Spring Football 2001:
The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 4/3/01

For a couple of years now, the Virginia Tech coaches have been saying that this group of receivers could be the best group ever at Virginia Tech. So far, the bonanza has yet to materialize.

Andre Davis had a record-setting year in 1999, but in 2000, he was felled by injuries. Even before he was hurt, his numbers were down, because Michael Vick was having a bad year throwing the deep ball.

Once Davis was out, the role of top receiver fell to Emmett Johnson and Ernest Wilford, and neither player was ready for it. Johnson was inconsistent, and both he and Wilford struggled with running their routes properly and communicating with the quarterbacks.

Shawn Witten had a solid year with possession routes, but he is not a deep threat and wasn't used as such. Ron Moody, a walk-on who first drew attention to himself in the spring of 2000, only received spot playing time and was still seen as a project at the position. Terrell Parham, who showed promise in 1999 with 9 catches, was rumored to have fallen into Beamer's dog house, and he was barely on the field in 2000.

It is now the spring of 2001, and all of those players are back for another year. They're older, they're more experienced, and Richard Johnson, a highly-recruited redshirt freshman who has been drawing raves for his exploits in practice, joins the ranks.

As for the tight ends, they return nearly intact, as well. The position was three-deep last year (Bob Slowikowski, Browning Wynn, and Derek Carter), and of those three, only Derek Carter is gone. Carter was looking forward to a promising senior year in 2000 but was suspended for four games, received relatively little playing time, and did not record a single catch.

Who will step up at the receiver position? And with Carter gone, who will be the #3 tight end behind Slowikowksi and Wynn? Let's take a look by position -- flanker, split end, and tight end.

Note: Each player's class (redshirt-freshman, etc.) indicates what class they will be in the 2001 season. All depth chart positions are from BeamerBall.com's depth chart of 2/27/01, height-weight-forty times are from "Gentry's Iron Palace" on BeamerBall.com, and all 2000 statistics are from hokiesportsinfo.com. Coaches comments are from BeamerBall.com.


1st Team:
Andre Davis (redshirt-Sr., 6-1, 194, 4.29) … 2000: 24 catches for 318 yards, 2 TD's

2nd Team:
Shawn Witten (Jr., 5-11-1/2, 194, 4.74) … 2000: 9 catches for 88 yards

3rd Team:
Terrell Parham (redshirt-Jr., 6-0, 196, 4.5) … 2000: no catches
Richard Johnson (redshirt-Fr., 5-10, 190, 4.37) … 2000: redshirt

Jevon Jenkins (Fr., 5-10, 181, 4.44)
Scott Hughes (So., 5-11, 159, 4.61)

Andre Davis is still limited in his practice participation, but the coaches hope to have him back to full speed while there's still a week or two left in spring practice. Davis's numbers dropped dramatically last year, due both to injury and to Michael Vick throwing the deep ball poorly. Still, Davis owns the first-team flanker position and will do so as long as he's healthy.

Shawn Witten is more of a possession receiver and still has the best hands on the team, until someone proves otherwise or he actually drops a ball. He is the type of player who would have been a key component in the Tech offense in years past, a la Nick Cullen or Mike Giacolone. As he enters his third season playing for the Hokies, now that Michael Vick's cannon arm has moved on, it will be interesting to see if he progresses from a spot-duty player to a more vital part of the short, ball-control passing game.

The story gets more interesting when you get down to the players who are currently listed third on the depth chart: Terrell Parham and Richard Johnson.

Parham, who in 1999 saw action in all 11 regular season games and caught 9 passes, disappeared in 2000. He only played 26 plays from scrimmage in 2000, 9 of those coming against Rutgers, and he didn't catch a single pass. With the injury to Davis last year, you would think that Parham would have gotten more playing time, but he didn't, so the rumors that he took up residence in Coach Beamer's dog house last year must have at least a grain of truth to them.

Parham, who shined at defensive back in Tech's JV games last year, has continued to work hard in the weight room and in Mike Gentry's strength and conditioning program. His bench press, squat, clean, jerk, and vertical jump have all increased since last fall, and he shaved another 0.02 off his forty time to drop it to 4.5. He is tops in the receiving corps in nearly every strength category, and he is the only Super Iron Hokie in the receiving corps.

(The receivers barely crack the S&C charts -- out of 10 players, Parham is a Super Iron Hokie, Richard Johnson and walk-on Chris Shreve are Hokie classification, Witten is an orange Hokie, and the other six players have achieved no sort of classification in Mike Gentry's system.)

You have to admire Parham's persistence and dedication, despite being at odds with the coaching staff (if the rumors are true). Other players would have pouted, given up, and perhaps quit. The VT coaches have said that he has had a problem with consistency in the past, but that so far in the spring practices, according to Coach Bryan Stinespring on BeamerBall.com, "he is proving he's more mature, and it is carrying over into his play."

It is a critical spring for Parham, if he hopes to beat out Witten and ward off redshirt freshman Richard Johnson. Johnson was Tech's highest-rated recruit in the 2000 recruiting class, and to this point, he has not disappointed the coaches or his fellow players in his scout team and practice work.

Johnson is small and speedy, with a forty time second only to Andre Davis, and he has been drawing comparisons to Florida State's Peter Warrick and Miami's Santana Moss. Practice observers say that when Johnson catches the ball, he outruns the Hokie defensive backs with a great burst of speed. Those same defensive backs have told TSL sources that Johnson is worthy of freshman All-America consideration.

