Even though there are plenty of unknowns regarding the progress of the offense so far in fall camp, it is clear that freshmen Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips will have an impact this season.
"I'd say those guys are going to more than likely play for us this year," Aaron Moorehead previously said. "They've established themselves as playmakers on this football team. They are two of the best guys that we have."
During Wednesday's media session, 247Sports Kyle Bailey asked Coach Moorehead if he was worried about the two young receivers physically, along with their ability to get off the line of scrimmage and win jump balls.
Moorhead responded, "No, not at all. If you really watch those guys [Ford and Phillips]] throughout practice, they're guys getting the cleanest releases during practice. They're football players. They're guys who understand their position." For a football program that has struggled to recruit ready-to-play receivers in recent years, this is as exciting a quote that I have heard coming from camp so far.
When I reviewed Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips high school highlights, both impressed me as players who could make an immediate impact. Coach Scot Loeffler took an inexperienced wide receiver group that struggled to get off press man coverage, and found ways to use their strengths to get them open. But, there was a clear need for receivers who could get separation from defenders off the line of scrimmage and down field.
Ford's initial quickness off the line of scrimmage jumped off the screen on film. He is at full speed almost in his first stride which catches corners off-guard. He gets right in to the cushion of the corner so quickly that the corner has to abandon the press to turn and run. Otherwise, Ford can be right by him. He needed to add strength, but he used his shoulders to get corners leaning and takes advantage.
Ford's speed then gives him deep threat ability. Demitri Knowles has tremendous deep speed, but seems to be more comfortable on underneath routes. Ford gets himself open deep, but unlike Knowles, Ford gets position on corners, finds the football, and goes and gets it. With Stanford, Knowles, and Byrn all guys who are adept at catching the ball on short to intermediate routes (with Stanford being the best of the three getting off press coverage for intermediate routes), Ford fits an immediate need at the receiver position for a deep threat. Carlis Parker is another option (the offensive staff seemed to feed Parker on back-shoulder fade routes in the red zone often in spring scrimmages), but Ford is well ahead of where Parker was as a freshman receiver last season. Like Parker, he is also a threat on jet sweeps.
Cam Phillips is behind Ford on the depth chart, but his high school film made him appear more physical when releasing off press coverage. He sets up defenders, and then gets separation through the use of hand-leverage techniques similar to what defensive ends use when pass rushing. I am not sure if he will end up being the deep threat that Ford could be, but I expect that he will be a potent possession wide receiver with strong run after the catch ability.
Ford and Phillips (along with Parker, Jaylen Bradshaw, and Kendrick Holland) will grow with quarterbacks Brenden Motley, Andrew Ford, and Chris Durkin as the future of the Hokie passing game. But, with "the future is now" the mantra around Blacksburg, both Ford and Phillips will give Scot Loeffler the ability to stretch the field with the vertical passing game. Those deep threat routes prevent aggressive safeties from creeping up in the running game, where last season those extra defenders in the box completely derailed any opportunities for a consistent rushing attack.