BLACKSBURG — A pop quiz likely to stump the most ardent Hokie: Name the only tight end in Virginia Tech history to make first-team all-conference.
I wasn’t sure if any had, but my first hunch was Jeff King, who later played for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. But King was second-team All-ACC in 2004 and ’05, seasons in which he caught a combined 51 passes for 596 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Since King, the only Hokies tight end to scratch the all-league squad was Andre Smith, honorable mention in 2010, when he had 20 receptions for 195 yards and five scores.
We’ll get to the trivia answer in a moment, but first, the reason for asking: Second-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is “super-excited” about the upcoming season’s crop of tight ends.
Now I can’t profess to know Loeffler well, but the notion of him being genuinely jazzed about anything doesn’t quite compute. The guy is placid personified.
But after Tuesday’s practice, and looking ahead to Saturday’s spring game, Loeffler came as close as he does to school-boy gushing.
“Our skill guys right now have got to make up for our inexperience (at quarterback),” he said. “We’ve got some older tight ends, we’ve got some talented tight ends. We’ve got some guys that can help us on the perimeter with experience and that’s what’s got to happen. …
“I’m super-excited about the tight end position. That room could be really good, in my opinion, and they’ll be used. They’ll be used for sure. The type of guys we have are athletic, can do a lot of things, can play a lot of positions and they create matchup problems.”
Part of Loeffler’s enthusiasm undoubtedly dates to last year, when Ryan Malleck’s season-ending shoulder injury and Duan Perez-Means’ departure from the program left the position borderline barren. But true freshman Kalvin Cline, a last-minute recruit from Florida, filled the void admirably, with 26 receptions for 321 yards and two touchdowns.
To show how infrequently Tech has thrown to tight ends: Kline’s 65 receiving yards (four catches) against Pittsburgh were the most by a Hokies tight end since Sam Wheeler’s 81 against East Carolina in 2007. The last Tech tight end with 100-plus yards was Keith Willis (113 on two catches) against Syracuse in 2002.
The Hokies may not have an all-conference tight end in 2014, and none may surpass 100 yards in a game. But that may be a function of depth rather than weakness.
Cline, Malleck, converted-from-quarterback Bucky Hodges and 272-pound blocking specialist Darius Redman give Loeffler and tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring flexibility they lacked in 2013. Hodges wore a blue jersey (no serious contact) Tuesday, but coaches, not to mention fans, hope the 6-foot-6, 243-pound redshirt freshman can play Saturday, not only as a conventional tight end, but perhaps in the wildcat formation.
Malleck and Cline (knee) have not fully participated this spring, so spectators Saturday won’t see anything that approaches the personnel groupings Loeffler envisions for next season.
Oh, the only Hokies tight end to make first-team all-conference? Bryan Jennings was first-team All-Big East in 1996 with all of 12 receptions, 159 yards and two touchdowns.
Another nugget from Tuesday’s post-practice interviews:
* Freshman tailback Marshawn Williams from Phoebus High, the subject of Comrade Wood’s story in last Sunday’s Daily Press, drew more praise, this time from the defense.
“I tell you, early on he was a baby bull,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “Got a lot balance, got a quick step. He hasn’t got loose the last couple times on us. Part of that goes back to tackling. You get sharper the more you do it. But I’ve been impressed.
“I think he’s really got a chance to be a special football player for us. He’s a big kid that’s got great balance, great vision, can put the foot in the ground and go. We haven’t had that big back since Darren Evans probably. … I remember Cedric Humes being the same way. You get tired of tackling (him).”
Evans led the Hokies with 1,265 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman in 2008. Humes scored 11 touchdowns and rushed for a team-best 752 yards in 2005.
Tech lists Williams as 5-11, 224 pounds. Evans was 6-foot, 220, Humes 6-1, 233.
“You mean Marshawn Lynch?” defensive end Ken Ekanem said when I asked about Williams. “He runs like him. … He’s been breaking tackles, making big plays. People are afraid to hit him sometimes, some of the smaller guys.”
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