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May 8, 2014

Receiving group this spring a nice blend of veterans and younger players

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tech’s struggles in the running game a year ago have been well documented, but some of those issues came about because of the Hokies’ inability to make big plays in the passing game.

Last season, the Hokies hit on just three passing plays of 50 yards or more, and their inability to stretch the defense clogged things for the running game. So receivers coach Aaron Moorehead went into this spring focused on getting his receivers to make more big plays.

“I think we did a good job of that this spring,” he said. “Demitri [Knowles], Josh [Stanford] and Carlis [Parker] have gotten behind the defense. It’s just something that, with a new quarterback, those guys have to time that stuff up. The quarterback has to know what they’re thinking, and they have to know what the quarterback is thinking.

“When you look at last year, Demitri played some the year before, but none of those other guys did. We’re hoping with the development of Deon Newsome, who can run, and Josh and Carlis and Demitri all can run … we’re hoping we have a nice vertical passing attack next year. We should be greatly improved, and as an offense, we need to have that to be successful.”

With the exception of D.J. Coles, the entire receiving group from last season returned. And as expected, Stanford and Knowles came out of spring practice in the top spots at their respective positions on the depth chart, with dependable Willie Byrn as the third receiver and the slot receiver.

Moorehead especially liked what he saw from Stanford, whom he said had the best spring among his group. He expects to get more out of Stanford this upcoming season – he only caught one touchdown pass a year ago.

“He’s a guy with playmaking ability,” Moorehead said. “He runs good routes and gets open, whether it’s press coverage or off coverage. He’s proved this spring that he’s going to be a playmaker. He’s been more consistent, and that’s a word we’ve used with Josh a lot. He’s been able to make the plays he’s supposed to make, and he’s made plays that he wasn’t supposed to make.

“That’s a big challenge for our whole group. We’ve got to go from a group that’s not just making the plays we’re supposed to make to a group that’s helping out the quarterback and making the plays that you’re not supposed to make.”

Byrn and Knowles led the Hokies in receiving a year ago, with Byrn catching 51 passes and Knowles hauling in 45. Moorehead liked what he got from both of them this spring. He especially liked the effort that Knowles displayed when it came to blocking in the running game – a previous issue.

Tech’s younger receivers showed a lot of promise this spring, with the trio of Newsome, Parker and Charley Meyer getting a lot of reps. But they’re still relatively young. Newsome took a redshirt season last fall, and while Parker played in 10 games last season as a true freshman, he did not catch a pass (though he ran six times for 40 yards in the Sun Bowl). Meyer, a rising redshirt sophomore, played in 11 games and caught one pass.

Meyer fits in as a backup to Byrn in the slot role, while Moorehead expects to see big plays coming from Newsome and Parker.

“Deon Newsome showed some flashes of big-time ability,” Moorehead said. “That’s not surprising. We saw that in the fall. He just didn’t have a chance to learn the offense. I thought he picked up on it well this spring, and by the time he gets to the fall, he’ll have a good understanding of what’s going on. I think his role is still a work in progress, and that’s not a bad thing. You want him to keep developing. Every time you’re out there, you want to see him improving.

“Carlis is like Deon – every day is a work in progress. He’s got some natural athletic ability and some natural wide receiver instincts, but he still needs to polish himself up to be an everyday player. I’m hoping he challenges for a starting role. He got a little taste of it this spring. He’s a guy with a lot of ability and a lot of talent. He’s our best blocker. He understands how to move his feet, and he’s a tough kid. He’s got a chance to be a good player for us this fall.”

The depth chart at these spots isn’t set in stone. Tech’s staff signed four talented receivers last February – Cam Phillips, Isaiah Ford, Kendrick Holland and Jaylen Bradshaw – and all four are bigger than 6-foot and fast. They could make the depth chart interesting next August.

2014 SPRING DEPTH CHART (as of April 22)


80 Demitri Knowles (6-1, 178, r-Jr.)

82 Willie Byrn (5-10, 183, r-Sr.)

20 Deon Newsome (5-11, 186, r-Fr.)

37 Michael Brainard (6-0, 188, r-Jr.)

Split ends

5 Josh Stanford (6-1, 196, r-So.)

16 Carlis Parker (6-3, 195, So.)

83 Charley Meyer (6-1, 211, r-So.)

85 Austin Jones (6-2, 193, r-So.)

18 David Prince (6-1, 185, r-Fr.)