Going Down Field Instead
Virginia Tech has been blessed with some wonderful receivers over the past 20 years. Danny Coale, Cam Phillips, Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, and Dyrell Roberts all come to mind when you think of great pass plays and explosive changes in momentum.
The missing part of the equation has been a tragic lack of imagination in the passing game. That element hasn’t been present since Tyrod’s Senior year, and much of it was because Taylor had finally developed as a quality passer and had some flexibility in play calling and audibles. None of that has existed since 2016 when the Bowling Green Read/Option plus RPO with its three active routes and boundary bias limited the opportunities to just a few real pass patterns on a one or two read and go “no audible” offense.
It would be refreshing to see the offense move the ball downfield in chunks with passes beyond the line of scrimmage, three-second routes, and some intermediate packages for the receivers to run. Flair passes and bubble screens can work, sometimes, but not as a staple. Fade passes into the flat for jump balls are weak and low percentage bets. The abbreviated wheel route screen to the H-Back (Sam Rogers and Dalton Keene please phone home) was fun and innovative until it became routine and easy to dope out. It’s time to be effective with the pass and eat up the yardage necessary to move the sticks.
The hope is that this team generates some positive yardage on a routine basis instead of in a panic on 3rd and impossible. Those changes are going to be necessary if this offense is going to have a chance to beat the relatively dismal odds given the Hokies for success this season. Therefore, the most important people for the Virginia Tech Hokie football team in this 2022 inaugural season of the Pry Era will be the coaches, their game plans, and their individual coaching efforts with their respective squads.
The Show Runners
We’ll borrow a phrase and title from show business to describe the coaching staff of the receiver groups. The passing game is the big show, afterall. The first and most important of these is not actually the wide outs’ coach, it’s the OC.
The main issue will be none other than Offensive Coordinator Tyler Bowen. He is also serving as the Tight Ends coach and that might just be a major tip of the hand as to how he might be arranging the innovations in his still super-secret sauce offensive scheme. The Hokies haven’t had a serious intermediate game threat since Bucky Hodges left.
There were capable receivers like H-Back/Slash Back/RB Sam Rogers along with the similar role filled by Dalton Keene; but they were never utilized to their maximum potential with the three/four pass too short/too deep scheme used during their tenure. That’s relatively sad since they were serious collegiate level offensive talents who deserved better opportunities to shine in an intermediate passing game.
So, Bowen is going to have some interesting things that will have to be accomplished if the staff wants to make an immediate impact. We currently have only a hint of what could be possible, and from the looks and sounds of things, game one might be the only time we really begin to understand what Bowen is trying to accomplish.
The Big Challenge Falls to Fontel Mines
If you look at the roster, there are plenty of names piled up with WR in the position set. It’s obvious that Coach Mines has his work cut out for him. The Hokies have some good experience in the expected #1 depth positions for the natural X, and Y receiver positions. Where that takes a serious hit is the fall off from #1s to 2s and 3s. Mines will have to make up some serious time in coaching up the inexperienced receivers. He’s a 13-year coach with high school and FCS level experience and was brought in from a one-year stint at Old Dominion as their Tight Ends coach (irony #1). He spent 2 seasons playing in the pros with the Chicago Bears, but that’s not an irony. Irony #2 is the reality that Mines is a Wahoo. And obviously suited up more than a few times to face off against the Beamer Era Hokies during his 2002-2006 stint in Hooville. We’ll see how that works out this Thanksgiving weekend, won’t we?
Before that, though Coach Mines is going to be handed the challenge of bringing a roster of #2s, and below, up several levels so that there is a reasonable expectation that the quarterbacks will have targets, downfield. That’s not an easy task, and one that will probably play out in fits and starts.
