Projecting Bucky Hodges, Review of the TE's Spring Game

A major storyline this spring was the transition of Bucky Hodges from quarterback to tight end. Coach Foster raved about Hodges performance last season as the Hokie scout team's version of UNC's Eric Ebron, and the coaching staff awarded Hodges with the Coaches Award (exceptional spring) on Saturday. On this website we've had discussions about the possibilities of everything from three tight end sets, to having a Virginia Tech version of Jimmy Graham creating matchup nightmares on the edge of the defense.

Picture via HokieSports.com

However, I was hesitant to jump on the bandwagon. Before I was going to get excited about Hodges, I needed to see if he could be an effective blocker, which, given how many skill position players struggle to adjust to blocking front-seven defenders, I had major doubts about. Early clips of spring practice showed several plays where Hodges struggled blocking defensive linemen at the point of attack or cutting off backside pursuit.

In addition, I wanted to see how well Hodges ran routes and how he adjusted to catching the ball in tight quarters. Could he win some of those 50/50 battles that the Hokies didn't win last season, especially in the red zone?

Saturday's Maroon-White Game provided surprising answers. While I didn't get to see Hodges go after a jump ball or wham block on a counter play, in limited snaps he blocked very effectively and he demonstrated big play potential in the passing game. Given the lack of a big receiver, Hodges could provide big play potential for the Hokies next season.

Bucky and the Basics of Tight End

On Saturday, the Hokies essentially ran a base package most of the game. Coach Loeffler did not use Hodges in any special packages. Instead, Hodges was used in the same fashion as all the other tight ends were: as a traditional Y-end bookending the offensive tackle, flexed back as an H-Back, and flexed slightly wider as a stand up slot receiver. In those roles, Hodges was expected to set the edge on the strong side stretch play, scoop the defensive end on the weak side stretch and power plays, veer release to widen out a defender, and also get a free release off the line of scrimmage to contribute in the passing lane on play-action and bootlegs.

Bucky surprised me with his blocking. I don't expect him to be a road grader, but in order for him to be more than a situational player, he has to be able to identify his assignment and maintain contact through the whistle. Otherwise, defenses know a pass is likely when he takes the field. Let's take a look at how Bucky executed the four critical blocks required for the tight end position in Coach Loeffler's offense.

In the first clip, the White Team is pinned against the goal line after a great punt by A.J. Hughes. The offense comes out in an I formation with the fullback offset right and the tight end aligned to the boundary on the left. The Hokies run the inside zone to the left. Hodges assignment is to seal whip linebacker Derek Di Nardo to the outside.

00:07:12–00:07:17

Hodges does an excellent job. He drives Di Nardo several yards to the outside, has a solid aiming point, and keeps his feet going after contact to stay engaged. Di Nardo is a non-factor on the play.

Next we look at a veer release. On veer option plays, the tight end takes a flat step to the sideline, forcing the defender accountable for him to widen with him, then TE tries to chuck him at the line of scrimmage. Often, this opens up more space for the back on the option play. If the linebacker does not widen out with the tight end (giving him a "free release"), the tight end will be wide open down the seam on play-action. If you recall my article on the third spring scrimmage, the "Y dump" off a veer release by the tight end was featured heavily during the pre-scrimmage practice.

The Hokies run a read option with Seth Dooley being unblocked on the play. Hodges veer releases with a flat step to the sidelines, and then hard up field into Di Nardo.

00:00:48–00:00:56

Again, Bucky maintains his feet after contact, gets underneath Di Nardo's pads (no small feat given Bucky's height) and turns him away from the ball carrier. Hodges block is far from being the most critical on the play. It is more of an influence block, designed to cause both the whip and the safety Der'Woun Greene to hesitate before committing to the back or quarterback, but Hodges demonstrates good form and effort on the play.

Perhaps the most challenging block for a tight end in Loeffler's offense is the back side scoop block. On the scoop block, the tight end has to cut off the back side pursuit of the defensive end or linebacker so the running back has a cutback lane. It is a very challenging block because the blocker not only has to beat the defender to the spot, but then also position his body in between the defender and the runner. Personally, I still have nightmares about scoop blocks.

Here, the Hokies line up in an offset I formation with twins to the left. Hodges aligns as the tight end on the right side. His assignment is to scoop block Dewayne Alford, who is aligned on his inside shoulder.

