As spring practice progresses, the Virginia Tech Hokies are working on establishing a strong offensive group. Tight ends aren’t as implanted in Fuente’s offense as they were during the Beamer era. However, it’ll still be important for a good rotation to be established for the Hokies.
The main three tight ends that are practicing right now are Chris Cunningham, Dalton Keene, and Cole Pettit. Let’s take a look at all three and what their role could be this season.
With Bucky Hodges moving to a wide receiver role in Justin Fuente's offense, Chris Cunningham took over this past season as Virginia Tech's top tight end with him having the chance to keep that starting role this year. While he only had six catches last year, four of those were touchdowns. He might not have had a role with lots of volume, but he produced at a very efficient rate.
With wide receiver depth up in the air, it will be important for Fuente to be able to count on the tight end position to be more effective next season. I fully anticipate Cunningham being the starter in the fall. However, he might get pushed by Dalton Keene. Speaking of…
Keene is a freshman who early-enrolled in January, so he’s had some time to get up to speed with the college game before starting spring practice. He is looking like he is 2nd
on the depth chart based on the reps he got during the open practice. That position on the depth chart should point towards how the coaching staff feels about him. He’s ahead of Cole Pettit – a returning player – but behind the assumed starter.
So what can we take from that? It looks to be that the coaching staff has good hopes for Keene, but hasn’t seen him progress enough to put him in the starting spot yet. While he might not be the starting tight end, it’s possible that he could fill in the H-back role that was left empty by Rodgers graduating. When not doing that, I anticipate him playing the role that Cunningham did last season – short routes within 10 yards near the endzone.
Pettit made the switch to tight end after playing a few games last season on the offensive line. Even with the extra time to get used to the switch, he is still not perofrmaing at a high enough level for the coaching staff to feel comfortable giving him lots of playing time. At least, that’s what it looked like in the open practice.
What I expect out of him this season is for him to be more of a blocking tight end instead of a route-running tight end. It would allow him to stick more towards the blocking side of offense – which he already knows from being on the offensive line – and would mean that he doesn’t need to learn a bunch of complex route running. I anticipate Pettit playing a minor role in the offensive scheme when it comes to running routes.
I think that Cunningham will be the starter against West Virginia. He’s the established prescence on the depth chart and has proven that he can be useful in goal-line situations. It’s extremely important that he starts to progress and develop skills where he can be used in more situations though. Otherwise, I think Keene could make a push for that role. I think we’ll be seeing some of Keene this season regardless, but how Cunningham develops will determine how much.