BLACKSBURG – Less than two weeks before Virginia Tech’s 35-10 loss in Atlanta to No. 1 Alabama in the season-opener, Josh Stanford made it sound as if Tech’s wide receivers had gotten the message.
He was asked about all of Tech’s receivers doing 10 post-practice or scrimmage pushups for every dropped pass they had during those practices and scrimmages. After one practice midway through the preseason, the receivers ended up doing 90 pushups.
Stanford, a redshirt freshman, indicated the extra time spent on the field by Tech’s receivers after their teammates had already headed for the locker room was no big deal. His point was the receivers would’ve stayed on the field after practice even if they didn’t have to do extra pushups.
“We all stay after practice and catch,” Stanford said. “Even before training camp, after workouts and after lifting weights, we would go out and catch.
“We put a lot of work into that. We’re thinking a lot out there with new plays and everything, and they we kind of sometimes lose our fundamentals and everything. We just have to focus and concentrate and be relaxed out there.”
Perhaps the connection between fixing the fundamentals, concentrating on quarterback Logan Thomas’ passes and actually putting it all together on the field never came together, because something is clearly tragically flawed with Tech’s receivers.
Throughout the spring and preseason, the receivers were plagued by inconsistency. Tech’s coaches and players talked about addressing all the drops prior to the season, but the problems carried over into the Alabama game.
Tech wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead told coach Frank Beamer’s pay website the receivers were responsible for six drops in the game. Maybe Moorehead’s criteria for a dropped pass is very specific, but more than one reporter in attendance at the game counted at least eight drops, and some said it was as many as 14.
Making Tech’s receiving woes even more disconcerting was the fact senior D.J. Coles and sophomore Demitri Knowles, who were expected to be Thomas’ most dependable targets entering the season, struggled the most in the opener.
With a receiving corps that includes Stanford, redshirt freshman Charley Meyer, junior Willie Byrn and true freshman Carlis Parker, none of whom had caught a pass in a college game prior to this season, some growing pains were expected. When Tech can’t even rely on its alleged two best receivers – Coles and Knowles – there are big-time issues.
“We need to be more consistent catching the football,” said Tech coach Frank Beamer, highlighting the obvious. “The guys have done it before. We’ve seen those guys be positive players, so we’ve just got to get back to being a positive player now.”
If Tech is hoping help is on the way at the receiver position, it remains to be seen. Tech has commitments from receiver recruits Jaylen Bradshaw and Cameron Phillips.
Bradshaw, a 6-0 native of Chesapeake, Va., didn’t have any scholarship offers from FBS programs other than Tech at the time of his June commitment. Phillips, a 6-0 product of Hyattsville, Md., is considered by most recruiting analysts one of the nation’s top-135 receiver prospects in the class of 2014.
Tech commitments Javon Harrison from Lakeland, Fla., and Travon McMillian from Woodbridge, Va., who are considered two of the program’s top ’14 commitments, and Shawn Payne from Chesterfield, Va., could also end up at receiver in college.
Of course, none of those guys are going to save Tech this season. Coles is dealing with a chronically sore knee that has been surgically repaired and cost him all of last season, except for the first game. Knowles has excellent speed, but he’s still learning – having just picked up the game in the last five years after not knowing a thing about it while growing up in the Bahamas.
Stanford may have the most promise of any of Tech’s receivers, but he needs to hone his route-running skills and gain more confidence. Meyer is fast, but unproven. He just earned a scholarship in August.
If Beamer and the coaching staff get desperate, they could look to insert seldom-used junior E.L. Smiling, untested redshirt freshmen Mark Irick, who dealt in the preseason with a knee injury, and Austin Jones or true freshmen Deon Newsome and David Prince into the mix.
The truth is none of those guys dazzled enough in the preseason to warrant much playing time. At this point, elevating any of them on the depth chart might be construed as a blind stab in the dark – an act of desperation.
Thomas Not Panicking – Yet
Though Thomas has stayed remarkably composed while watching his receiving corps struggle during the spring, preseason and now during the season, he has to feel just a little antsy. After an uninspiring junior season that saw his NFL draft stock take a serious nosedive, he can’t afford another off year.
“We’ve just got to correct some stuff, man,” Thomas said. “They can be as good as they want to be. We’ve just got to push the right buttons, get them going and, once they do, we’ll be a dangerous offense.”
In July, Thomas made a point of telling reporters he wasn’t taking the nice guy approach anymore. He was going to be more willing to jump in teammates’ faces when necessary and call out teammates when they weren’t doing their jobs.
He worked on mechanics in the offseason, making sure to get his body lined up with receiving targets prior to releasing the ball. While that part of his game is still a work in progress, it’s obvious he at least has made attempts to change his approach to delivering the ball with the help of new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
What did the receivers do in the offseason to improve? It’s early yet, but it’s difficult to determine exactly where any of Tech’s receivers have made significant improvements in any area of their games.
Is it time for Thomas to rattle some chains around practice or in the locker room? He doesn’t think so – at least not yet.
“I don’t think it’s up to me to say anything,” Thomas said. “The coaches will get them right, and whatever happens, happens.”