00:03:06–00:03:12

Hodges has a great aiming point. If you freeze the shot you can see his head is inside Alford.

He stays engaged with Alford far longer than most of the offensive line stays with their blocks before Alford sheds him. This also demonstrates where Bucky can improve. He used great technique to get into perfect position for the block. The next step is to add explosive leg drive to get that position and then drive the defender into the secondary.

The Basics in the Passing Game

The tight end position last season was used three ways in the passing game. Early in fall camp, Ryan Malleck was featured heavily on stick routes. As injuries mounted, the tight end position was featured more on bootlegs and the corner route on smash route combinations. Hodges demonstrated that he could execute all three of those assignments on Saturday.

I'll begin with the stick route. That route largely disappeared from the offense after Malleck's injury, as I discussed in our Michael Brewer film study. The stick route is a quick, three-step route play, where the offense puts the flat defender in a bind by sending one receiver to the flat while another hooks up or "sticks it" at 5-6 yards. Bucky did an impressive job of posting up the inside linebacker and getting separation for the stick route. Let's take a look.

00:03:16–00:03:24

This time, Hodges starts out flexed wide, and fakes a drag route to get into the body of walk-on linebacker Sean Huelskamp. Hodges plants his inside foot and pushes back to the outside, giving his quarterback a big target for the throw.

Next we have bootleg and waggle routes. On both plays, the intent is for the tight end to sell a down block, and then flow opposite of the defensive pursuit wide open. The Hokies ran two bootlegs early on, but Brenden Motley didn't pull the trigger to Hodges in the flat. But here, Motley bootlegs into pressure but makes a nice throw to Hodges on a drag route.

00:03:00–00:03:06

It is worth noting, Hodges doesn't look fast, but he has such a long stride that he easily gets separation from the linebacker and the safety. He will likely always be more comfortable on slower developing routes; as a long strider he will be more adept to get open using his size and leverage than with precise route running.

Finally, there's the smash route concept. The smash route is a two receiver combination route, where one receiver runs a shallow out route and the second receiver runs a deeper out route behind it. The quarterback reads the defender in the short flat. If the defender jumps the first receiver, the quarterback throws the deeper out. If the defender drops back on the deep out, the quarterback throws to the flat. In this combination, the tight end (as the interior receiver) usually will run the deeper route, and Kalvin Cline thrived on these types of deep corner routes last season.

On second down, Loeffler called a smash route with the fullback in the short flat and the tight end on a deep out.

00:07:17–00:07:23

The corner bites up, and Hodges makes a nice grab on the deep out. His speed pushes the safety off and allows him to be open even with the short flat defender present.

Unrealized Potential: Warm Up the Hype-O-Meter

Even though Hodges performed all the basic tasks of the tight end position well on Saturday, the offense didn't feature him in the role where he could do the most damage; splitting out wide and creating mismatches against short corners. Two missed opportunities gave us merely a glimpse of what could be for Mr. Hodges.

I want to pause for a moment and reiterate how big Hodges looks on the field. At 6-6 (and perhaps taller), he is much bigger than the safeties and linebackers that try to cover him. He also looks slow because of his size and long stride, but those long strides disguise deceptive speed. He gets into the cushion of the defender and just as quickly he gets separation behind them.

Unfortunately on Saturday, Motley had a handful of chances to hit Hodges on a vertical route and missed the opportunity. First, early in the first quarter, Motley faced a third-and-long situation. Aligned to the boundary were Hodges and Demitri Knowles. Hodges has backer Deon Clarke aligned over him, but Clarke plays a short zone.

The route combination calls for Knowles to draw the corner and linebacker with a short out route, while Hodges slips into the soft area in the seam behind the linebacker and in front of the safety.

00:02:04–00:02:10

Hodges slips behind Clarke with ease (Clarke had a solid scrimmage, but I am sure Foster isn't happy with Hodges getting a free release) but Motley doesn't pull the trigger. Once the play continues to develop, the safety closes the space with Hodges, forcing Motley to throw out of bounds to Knowles.

On the next play, Hodges really shows how deceptive his speed is. Here, he bends to the outside and then comes back to the inside on a skinny post, much like the route that D.J. Coles scored several touchdowns on last season.

