With the loss of QB Jerod Evans, as well as top targets Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges, the Hokies find themselves with some obvious holes on offense. Which receivers will step up and make plays for a new quarterback in Blacksburg?
Many expected the 2016 campaign to be the last time we saw Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges suit up for the Hokies. Jerod Evans’ departure, on the other hand, was a total surprise that left many fans fearing how the offense would look come 2017.
If we think back to preseason 2016, the team was in a similar predicament. Luckily, Justin Fuente, the QB whisperer that he is, turned a one read quarterback in Jerod Evans into a player capable of leading a team to a ten-win season.
The only twist this time around: the receiving core is a lot less experienced. No more Ford. No more “God’s Gift” in Hodges making ACC defenders look like the JV.
This receiving group is going to be almost brand new. Cam Phillips will, of course, be the go-to guy coming out of the gate this season, as he is by far the most experienced of the bunch. The next closest guy as far as numbers are concerned is CJ Carroll, who had 27 total touches last season.
Everyone else in the stable is either completely new to live action, or has only a handful of looks to speak of. With that being said, I think there is a ton of talent here. If there is a quarterback in camp that can hit these guys, I expect this offense to continue to run at a high level.
Second on the team in receiving yards last season, Phillips will now have to step up and be “the guy”. He will have to continue the upward trend that carried him to end of last season, culminating in the form of a Belk Bowl MVP honor.
In order to alleviate the pressure for a new quarterback, I expect Fuente and company to continue to use Phillips all over the field, including the run game. We will see a lot less of him in the slot, and more split out wide.
For Phillips to take that next step and truly become a top option, he must eliminate the drops that occasionally show up in his game.
CJ Carroll rarely factored into the offense for the first half of the 2016 season. He really came into his own as a slot receiver down the stretch of the ACC schedule. He will likely be the starting slot receiver for the time being.
I expect Carroll to take on a safety blanket role this season. He is a prime candidate for early game looks to get the Hokies’ first year quarterbacks comfortable with some easy completions.
Carroll did have a foot injury in spring camp, leaving 5’8″ 152 pound Kalil Pimpleton to shine in his absence. If this injury lingers for Carroll, don’t be surprised if Pimpleton’s redshirt comes off. Read more on Pimpleton here.
Fighting for a Spot
With only two starting spots spoken for, it is an open competition for the rest of the receivers. Players fighting for the remaining playing time include redshirt freshmen Samuel Denmark and Phil Patterson, sophomore Eric Kumah, graduate transfer James Clark, junior Henri Murphy, and true freshman Caleb Farley.
My favorite to grab the final starting spot in the Hokie offense is Eric Kumah. At 6’2″ 210 pounds, he is more of a possession type receiver, which I have to figure is what Fuente will be looking for. Kumah found favor with the coaching staff in the 2016 season, rising up the depth chart week by week.
Denmark and Patterson have also gotten positive reviews in practice, and could easily win the job as well. Rotational work is not out of the question either.
James Clark is an unknown at this point, sitting behind multiple NFL prospects in his time at Ohio State.
Henri Murphy actually saw playing time last season, as minimal as it was, but appeared to lose out to Kumah down the stretch.
Another name to watch for is Caleb Farley. His status as a true freshman did not show in the spring game, as he drew three pass interference calls on starting corner Brandon Facyson to go with two deep ball catches for 88 yards. If none of the returning players are up to the task, Farley is an outside candidate for playing time. Read my recruiting profile of Farley here.
In the shadow of Bucky Hodges, Chris Cunningham actually played quite well for the Hokies in 2016. He somehow managed to be on the receiving end of four touchdowns even with the talent lined up around him. Look for Cunningham to show what he can do with a lion’s share of the tight end snaps.
True freshman Dalton Keene is another name to listen out for, as he has impressed in practice thus far. The coaching staff has also mentioned playing time for Keene as a freshman; high praise from as tight lipped a coaching staff as there is in college football.