Virginia Tech football looking for answers at wide receiver


D.J. Coles was a medical redshirt last year after hurting his knee in Virginia Tech’s season opener, but he’s the team’s lone wide receiver with much experience. (Kevin C. Cox/GETTY IMAGES)
August 15, 2013

Surrounded by reporters, new Virginia Tech wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead was about to answer a question about his No. 1 wide receiver when the most likely candidate stuck a phone in his face as if it were a voice recorder.

Senior D.J. Coles asked if the team’s wide receivers had a weight issue, fully aware that minutes earlier Coach Frank Beamer had said in a news conference that Coles needed to lose some weight to be at his best this season.

Moorehead took the intrusion in stride, noting he had packed on some pounds lately and would be cutting down on his late-night eating and hitting the treadmill more often. He then turned to Coles and asked, “How are you going to do that?”

Coles simply smiled and walked away, his uncertainty about the situation mirroring that of Virginia Tech’s entire receiving corps with just more than two weeks remaining before the Hokies face two-time defending national champion Alabama in their season opener.

“As a position coach, you’d like . . . to know that you have a number one,” Moorehead said. “And right now, I think that it is disappointing that we don’t.”

With wide receivers Corey Fuller and Marcus Davis — and their 94 combined catches last season for 1,768 yards and 11 touchdowns — now in the NFL, the Hokies are in search of reliable targets for quarterback Logan Thomas.

The task has been harder than expected. Among the nine wide receivers vying for playing time in training camp, just one (redshirt sophomore Demitri Knowles) appeared in more than one game on offense last season. Two players who switched positions – 6-foot-3 freshman Carlis Parker, a quarterback in high school who enrolled at Virginia Tech in time for spring drills, and redshirt freshman Chris Mangus, a converted running back — already are in the mix because of their speed and the team’s depleted depth chart.

Even the 234-pound Coles, who had 36 catches for 480 yards and three touchdowns in 2011, remains a question mark. He was a medical redshirt last season after re-injuring his knee in the 2012 season opener against Georgia Tech and has yet to prove he is fully healthy. Coles, who has lost 20 pounds since spring practice, noted Saturday that he’s “held to a different standard because I have game experience.”

“I think the weight adds to the knee problem,” Beamer said. “I think if he could lose some weight, he’d be a little more nifty.”

The Hokies are also hopeful Knowles can turn a corner in his development and become an all-around threat rather than simply rely on his speed. The former track star improved his route-running this offseason, but consistency remains an issue.

“It’s D.J. and it’s Demitri, and one of those guys has got to step up and be the guy and say, ‘Hey, when it hits the fan in the fourth quarter of a football game and we need a big play, who are we going to throw the ball to?’ ” Moorehead said. “We’re hoping it’s one of those two guys.”

Moorehead has high expectations for redshirt freshmen Joshua Stanford and Charley Meyer as well, and both will play extensively when Virginia Tech holds its final open scrimmage of training camp Saturday.

Stanford caught three passes for 86 yards in Virginia Tech’s spring game and nearly forced his way onto the field last season. Meyer, meanwhile, is a former walk-on who has earned raves from Thomas and the coaching staff and drawn comparisons to former Virginia Tech wide receiver Danny Coale this offseason.

But catching the ball is still an issue for the entire group. After a scrimmage Saturday night, Knowles said the wide receivers were forced to do 90 push-ups because of drops in earlier practice sessions.

“Our young wide receivers are getting open,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “Now we’ve just got to, at times, finish the plays on a more consistent basis.”

That, though, hasn’t made the learning curve any less frustrating for Moorehead, a former wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts. He has spent much of training camp harping on minutiae such as proper alignment and admits the dropped passes make “you just want to pull your hair out.”

Recently, Moorehead even texted an apology to Ron Turner, his former coach at Illinois, for all the miscues he had as a freshman and sophomore years ago. But even with that perspective, Moorehead and the Hokies realize patience won’t be an option this year.

“Looking for playmakers,” Beamer said after a recent practice. “That’s for sure.”

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