00:08:17–00:08:23

Unlike Coles, Hodges takes the route vertical. He attacks safety Johnathan Galante's cushion and gets him leaning to the outside. Hodges then bends the route back to the inside, where there is no safety help. Hodges has Galante beat by several yards. Unfortunately for the Hokies, walk-on defensive end Jeremy Haynes (who had a terrific second half Saturday) pressured Motley into a poor throw.

Based on my review, Hodges can make an immediate and significant impact in the vertical passing game. His size and athleticism present a huge matchup issue for teams forced to defend him with a linebacker or safety. Also, while he has proved to be capable as a normal tight end, I expect that we will see very little of Hodges lining up as a traditional tight end with Cline and Malleck healthy. Instead, I would expect to see Hodges used in a similar fashion to how Texas Tech used Jace Amaro. If Hodges can be lined up wide and get a free release off the line of scrimmage, I don't think many ACC safeties can cover him man-to-man. Defensive coordinators will face the tough choice of either assigning a corner to Hodges (which creates favorable matchups elsewhere) or risk Hodges beating safeties and linebackers deep. Faced with this choice, most defensive coordinators will play zone and keep their safeties deep, which opens up opportunities in the running game.

Second, Hodges size and speed gives Coach Loeffler a big target that he can use on the edge in the red zone. Not only can he effectively run the same routes that D.J. Coles was effective on last season, but he also gives the Hokies a desperately needed option on fade routes on the edge. At 6-6, there isn't a corner or safety in the ACC that should be able to beat Hodges out on a well thrown jump ball. Given the Hokies well-documented struggles in the red zone, and the lack of a big physical wide receiver on the roster, Hodges meets a huge area of need.

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Comments

So what you're saying is....he would make a great offensive lineman

#BuckyForRightTackle

hype

RIP Stick It In

This:

most defensive coordinators will play zone and keep their safeties deep, which opens up opportunities in the running game.

Our offense was missing this last year and that stifled the running game immensely.
Opposing Ds will not be able to cheat on run coverage if we can get the passing threats that keep them honest. It was a shame not to have that with Thomas as QB.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

Cut to Coale and Boykin nodding in agreement.

Which wallet is yours?

The one that says "Bad Motherfucker"

He will likely always be more comfortable on slower developing routes; as a long strider he will be more adept to get open using his size and leverage than with precise route running.

This is the type of insight that I love from your write-ups, French.

Faced with this choice, most defensive coordinators will play zone and keep their safeties deep, which opens up opportunities in the running game.

Another example...

I'm so excited that this is the first player analysis after the Spring Game. To me, it means that Bucky could develop into an Ebron/Amaro/Graham for us. When I think of prolific offenses, I think of this type of player helping to open up space for the OC to work around.

Finally, does it seem to anyone else that Bucky Hodges is HUGE out there compared to everyone else??

What's Important Now?
The Lunchpail. The Hammer. BeamerBall.
Deal some damage boys

I mean, he is 9' 10"

Just another gut-wrenching, can't breathe, I lost my voice, not now, did that just happen, just gimme this one, Virginia Tech Saturday

Uh oh. Bucky is number 7. Hope he can block.'

Edit: Now that I've actually read the article, it sounds like he can.

Bucky's bringin' it back.

I can start wearing my 1999 #7 jersey again.

Bucky Hodges is open

I am hoping he catches on as a feature weapon at TE.

I think the fans would love a "Buckkkyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy" chant after ever catch.

Which wallet is yours?

The one that says "Bad Motherfucker"

You know what would rock?

A chant like "Let's GO" --- "HOKIES".

Except after every play he makes it would be:

"BUCKY" --- "BALLZZZ"

When College Gameday inevitably returns to the VT campus, I would be very tempted to put this on a sign:

Just to see if anyone gets it.

When asked just tell'em it's the latest version of a Fullerene

I got it, just want to actually see it used in RL.

IMO the chant should go like this:

"TEMU" .... "CHIN"

cheerleaders should have signs like they do for "let's go" "hokies",

Let's just hope that VT will utilize the TE more than they have in the past. There were many years where it looked like VT didn't realize that the TE was eligible. Our TE's have been open for decades. Maybe this year we can capitlize on it. Nice write up French.