The Chart Looms Large
2022 Hokie Receiver Roster
|4||Connor Blumrick||TE/QB/RB||6' 5"||222||R-Sr.||1-2||Connor Blumrick will be on the field and probably more than most folks know - he's attracted serious attention as an H-Back|
|38||Ty Eller||TE||6' 2"||236||R-Sr.||2||Spent 2021 mostly on the bench in reserve - saw some 2020 Special Teams work - Eller is a wait an see|
|89||Drake DeIuliis||TE||6' 5"||247||R-Sr.||1||Experienced starter for several seasons - expecting him to be a package starter - more of a blocker than pass catcher in the past|
|86||Nick Gallo||TE||6' 4"||251||Jr.||1||The expected #1 starting tight end - dual purpose tight end who could contribute more to the pass if routed and targeted appropriately|
|40||Cole Pickett||TE||6' 3"||205||R-Fr.||2||Pickett is the most experienced of the depth players at the moment - projected depth could change because he is a bit small|
|9||Harrison Saint Germain||TE||6' 4"||230||Fr.||3+||All three true Freshmen will get hard looks this fall and probably exhaust redshirt eligibility|
|13||Dae'Quan Wright||TE||6' 4"||230||Fr.||3+||Wright is a candidate for a burned redshirt|
|82||Benji Gosnell||TE||6' 5"||240||Fr.||3+||Gosnell is reputed to be right around Wright in the potential burning of a redshirt|
|14||Cole Beck||WR||6'1"||195||Gr.||2||Beck returns to the football roster as a Wide Receiver - Prime for the deep ball and returns|
|2||Jadan Blue||WR||6' 0"||190||R-Sr.||1||Temple transfer works into the equation as a slot receiver but has some wheels enough to stretch the field.|
|34||Tink Boyd||WR||5' 10"||187||R-Sr.||3||Boyd has had spot assignments and played in a few games over the last couple of seasons|
|80||Kaleb Smith||WR||6' 2"||215||R-Sr.||1||This is Smith's big moment to shine - he is projected to be the #1 or X receiver so this is going to be his big shot|
|16||Luke Bussel||WR||6' 1"||207||R-Jr.||3||Bussel finally played in a few games in 2021 and like Boy made some good catches|
|3||Da'Wain Lofton||WR||5' 11"||190||So.||1-2||Lofton played in 12 games last season and made his presence known - he will figure heavily into the starting offense|
|12||Stephen Gosnell||WR||6' 2"||210||So.||3||Transfer from North Carolina might see the field since he played in 15 games for the Heels in 2021|
|88||Jaylen Jones||WR||6' 1"||203||So.||3||Played in a few games last season- made some receptions and looks like a solid backup prospect|
|20||P.J. Prioleau||WR||5' 11"||165||R-Fr.||3||PJ is still working his way into the depth charts for the team - he may get some playing time especially on special teams|
|49||William Kakavitsas||WR||6' 1"||190||R-Fr.||2-3||Played in 9 games in 2021 on Special Teams - unless the log jam breaks at the top of the WR list that probably will not change|
|81||Dallan Wright||WR||6' 1"||175||R-Fr.||3+||Scout team prospect did not play in 2020 or 2021|
|85||Christian Moss||WR||6' 3"||180||R-Fr.||3+||Expect more development with the depth chart crowded Moss will have to work his way up.|
|5||Xayvion Turner-Bradshaw||WR||6' 0"||185||Fr.||3||A solid late commit and pickup for this season - Bradshaw looks like a long term development opportunity expect a redshirt|
|11||Tucker Holloway||WR||6' 2"||178||Fr.||3+||Scout team and redshirt as his capabilities are studied and playing skills developed|
|37||Areeb Rashid||WR||6' 1"||186||Fr.||3+||A true Freshman from Prince William County will probably redshirt but might stalk the sidelines in uniform for 4 games|
The Tight End roster has an interesting addition that has recently cropped up, Connor Blumrick has been working more with the Tight End group than any other squad. His last interview has him making comments about his need to learn how to block and not shy away from the contact. From the looks and sounds of things he’s really slated for the Dalton Keene slanted H-Back role with lots of other variations, but Blumrick has really made an interesting show. He’s bigger and taller than most of the wide-outs and has presented Tyler Bowen with a golden opportunity for a quality “we don’t have a clue about why he’s in” gadget player. The impulse coming out of camp, right now, is Blumrick is headed for starter status.
