With opening kickoff less than three weeks away, Justin Fuente and the Virginia Tech Hokies are seeking an identity on offense, led by quarterback Ryan Willis. As I outlined last week, Willis is the catalyst for a 2019 offense that has a chance to be very special.
There’s plenty returning on the offensive side of the ball, from Dalton Keene to Damon Hazelton, to Deshawn McClease and Tre Turner. There an abundance of playmakers that we already know a great deal about, but there are some players projected to enter the fold in 2019 that could make a world of difference for the Hokies; players who could untap potential for the offense to make it one of the best in the ACC this season.
Let’s look at three players specifically, shall we?
RB Keshawn King
The Hokies have sought consistency in the running game ever since Justin Fuente took over as head coach following the 2015-16 campaign. It’s admittedly been a sore spot for the roster since he has arrived, as the Hokies have lacked a game-changing tailback who could turn the tide of the game with one play.
All of that could change this season, as freshman running back Keshawn King enters the fold. Although King is a true freshman, he has been receiving rave reviews in fall camp, and appears to be a guy who will play early in his career for the Hokies. After swinging and missing on Clemson transfer running back Tavien Feaster, Justin Fuente and the coaching staff continued their search for a home run threat out of the backfield. King could certainly fill that mold, even as a true freshman, where the opportunity to contribute is certainly on the table.
“He’s explosive. He had a couple of nice runs in the scrimmage. He is not scared, and he pours it up in there. He has got some elite quickness, and he has been fun to watch so far,” Fuente said last week.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do with him, but he has had a good camp thus far…Being an every-down back and running the ball occasionally are two different things, but I have seen that he is Keshawn (King) is a willing blocker. King is not scared to run up there and throw what weight he does have around.”
Sure, it’s only fall camp, but when reading between the lines it’s clear that King will play a role in the offense this fall.
WR Tayvion Robinson
Assuming he’s healthy, which was an issue in his first real offensive opportunity last fall, junior wide receiver Hezekiah Grimsley is the projected starter in the slot for the season opener on August 31st against Boston College. Grimsley emerged as a reliable target for former quarterback Josh Jackson, and later, Ryan Willis, when he entered the fold last season.
With that being said, head coach Justin Fuente and offensive coordinator Brad Cornelsen made it clear when they arrived in Blacksburg that they wanted the receiving corps to be eight or nine guys deep once they got the offense humming. With a fast-paced offense that thrives off of no-huddle, it makes sense schematically for the Hokies to function in this manner to keep their guys fresh throughout a given game, as well as the season.
Given the unsuspected transfer of the projected number two slot receiver, DeJuan Ellis, this past weekend, the opportunity for freshman wide receiver Tayvion Robinson to contribute on the offensive side of the football is very much on the table.
Robinson, who has been competing for playing time already as the team’s primary punt returner, could be pushing for playing time on offense as well. He’s received rave reviews in camp for his work ethic and speed, and could make an instant impact if he continues to progress this fall. Ellis’ departure to the transfer portal is likely due to where he has fallen on the depth chart, with the emergence of Robinson as a playmaker in the slot being one theory as to why Ellis plans on skipping town.
If he continues to push forward, Robinson could come out of nowhere and emerge as one of the team’s most impactful players this fall, both on offense and special teams. Time will certainly tell, but Robinson has made great strides early in his tenure with the Hokies.
TE James Mitchell
We’ve already heard plenty about TE Dalton Keene and his continued progression as the team’s starting tight end. The 6’4″ junior from Littleton, Colorado has been a starter ever since he arrived on campus prior to the 2017 season, and has made more and more of an impact on offense as he’s gotten more comfortable in the college game.
While Keene’s role on the offense is clear this fall, there’s another guy who has continued to make strides to becoming an elusive offensive threat: sophomore TE James Mitchell.
Mitchell didn’t play much on offense a year ago, as he was primarily a special teams player in his freshman campaign. However, the southwest Virginia product has been widely regarded as a star in the making, and his versatility as a pass catcher and blocker could lead to an increased role this fall.
Back in April, it was clear that Mitchell was taking steps in the right direction, as Justin Fuente praised Mitchell and his work ethic throughout spring ball.
“He’s incredibly smart. He’s a great worker…He knows what he needs to work on to continue to become a better player. He’s not a finished product by any means, but he can do so many different things. He’s very valuable. There are some guys that have the talent to do a bunch of different things, but who can’t handle it all. James can handle all of it,” Fuente said in the spring.
The Hokies frequently use their tight ends in the slot on offense, and as such, Mitchell will be a guy to compete for that role this fall, especially in situations where the Hokies line up with four or five receivers on the field and try to open things up.
With increased opportunity comes an inevitable increased role, and James Mitchell will certainly have a chance to become one of the the team’s top pass catching threats for quarterback Ryan Willis this fall.