I think that's what we are getting with Loeffler's offense.
You could read the frustration that Loeffler felt with Mallek's injury prior to last season, and having to coach up Kline (which he did masterfully-Stiney as well.)
He had to basically scrap his plans and jerry-rigged the offense for the rest of the season.
I think we will get to see much more of his vision with the personnel available this year.

I don't think a lot of people realize how good Lefty is (seriously, talked with a guy before the spring game who a. wanted Lefty fired and b. thought he had already been fired). He spent all of last year trying to extinguish a dumpster fire with duct tape.

Yes.
Which caused this:

God Bless him.....

looks like me on any given weekday morning

"We're your family right?!? You love your family right?!?"-Dadi Nicolas
"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

My fear is that by the time season starts in late August, Bucky might be 8 feet tall, switch sport and play only basketball.

Good work French!
So you are saying we shouldn't be talking about converting him to QB?

VHokie

At 6-6 (and perhaps taller), he is much bigger than the safeties and linebackers that try to cover him.

I think your information is outdated, he's at least 13'-7''.

Again, Bucky maintains his feet after contact, gets underneath Di Nardo's pads (no small feat given Bucky's height) and turns him away from the ball carrier.

I don't know, I think a TE who's 14'-9'' (Yeah, he grows that fast) and looks like a miniature Godzilla can block pretty well.

In all seriousness, great review French. Even with the QB uncertainty I'm really looking forward to this year just because of how much more talent we should be able to field on the offensive side of the ball.

#thingsiblamethemvsfor

Agree.
Even though I'm a big LT fan, it should be, in theory, much more difficult for DC's to defend us this year just because of the multiple legitimate options that are available.

Edit: This whole French analysis and commentary gives me much excitement looking to next year after years of WTF? moments on offense. Maybe it's because I'm that hungry for some offensive vision/personality that I'm over-reacting to even crumbs of seeming offense progress.

to summarize: I can start wearing my number 7 jersey again. ty.

I am always drunk when I make my videos.

On another note.. if you look at the speed sweep that knowles has there is a huge block by JS5 coming across the field. Right away you see him look for the motion DB and just gets enough of him to let knowles get by and come up with a big gain.

It is so refreshing to see our WR's block for each other and want to help and not just stand there.... (looking at you Marcus Davis)

Also on that 4th and Goal Leal doesn't throw the ball that well it looks like. What happened to aiming for the back pylon and putting air under it??? If that DB is looking towards the QB easy pick. It's looking more and more obvious to me Leal is not in the hunt but will play a huge role in teaching/communicating with the starters from the sidelines.

"I'm high on Juice and ready to stick it in!" Whit Babcock

I sat in on Moorehead's film room during the coaching clinic, and we spent a good 10 minutes or so going over WR blocking. Moorehead said the biggest thing was getting his guys into the mindset of, "hey, you're going out and taking care of your buddies, and they're gonna take care of you." One of his favorite clips was from the Miami game, where Byrn caught a pass and was immediately tackled for a moderate gain. Looked pretty mundane. However, the guy that tackled him wasn't getting up that quickly, so Josh Stanford came into the frame and shoved him off of Byrn. Moorehead said that that was the attitude he wanted in his receivers; the desire to go out there and have your friends' backs. I think we're gonna see a lot more of the same from those guys this year.

As for Leal, it looks like that was more of a back-shoulder type throw, not necessarily a true fade route, as the receiver checks up and goes up for the ball about halfway through the end zone. I think Parker could have done a slightly better job of going up and fighting for the ball, and on top of that, Chuck Clark played it pretty well. Maybe Leal could have put it a foot or so higher in the air, but it wasn't a poorly-thrown ball. The point of that play is to get the defender to turn and run to the pylon, expecting the fade, and have the receiver stop short right as the ball gets there. It's typically a very difficult play to defend, but also very difficult to execute the timing and placement just right.

ok that was my only thought after looking at it 10 times. maybe it wasn't a true fade and more back shoulder.

We all think our minds are blowing up with the QB battle now, wait until Brewer and Durkin come in. There will be a new thread every day (in all seriousness I hope not)

"I'm high on Juice and ready to stick it in!" Whit Babcock

To comment on what is clearly not the main thrust of your post, Chuck Clark looked legit to me out there. I feel like Bud has his nickel back identified. DBU still rollin. Related: I love Torrian Gray in what is bordering on an inappropriate manner.