The other #1s are Nick Gallo and Drake Deluliis with both of them potentially swapping packages with either of them playing on the field opposite Blumrick as the H-Back. Both of these players have multiple games, receptions, and snaps under their belts, but it’s going to be up to how the offense is operated to see how much impact they have beyond blocking. One would hope that they get better opportunities than has been traditional in a Virginia Tech offense.
Cole Pickett and Ty Eller both have some experience and skill sets to fill in as #2s in the current scheme. They spent most of their playing time on special teams and in limited snaps over 2021. Look for them to be stretched and challenged as much as possible. There are three true freshmen on the TE roster, and I would expect that short of an emergency they’d be suiting up for their maximum four games before being redshirted.
This season, the Hokies start off the year without anyone specifically identified as a go-to star receiver. The early departures of Tayvion Robinson and Tre Turner left a huge hole in the top of the depth chart with mostly #2s and 3s to fill in those starting roles.
Kaleb Smith has distinguished himself as a very reliable #2 over the past few seasons. He’s anticipated to be the #1 wideout for the X position, though he can play in the slot, too. He seems to be Grant Wells’s favorite target from the Spring game, and that deepish sort of threat from the outside is going to be necessary. Jaden Blue is a redshirt Senior transfer from Temple. He brings some solid experience (35 games) to the other wideout position, especially the key read routes given to more experienced receivers. The Hokies are going to count on him to pick up the offense quickly.
The intriguing addition to the Wide Receiver squad is a familiar name to Blacksburg Bruin football fans. Colton “Cole” Beck has reappeared on the roster after a two-season absence. Beck has been a star ACC track athlete running sprints in both solo and relay teams. He might just step onto the field as the fastest player on the team. Beck’s stint on the prior squads was as a running back, but the prior regime never figured out how to use his talents. It’s looking very promising for him as this staff seems to recognize the need to put him out into space and use his speed and good hands in a wiser condition than slamming into the line of scrimmage between the Tackles. Beck also presents some golden opportunities to increase the return squad presence. There isn’t much doubt that Hokie fans could get to see Cole Beck light the afterburner in both the return game and the passing game. He presents a deep threat that we haven’t had for a while and could keep Grant Wells in the black on the reception/interception count.
The WR group is fifteen players, and that’s far too many for everyone to get a shot at starting. There are several players who might see some playing time, however. Stephen Gosnell is a transfer Sophomore from UNC with a full season’s experience behind him. Da’Wain Lofton and Xayvion Turner-Bradshaw are true Freshman that might just stick on the starting roster for 2022. They’ll definitely be pushed to earn a #3 depth spot because the experience level between the 2s and 3s is not that great.
Dealing with Life in the First Year of Transition
Among all of the squads, the receiver group seems to be the least settled (except for maybe the Defensive line). The job of a receiver is complex and layered some players get the route concepts and reads down pretty quickly, and some need additional coaching and in both cases lots of practice is needed to make the passing game work. The regular order has always been to have old hand experience guys teaching the younger guys the ropes. Well, everyone is learning new ropes. This season, there are few “old guys” to hand down wisdom and playbook secrets. The playbook is new to everyone, and the competition is wide open, even when you consider the presumed starters.
What’s your feeling about the receiver situation?
This poll is closed
The potential starters look okay, but no one stands out as anything flashy. The run game better work because the pass is going to be iffy.
This is an exciting roster for the future, but the current season is going to be a work in progress. It’s going to depend heavily on solid play calling. Riffing isn’t in the cards.
What an interesting opportunity! Cole Beck burns deep, Nick Gallo under the zone, Jayden Blue out in the flat and Blummie goes anywhere. Defenses are confused.
This roster works if the offensive scheme establishes the run, stays with intermediate downfield routes, and uses Beck and Smith to stretch the field. There is real potential here.
We will hopefully see some hints of something if Coach Pry opens up a few scrimmages to the public, before the trip to Norfolk on September 2nd. There is little doubt that the biggest question marks are also the key positions in modern offenses. Which quarterback is going to throw to which receiver? That’s the big question for the 2022 season.
The coaching staff is going to need to figure that out fast, and maybe, just maybe clue the fans in on where they might be going with this before the first kickoff of the season.