2022 Position Previews: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
In the third edition of our 2022 season preview, and with opening kickoff just two weeks away, let’s look at who recently named QB1 Grant Wells will be slinging the ball downfield to in the wide receivers and tight ends.
The wide receiver corps. is one of the Hokies’ weakest links this season, and the biggest X-factor in regards to the room is experience. Redshirt seniors Kaleb Smith and Jadan Blue are the only two receivers to eclipse 100 yards in receiving over their time collegiately. After them, it’s players who have short resumes comparatively, and more time is needed on the field to see their promise.
Heading into the 2022 season, there are many opportunities for players to step up and fill the gaps left behind on the receiving side of the ball after major departures from the 2021 roster. The Hokies lost three of their top five players in receiving yards in 2021, with Tre Turner and Raheem Blackshear graduating to the NFL and Tayvion Robinson transferring to Kentucky, leaving only Kaleb Smith and Senior tight-end Nick Gallo, who were third and fifth, respectively.
As mentioned previously, Kaleb Smith is fighting with new guy in town Jadan Blue to become the true number one receiver. This year, he was one of three Hokies nominated to attend the 2022 ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, NC, and was just recently named one of the captains of this year’s team. Last year, Smith finished third behind Turner and Robinson in receiving yards (260) and is looking to further solidify himself as the true go-to option for the Hokies this season.
Jadan Blue’s time at Temple shows promise in what will be his last year collegiately with Virginia Tech. While with the Owls, Blue caught 169 passes, equating to 1,672 yards and 10 touchdowns in 35 games. His 2019 season was his best season at Temple, in which he caught 95 receptions for 1,067 yards and 4 touchdowns, and if Blue can replicate that season this year with the Hokies, then the top pairing of Smith and Blue could be the one-two punch needed to fill the holes of Turner and Robinson.
After Smith and Blue, it’s open season for any player looking to hold the WR3 position. Da’Wain Lofton is currently the best-looking option for the final starting position due to his experience last season, but his sample size is still small, as he only had 7 receptions for 98 yards in 12 games, respectively. Players to keep an eye on to lock into this role could be Stephen Gosnell, a redshirt-junior who transferred from UNC (and is also the older brother of freshman tight end Benji Gosnell), and Jaylen Jones, a redshirt freshman.
Virginia Tech’s tight end group this season is building up to get, in a way, groovy. Nick Gallo (SR) and Drake De Iuliis (R-SR) are the shoe-in time-splitters at the position for this year, but Gallo should see more time comparatively. Both of them played in all 13 games last season, with Gallo recording 14 receptions for 130 yards, and De Iuliis 5 receptions for 76 yards.
However, a new challenger has appeared from within the Virginia Tech building to take snaps – and his name is Connor Blumrick.
Blumrick, a redshirt-senior, is officially labeled as tight end/ath (ath standing for “athlete”) after Grant Wells and Jason Brown effectively squandered any opportunity for him to see playing time at quarterback in his final year. He’s essentially a gadget player for the Hokies, with Blumrick being lined up at not just tight end but as a receiver and running back too, hence the labeling “athlete.” Blumrick is one of the most versatile players on the team currently and could prove to be a headache for opposing defenses if the Hokies use him wisely.
“He’s got a unique skill set,” offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen stated earlier this August on Blumrick. “He’s played receiver before. Obviously he’s played a lot of quarterback over his career. So it’s been fun to figure out how to utilize him and package him in in different personnel groupings.”
The tight end group overall is bound to see more action within a running-heavy offense this season, with Bowen using tight ends more and more in offensive schemes, and our own Dominic Boltz reporting that the tight ends were being used for blocking downfield and making space for short routes in his coverage of practice on the 19th.
It’s going to be interesting to see who steps up in the wide receiver room and takes advantage of the opportunities to improve, but I’m most intrigued to see how Blumrick fits and how the new coaching staff utilizes him and the rest of the tight ends. Expect the Hokies to run more than pass this year, but when the ball gets into the air, it could go virtually anywhere.