So when Johnson hits the field this fall, it won't be with a lack of hype. Whether or not he can do something like make freshman All-America or live up to the Warrick/Moss comparisons is another thing entirely, and highly dependent upon the VT quarterbacks getting the ball to him. Stinespring said after Monday's practice that Johnson is starting to get his routes down and run them at higher speeds, making it more difficult for the DB's to keep up with him before he catches the ball, not just after. Johnson may also see some time at kick returner, probably punt returner.

Amongst the walk-ons at flanker, Jevon Jenkins stands out. His 4.44 forty time is third-fastest amongst the flankers.

Split End

1st Team:
Emmett Johnson (Sr., 6-2, 206, 4.36) … 2000: 34 catches for 574 yards, 3 TD's

2nd Team:
Ronald Moody (redshirt-So., 6-0, 190, 4.32) … 2000: 3 catches for 21 yards
Ernest Wilford (redshirt-So., 6-4, 213, 4.53) … 2000: 12 catches for 141 yards

Chris Shreve (??, 5-11, 192, 4.53)

It doesn’t seem as if Emmett Johnson has been here long enough to be a senior, but it's true. It's even harder to believe that he was the Hokies leading receiver last year in catches, yards, and touchdowns. Johnson has been inconsistent at best in his route-running and catching the ball (one play he'll drop a pass in the chest, but on another play, he'll make a great sliding grab).

But one thing is for sure: Emmett Johnson entered spring practice like a man possessed. During the two weeks of 6 a.m. winter workouts, E.J. was one of only three players to earn a "Commitment to Excellence" T-shirt every single day of practice (Steve DeMasi and Brian Welch were the other two -- Lee Suggs just barely missed it due to being sick on the last day of practice). Johnson continues to make progress in the weight room, and this spring, he recorded an eye-popping 41-inch vertical leap, easily tops among the receivers. Standing at 6-2 and being able to jump like that, Johnson should be able to dominate small defensive backs.

Despite the numbers he posted last year, Johnson can still make a lot of progress as a receiver. If he were to hit his stride this coming season and play along side a healthy Andre Davis, the sky could be the limit for Tech's starting pair of receivers.

After Johnson, the battle for second place is between Ron Moody, who emerged in spring of 2000, and Ernest Wilford, a player who came to Tech as a defensive end.

Wilford has been slowed tremendously by injuries. After arriving in the fall of 1999 and asking to be moved from defensive end to receiver in September of 1999, he caused a stir with his abilities at the position. Unfortunately, he sprained his ankle in the spring of 2000 and wasn't able to participate in contact drills. After a decent 2000 season, Wilford's knee required surgery in early February, and he will once again miss the entire spring.

His absence opens the door for Ronald Moody, who made a name for himself as a walk-on last spring, to secure the #2 spot at split end. Moody's 4.32 forty was the second-fastest time among all ten receivers, and represents a vast improvement over the 4.57 that he ran as a freshman and the 4.45 that he ran last fall.

It's hard to say at this point what the coaches will do with Wilford and Moody. They love the potential of both players. With both of them being redshirt sophomores next fall, if they continue to develop, the split end position will be set for the next three years.

This fall, the Hokies will be fortunate enough to go four-deep at flanker and three-deep at split end. That clears the path for some three-wide and four-wide sets, some new wrinkles that have been put into practice lately and are being worked on this spring.

Tight Ends

1st Team:
Browning Wynn (redshirt-Sr., 6-2, 232, 4.76) … 2000: 8 catches for 167 yards, 1 TD
Bob Slowikowski (redshirt-Sr., 6-5, 247, 4.59) … 2000: 3 catches, 101 yards, 1 TD

2nd Team:
Keith Willis (redshirt-So., 6-5, 240, 4.58) … 2000: 1 catch for 21 yards

3rd Team:
Jared Mazetta (redshirt-Fr., 6-4, 245, 4.87)
Mike Jackson (redshirt-Fr. 6-3, 241, 4.86)

Late last week, when asked about his players, tight ends Coach Danny Pearman didn't reveal any surprises. He is comfortable with starting either Wynn or Slowikowski, both of whom are three-year lettermen and accomplished, experienced players.

But with both of them being seniors, it won't be long (nine months, to be exact) before the depth chart opens up. And standing behind Wynn and Slowikowski are three prospects that should keep the Hokies in good shape at tight end for years to come: Keith Willis, Jared Mazetta, and Mike (not Michael) Jackson. Not to mention a bevy of TE/DL types entering this fall as true freshmen, some of whom could also land at the TE position in the future.

Willis is an interesting story and a work in progress. He arrived at Tech in the fall of 1999 as a two-sport star, playing both football and basketball, and he had a basketball player's physique: 6-5, 208. He was on the basketball team at the beginning of the 1999-2000 season and even had a profile page in the 1999-2000 Virginia Tech men's basketball media guide (the one from two seasons ago, not this past season). But his flirtation with Ricky Stokes's basketball program was brief. He only played in three games and quit the team early in the season.

Willis very quickly realized that if he wanted to develop into a tight end for the nationally-ranked Virginia Tech football team, he would need to put on weight -- a lot of weight. And running up and down the court for the basketball team wasn't going to put on the 30-50 pounds that playing the tight end position would require.

So he gave basketball up, and he has done a good job transforming his body. He has put on 32 pounds and now weighs 240, bringing him up to par weight-wise with the other tight ends. His bench press has increased from 280 as a freshman to 350, and his squat went up from 350 to 430. His forty time has dropped from 4.83 to 4.58, making him the fastest tight end on the team. He is also the most athletic.

Pearman gives the third-team nod to Willis over Mazetta and Jackson, saying that Willis is "just a bit ahead" of the two redshirt freshmen, noting that overall, the tight end group has been doing very well.

One note: walk-on Seth Noonkester has given up football after battling a handful of chronic injury problems.

Next: the Offensive Line


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