Breaking Down How Tight Ends Should Feature Heavily in Virginia Tech's New-Look Passing Offense

At previous stops, Tyler Bowen and Brad Glenn's tight ends were not an afterthought in the passing game. Examining 12 plays from their tenure plus Tech's spring game that shed some light on the future attack.

[Mark Umansky]

While Virginia Tech's defensive scheme will utilize many of the same looks and concepts that Bud Foster made a staple in Blacksburg for nearly three decades, the Hokies offense remains a bit of a mystery to Virginia Tech fans. New offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen has multiple influences; his own experience as a position coach under current Old Dominion head coach Ricky Rahne and former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer, and the play-calling experience of former Georgia State offensive coordinator and Hokies quarterbacks coach Brad Glenn. One consistent theme ran like a river through film study of all these different coaching minds: the tight end position will receive significantly more targets, particularly in high traffic areas, than the group received during Justin Fuente's tenure.

The numbers start to paint the picture. With Rahne calling the plays and Bowen coaching, current Pittsburgh Steeler Pat Freiermuth had 92 catches and 1,185 yards receiving in 29 career games at Penn State. Rahne moved on to Old Dominion, where tight end Zack Kuntz put up 73 receptions in 2021. Meanwhile, Glenn game-planned little used tight end Aubry Payne into an 8 catch, 109 yard, and 2 touchdown performance in Georgia State's dominant bowl victory over Ball State.

Outside of Kuntz's 6-8 frame, the measurables for these tight ends don't jump off the page, and none played with quarterbacks that would be mistaken for upper echelon passers. Like Fuente's offense, all of the new Virginia Tech coaches come from systems that heavily utilize RPO and play-action to get their tight ends open in space. Unlike Fuente's offense, the new Virginia Tech coaching staff uses their tight ends in the middle of the field and trusts them to use their route running and physicality to make tough catches in tight spaces. Hokies incumbent starter Nick Gallo will likely be given every opportunity to have a high volume of touches in the Hokies passing offense.

The Wheel Keeps On Turning

Gallo and fellow incumbent Drake DeIuliis will be comfortable with one of the primary passing concepts I found popping up again and again in the film — the wheel route off play-action. The wheel route was part of Brad Cornelsen's passing structure. When Bowen and Glenn look for a big play from the tight end, the wheel route is the most likely route concept.

On this wheel concept, Penn State lined up two receivers and tight end Pat Freiermuth (No. 87) to the boundary.

Quarterback Sean Clifford (No. 14) fakes an outside zone handoff to the boundary, the slot receiver (No. 1) to that side runs a post and the split end (No. 11) runs a vertical route. Freiermuth doesn't do much to sell the block. He barely bumps the defensive end with his shoulder before releasing into the boundary flat. Michigan State was in a good defense (a hybrid cover two with a corner in the flat) to defend the wheel. Instead of taking off and running as Hokies fans are accustomed to seeing the last couple of seasons, Clifford throws the ball into traffic and gives Freiermuth a chance to make the play. The run-action freezes the corner (No. 19) just enough for Freiermuth to slip behind him.

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