User ID: Password:

April 5, 2013

Moorehead excited about coaching and the potential of his young receivers

By: Jimmy Robertson

New receivers coach Aaron Moorehead wants to see his receivers play more relaxed, and he feels that will translate into more big plays next season

There has been a lot of excitement on Tech’s practice fields this spring, a newfound energy that comes mostly from the result of a remodeled coaching staff. Players have been playing with emotion and intensity, and they’ve been bouncing around – and the coaches with them.

Aaron Moorehead’s athletic ability has been on display this spring. He’s spent quite a bit of time running down the field and high-fiving his players after big plays.

But that’s to be expected from Moorehead, who isn’t that far removed from college. The 32-year-old has plenty to be excited about these days, as his beloved Chicago Bulls ended the Miami Heat’s long winning streak, he’s finally about to get cable television at his place in Blacksburg, and he simply loves his first full-time coaching gig as the receivers coach at Tech – as evidenced by his demeanor on the practice fields.

“I like running up and down the field,” he said, laughing. “But I’ve told them I’m probably going to slow down a bit just so that I’m on top of the things that I need to be doing and not 40 yards down the field.

“But I like getting after it a little bit and showing them (the receivers) that I care. When they make a big play, I’m going to be just as excited for them as I am when I’m yelling at them for screwing up. That’s something that they understand. It doesn’t just go one way. I’m not going to just yell at them when they screw up, and then say, ‘Hey, good job’ when they do a good job. I want them to understand that I’m truly excited for them.”

Moorehead, one of three new assistant coaches announced by head coach Frank Beamer this past January, brings a contrasting style to that of former receivers coach Kevin Sherman, who departed to take a job at Purdue following last season. Sherman took more of a staid, conservative approach that fit his personality, and his philosophy worked well for the most part.

But Moorehead wants his players to be loose and have more fun. He noticed early on that his receivers lacked a bit of a spark and seemed a little uptight. So he has spent most of this spring trying to get them to play with confidence and to have fun.

“If you’re not loose, to a point, then you’re going to have a lot of trouble really going out there and making plays,” Moorehead said. “If you’re always tight and pressing, you’re not going to be able to play to your full ability.

“We have to encourage each other. It’s not about one guy. If D.J. (Coles) makes a big catch, then Kevin (Asante) should be the first one running to him. If Demitri (Knowles) makes a big catch, then Joel Caleb should be running to him. If Charley Meyer makes a catch, all those older guys should be running to him.

“I said, ‘Guys, when you play as a group and don’t care who catches the ball, those are the best teams I’ve ever been a part of.’”

Moorehead brings more than on-field enthusiasm to his job, though. He also brings discipline, which he learned about from his former coach with the Indianapolis Colts – Tony Dungy. Tech’s receivers got a quick lesson on Moorehead’s disciplinary tactics right off the bat.

Shortly before spring practice started, Moorehead called an early-morning meeting with his receivers. One of them showed up a few minutes late. So Moorehead called another meeting the next morning – for an hour earlier.

“You have to learn,” Coles said. “He (Moorehead) had to set an example. If you can’t do it at this time, then we’ll go earlier. He sent a message. No one has been late again.”

“No excuses, no explanations,” Moorehead said. “That was something we were big on with the Colts. It was a Coach Dungy thing. I’m not going to allow those guys to come in whenever they feel like it. If I tell you to be here at 7, be there at 7. If it’s at 6, be there at 6. That’s the thing. A guy may stroll in at 6:02. Well, those little things get you beat in the end.

“It’s one of those deals where we have to be up-tempo. Everything is fast, and part of it is not about being lazy, but having a purpose in everything you do. I wanted to set the tone with those guys.”

Though young, Moorehead also brings serious coaching chops, having played five years with the Colts under Dungy and then working for three years at Stanford under coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, a one-time candidate for the Tech offensive coordinator position that went to Scot Loeffler. In fact, Hamilton recommended Moorehead for Tech’s receivers job.

Loeffler and Moorehead speak the same language – almost literally. Though they never played for or coached under the same coaching staff, the two worked in similar systems. That has made for a smooth transition, as the Hokies try to ramp up their passing attack.

“When we get to talking, it’s almost weird,” Moorehead said. “It’s like we know what each other is thinking. It’s kind of funny because we haven’t been around each other long enough. So we laugh about that. It’s almost like we can finish each other’s sentences, and that’s unique for people who haven’t been around each other that long.”

Moorehead’s job this spring hasn’t been easy. The Hokies lost their top three receivers – Corey Fuller, Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts – off last season’s squad. Those three combined for 127 of Tech’s 224 catches a year ago and 2,166 of the Hokies’ 3,002 receiving yards. They also caught 12 of the Hokies’ 18 touchdown receptions.

In fact, Tech returns just 22 catches from the receiver position from last year’s squad – 19 by Knowles. Coles, the most experienced receiver with 39 career catches, missed last season with a knee injury.

Not that any of that matters anyway, as Tech continues with the installation of a new offense under Loeffler.

“It’s totally different, but I like it,” Coles said. “The first time you’re putting an offense in, you’ve got to get out the wrinkles, but I like it a lot. With the running game and the play action and the deep balls we’ve got down the field, I think it’s all going to work out well for us. It’s a lot different, but it’s a good offense.”

Knowles agreed.

“Some call it complicated, but I call it sweet,” he said of Tech’s offense. “I like it. We have some double moves for receivers. It’s supposed to be a complicated offense. Once we get into our books, though, we should be fine.”

The Hokies do possess some intriguing young talent at the position. Josh Stanford and Caleb bring size and speed, and Asante has shown flashes. The staff liked Meyer last year during camp, and both he and E.L. Smiling continue to improve.

Coles’ and Knowles’ experience combined with the physical skills of the younger receivers alleviates Moorehead’s concern a little, as Tech gets ready to countdown toward the kickoff of the 2013 season against Alabama.

“I don’t think it’s a concern,” Moorehead said. “Over the 15 practices and training camp, we’ll find our playmakers. For me, in our group, it’s more about building consistency. I like playing four or five or six guys, if I can. I don’t like just playing two or three guys. I like having a full stable of guys.

“There are certain guys who, as they get more comfortable and stop thinking and just play, they’ll emerge. But some guys are starting a little slower and their learning curve isn’t as fast. Other guys have picked it up a little quicker. We’ll see how they all respond, but I’m excited about the effort and what they’ve done so far.”

Excited may be the buzzword of spring practice. The players are excited, and so, too, are the coaches. One only needs to catch a glimpse of Moorehead to realize that.