How good can DJ Coles be?
I don’t think your average fan realizes what a huge loss D.J. Coles was for the Virginia Tech offense last season. Logan Thomas had complete confidence in Coles, and when Coles was forced to miss the season, Thomas only had one consistently reliable target the rest of the way (Corey Fuller). As much grief as Thomas got for his performance last season, it’s difficult for a quarterback to perform at a high level with only one consistent receiver.
D.J. Coles first signed with Virginia Tech in 2008. He was a terrific running back for Goochland High School, rushing for 1,403 yards as a junior and averaging a whopping 12.3 yards per carry in the process. As a senior, he had 1,344 yards and averaged 13.7 yards per carry (that’s 98 carries, in case you were wondering). In short, he was a dominant football player in high school.
Virginia Tech recruited Coles as a wide receiver, and he went to Fork Union for a year to learn how to play that position. After a postgraduate season, he enrolled at Virginia Tech. Everyone knew he had the physical ability to contribute right away, and he found himself playing special teams as a true freshman. However, as a guy with very limited experience at wide receiver, it took him awhile to grow into that position. Here is how his career went:
2009: 13 games, 0 catches
2010: 9 games, 3 catches for 27 yards
2011: 14 games, 36 catches for 480 yards and 3 touchdowns
2012: 1 game, redshirted
Injuries limited Coles as a sophomore in 2010, and obviously caused him to miss the entire 2012 season. He was very productive for the Hokies in 2011, and most likely would have had a huge season were it not for the presence of Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale in the Virginia Tech lineup. Last season was supposed to be the breakout season for Coles, but obviously his knee problems didn’t allow that to happen.
All that begs the question: how good can D.J. Coles be in 2013? He has great size (he was listed at 6-4, 238 last year), but the coaching staff wants him to drop some weight to take the pressure off the knee and to make him a little more athletic. Coles also has very good straight ahead speed for his size. If you remember the touchdown he scored on a wide receiver screen against Arkansas State in 2011, then you know he’s fast. If you don’t remember, then it’s the first play in this set of highlights.
Of course, we all know that D.J. Coles can block. We also know that when the play breaks down, it’s open season on linebackers. Steve Greer will attest.
Before we can get an idea of how good Coles will be this year, we have to know the answer to a couple of questions. First and foremost, how healthy is he? If he’s 100%, he could have a huge year. Second, how will Virginia Tech use him?
Spring practice gave us an idea of how the Hokies will use Coles. They split him out as a normal wideout, where his combination of size and athleticism makes him a tough matchup for corners. They also lined him up in the backfield as a second fullback at times. He is big enough to be used as a lead blocker, and he can also be a major mismatch for linebackers in the passing game. The offensive coaching staff is trying their best to get him in a position to make plays.
Coles can also be very effective on the perimeter on wide receiver screens. I know some of you won’t like to hear that, but cornerbacks are generally the worst tacklers of the defense, and getting a big guy like Coles in space with a chance to break through the tackles of cornerbacks’ is intriguing. To do that, the rest of the wide receivers will need to be able to block on the perimeter.
I have confidence that the current offensive coaching staff will put D.J. Coles in a position to succeed. If he can stay healthy in 2013, he has the physical ability to be one of the best receivers in the ACC.
Will Stewart’s Take: While discussions of D.J.’s knee, his recovery, and his weight are all very relevant, my interest is piqued by two things (1) the idea of moving him around the field and creating mismatches; and (2) blocking.
I’m one of those guys who, rightly or wrongly, doesn’t think the previous offensive coaching staff did enough to create mismatches and take advantage of them, so I’ll be looking for that from the new staff this fall.
The blocking thing speaks for itself. When you go from wide receivers who won’t block cornerbacks to a wide receiver who hunts linebackers, it sets a completely different tone. And if D.J. by some chance has a mediocre year statistically, he can still help out the program, as a senior receiver, by setting the tone for the younger wide receivers around him. He can do things that will last beyond just this season.