The Virginia Tech Hokies had never had a receiver go over 1,000 yards in a single season. Isaiah Ford changed that in 2015 as the sophomore receiver amassed 1,164 yards on 75 receptions. All Ford did in 2016 was, again, go over the 1,000-yard mark which made him the best receiver in Virginia Tech history.
Now, Ford is gone. So is Bucky Hodges, who just happened to be the best tight end in school history, although Hodges primarily played receiver in 2016.
On top of Ford and Hodges being gone, quarterback Jerod Evans also decided to forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the 2017 NFL Draft. So, while the Hokies are trying to find new receivers to pair with senior Cam Phillis, they’ll also be breaking in a new quarterback, too. Fortunately, that’s what spring practice is for.
Josh Jackson appears to be the man at quarterback, at least for the 2017 season. The redshirt freshman almost won the job from Evans last offseason but head coach Justin Fuente decided to go with the more experienced option.
One of the biggest questions facing the Hokies this spring; who will step up at wide receiver opposite of Phillips?
If you’ve followed recruiting over the last couple of years, Fuente’s first two classes at Virginia Tech, you’ll notice he’s signed a lot of wide receivers. And that’s by design. His up-tempo offense calls for lots of action by the wide receivers and tight ends. Last year, Tech didn’t have a lot of depth, but with stars like Ford, Hodges, and Phillips, that wasn’t as imperative as it will be in 2017.
Junior C.J. Carroll, a 5’8”, 167-pound slot receiver returns for the Hokies this fall. The team’s fifth-leading receiver a year ago with 18 catches, will see plenty of action this fall. Carroll is dynamic in the slot, runs strong routes and has excellent hands. He should be VT’s second option in the passing game this fall behind Phillips.
In Phillips, the Hokies have a true No. 1 receiver. In each of his three years on campus, Phillips has improved. He struggled with drops at times in 2016, however, by the end of the season that was less of an issue. Fuente used Phillips all over the place last season, lining him up outside, in the slot and employing him on jet sweeps. The experience made him a much better player.
Wiggins on Cam Phillips: "He's going to be our bell cow this year." #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) April 4, 2017
Virginia Tech receivers coach Holmon Wiggins raved about Phillips and his leadership this spring, according to Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times:
I actually talked to him a little earlier and told him that he can’t be perfect. And that’s the one thing: he’s trying to seek perfection. And he might be out there kind of overdoing a few things, but the leadership has been awesome.
Wiggins also mentioned about how Phillips was not only helping the team’s young quarterbacks but also how much pride he takes in being Tech’s top guy this fall.
He’s helping those young quarterbacks. He’s helping our young wideouts. He wants to make a play every play, which won’t happen, so he’ll have to wrap his mind around that. But I like the fact that he wants to be the guy, and he’s going to be our bell cow for this year.
Outside of Phillips and Carroll, who can we expect to step up at receiver this fall?
Sophomore Eric Kumah is the first to come to mind. The 6’2”, 210-pounder is loaded with potential. Kumah didn’t redshirt last fall likely because of Tech’s lack of depth at the position. He can be excellent downfield target and red-zone option for the Hokies this fall. Despite being smaller than Hodges, he is the player most likely to replace his production.
True freshman Kalil Pimpleton is a player to watch. Much like Carroll, Pimpleton’s size would seemingly limit him to the slot. But don’t tell that to Wiggins who is high on the diminutive freshman.
When you talk about a kid with his measurables, you’ve got to kind of have a chip on your shoulder and I think he plays with that. He’s smart, he’s tough. And he is dynamic with the ball in his hands. So we’re looking at him a little bit in the return game, and when we’re spitting out some of our jet sweeps and our bubble stuff, he looks pretty good, just as far as playing against that first guy in open space.
That kind of gives you an indication of how much Pimpleton will be involved this fall. Expect a heavy dose of him in the return game, too.
Samuel Denmark is another one expected to see time this year. The redshirt freshman didn’t play last year. Despite his blazing speed, Denmark clearly wasn’t ready to play as a true freshman in 2016. He struggled with his route-running and getting separation, too. This spring is huge for him to prove he is a complete receiver and not just a track guy playing football.
Henri Murphy, a 5’10” junior, is arguably the fastest player on the team. He saw the field last year after transferring in from a junior college. Murphy was used some in the return game and made an impact, especially in the Belk Bowl win over Arkansas. He will see more time this fall at receiver.
But the player who could make the biggest impact this season—outside of Phillips—is redshirt freshman Phil Patterson.
At 6’2”, 180 pounds, Patterson is built similarly to Ford. He possesses outstanding speed and impressed coaches last fall while he redshirted. According to Ricky LaBlue of Tech Sideline, coaches almost pulled off Patterson’s redshirt when Ford went down in the Hokies win at North Carolina.
Wiggins thinks a year in Tech’s strength and conditioning program greatly benefitted Patterson.
“I think he benefited from a semester being in the weight room, a semester of kind of learning what to do,” Wiggins said.
When the Hokies line up against West Virginia in September, Patterson could be Tech’s starter opposite of Phillips.
While the Hokies won’t have Ford and Hodges on the field in 2017, the cupboard isn’t exactly bare and this spring presents a promising opportunity for several young players to step up and make an impact this fall.