Don't worry. I have a private shrine to him that I pray to 5 times a day. It's made out of random things I've found to look like his face. It's kind of like this:
Torrian crush
And to answer the second question: yes. I will forever be enslaved by his spell.

"That move was slicker than a peeled onion in a bowl of snot." -Mike Burnop

Yeah, Clark and Frye both looked like they stepped up quite a bit this spring. With Fuller and a healthy Facyson and Jarrett, I'll feel really good about our depth in the back end this year.

Greene looked great last week, but he was totally lost as the free safety on the Caleb TD run

Viva El Guapo

Not to mention he missed a handful of easy open field tackles; one sticks out in my mind was a complete whif on one of the jet sweeps at the beggining of the game.

UVA: Jefferson's biggest mistake

@pbowman6

I noticed that as well. On the long Knowles run, Stanford went and blocked the safety, leaving Greene one-on-one with Knowles - a matchup Knowles won easily. At the clinic, Moorehead mentioned that it's not uncommon for them to have their receivers ignore the CB entirely and take out the safety just for that reason (CBs are usually not as good tacklers as safeties).

Keep in mind too, Leal threw a back shoulder throw to Parker for the last touchdown of the scrimmage the week before the spring game.

Viva El Guapo

Yes he did. It's clearly a throw he's capable of making. I've said before that Leal is the best passer on the team, and that's a throw/play that doesn't require much beyond being an excellent passer.

I can see this being the only acceptable reaction from the guys lined up across from Hodges.

"W-I-N (What's Important Now) To make change; To influence; To use this moment to be better than the last; To achieve greatness in all aspects of your life; Win at home. Win at school. Win at business. Win at life." - Bud Foster

That guy looks familiar!

Brandon J. Carroll
Class of 2010

You know what...he looks a little like you. Do you know who he is?

VHokie

Uplegged both of you because I have no clue why you were downvoted

Carry Me Back

the phantom has returned

"We're your family right?!? You love your family right?!?"-Dadi Nicolas
"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

I am excited for him as a receiver. Hope we have a QB that can get the ball to him.

Which wallet is yours?

The one that says "Bad Motherfucker"

What did we learn this spring? The Hokies will have 3-4 playmakers at TE this fall, and LOLUVA won't have any.

Beat uva. That is all.

VT '10, Born & Raised in the 804. Hokies, Keydets, Army Black Knights, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and ATL Braves.

We have more playmakers at TE than LOLUVA had fans at their spring game!

Just another gut-wrenching, can't breathe, I lost my voice, not now, did that just happen, just gimme this one, Virginia Tech Saturday

I know, I know.
But its still funny.

If Tech can get in a rhythm running the ball in a jumbo package, the play action to Bucky could be a touchdown each time.

Bucky Hodges is open

Wait, Wait. French, you're telling me an absurdly athletic QB who had some problems in the passing game (accuracy, reading defenses) can easily translate to TE in less than 1 year? And he may be the best receiving threat on the team? But he's a QB, no way a QB can learn to be a pro-bowl er, All American-level TE that quickly.

Blasphemy.

http://img.pandawhale.com/post-28652-thats-a-bold-strategy-cotton-g-6wCq.gif

"Does it get any better than Thursday Night in Blacksburg?" - Reece Davis
"People who like to brag about how smart they are, are never as smart as they claim." - Colin Cowherd

Favorite GIF from Dodgeball. Always gets a leg from me.

#thingsiblamethemvsfor

At 6-6, there isn't a corner or safety in the ACC that should be able to beat Hodges out on a well thrown jump ball.

I suppose the key words are "well thrown"
Skip to 1:08

I'm already going to Hell. At this point it's pretty much "Go big or go home."

Yeah, well, Jayron Hosley is not in the ACC, is he? There's a reason he plays on Sundays now.

Bucky needs to stop growing or it will be hard for him to walk down the tunnel and enter lane stadium during games.

I swear I read he had a 120' vertical. So wouldn't he just jump over the scoreboard into the field?

We put the K in Kwality

That's not his vertical, it's his wingspan.

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit

This is some serious number.
I did not know he ran a 4.46

also, with a vertical of 38.5" he'd be able to catch a ball really, about 12' off the ground.

TE records

Danny caught that ball.

Friends don't let 5 star friends commit to UVA.

I have inside info. - Whit