

1

Isaiah Ford

1

WR

6' 2"

187

So.

Number 1 on my Three Deep for all WRs.

5

Cam Phillips

1

WR

6' 1"

191

So.

Number 2 on my Three Deep for all WRs.

86

C.J. Carroll

-

WR

5' 7"

161

r-Fr.

Looking at Special Teams

39

Jaylen Bradshaw

-

WR

6' 1"

188

r-Fr.

Looking at Special Teams

6

Sean Daniel

-

WR

5' 10"

174

Fr.

Expect Red Shirt

There are some serious "issues" with the wide receiver configuration for the next few seasons.  We are fairly well set with Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips as the Number 1 and 2 receivers, but the water gets decidedly muddy after that.  Knowles took a step back last season, and really only stood out as a kick returner on Special Teams.  His tendency to run kicks out of the end zone was truly frustrating because the attempt often lost yardage in critical situations.  (The firm and fast rule should be:  If you are in the end zone to receive a kickoff, and cannot make it past the 25, then you are to take a knee... and 99 times out of 100 you aren't going to get it past the 20, and you have lost us 5 yards plus.  SO... TAKE A KNEE!)

My guess is that Bucky will be playing Wide Receiver for most of the season, with the 3rd wide out position going to a mixture of Knowles, Caleb, and Newsome.

Virginia Tech really needs to work on that receiver recruiting chart, because the star quality is just not there past the first level.  Depth at this position is going to be critical after we lose Bucky and Ford to probable bigger and less Hokie things.  I am hoping both stay for their full 4 years of eligibility, but that just isn't happening much anymore.

So the conclusion is:  This season Tech looks like it will be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.  The out years, though are going to be coordination problems in droves.  But this summary is about THIS Season.  We'll have to let the next few take care of themselves.

Next up: Defense, and a Gaping Hole in the Zone.