With all the chaos of the 2020 season, Virginia Tech football was desperate for offensive weapons who could provide a spark outside of running back Khalil Herbert.
“I would walk into the receiver room and there would be no more than six or seven of us in there. It was very thin at the end of the season because of the transfer portal and injuries,” wide receiver Tre Turner said. “It was hard knowing that I had to really grind it out every Saturday because we didn’t have numbers and my team needed me.”
Turner, along with sophomore Tayvion Robinson, were the only Hokies with over 30 receptions in 2020. Tech relied heavily on that duo as they were the only wide receivers to account for over 100 yards receiving on the season.
This season, the Hokies will look for young players to step up alongside Turner and Robinson as complementary options on the outside.
“I kind of know the ins and outs of the whole offense when it comes to playing receiver, so I’ll just give the young guys advice,” Turner said. “If we’re watching film, I’ll send text messages to them or I’ll tell them to come over to my place and we’ll watch film together. I know my voice has a big impact in that room, and I’m trying to be the best leader I can be.”
“I’m trying to get stronger and be able to break tackles and make bigger plays. I want to score more touchdowns than get tackled. That’s the biggest focus for me,” Turner said. “My goal weight is 195 or more. I’ve had a fluctuating weight. I have to play more physical with my mindset and my body. I just have to be stronger and be dominant.”
The good news for the Hokies’ offense is that almost every skill player from last year is returning for 2021. Herbert has declared for the NFL Draft, but Tech will have the rest of its weapons back in Blacksburg for next season.
“It’s really been the whole offense that’s working well. Braxton [Burmeister] is leading us and he’ll call us in and remind us about different things that we have to do throughout the week,” Turner said. “We just feel a bond between the skill positions and the quarterbacks.”
The Hokies will have plenty of weapons for Burmeister to throw to in his first full season as the starter behind center. Possibly the most important returner is tight end James Mitchell, who could have easily heard his name called in Cleveland had he declared for the draft. Mitchell was third on the team in receiving, while improving markedly as a blocker in his junior season.
Mitchell, Turner and Robinson are all expected to be consistent contributors for the offense in 2021, but the real breakout star for Tech could be Raheem Blackshear. After plenty of success at Rutgers, there were high expectations for Blackshear last season in Blacksburg. However, adversity early in the year left him as more of a role player in his first season with the program.
“I felt like I was still learning the program and everything,” Blackshear said. “Every week, I was learning something new. Now I feel like I’m more comfortable, and this should be a big year.”
Blackshear missed time in fall camp due to COVID-19 protocols and then tweaked his hamstring shortly after returning. Coming in as a transfer and seeing time in the backfield and at slot receiver, it took some time for the former Scarlet Knight to find a rhythm in Tech’s offense.
“I felt towards the end, I was figuring out what I needed to do at running back and wide receiver. Everything started clicking and I started to elevate my game,” Blackshear said. “I felt like I was just getting extra time at each position and the coaches were helping me. I was able to learn both as a collective.”
“I’m going to take advantage of it. I finally get a chance to learn the program and learn everything with these 15 practices that we’ve got going,” Blackshear said. “I feel like it’s going to be a big spring for me.”
Blackshear’s ability to affect the game as a runner and a pass-catcher should add a new element to the Hokies’ offense now that he has a full offseason leading up to 2021. Despite working primarily at running back right now, Blackshear will most likely help out in the slot for the Hokies this season as well.
“I’m still playing running back and slot, but I’m mainly in the running back room. I just want to do whatever I can to help our team win,” Blackshear said. “If that’s in the running back room, I’ll take advantage of that, and if it’s slot, I’ll take advantage of that.”
Overall, there seems to be much more consistency with personnel in the Hokies’ offense this offseason. With a clear starter at quarterback and a more complete supporting cast in 2021, the offensive unit looks to be in position to improve next year.
“There are different things that changed throughout the season with our offense,” Turner said. “You have injuries and you have the transfer portal, so it’s not like I can tell you that something is going to flip. I just think that where this team is headed is very positive, it’s going up.”