This past off-season Virginia Tech wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead instituted a new way of having the wide receivers compete. Moorehead said that everyone was on an equal playing field.
And that level-footing before fall camp even started has paved the way for a pair of freshman receivers, Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips, to step up in a big way so far. But the Hokies' passing attack is also getting help from its backfield, buoyed in a big way by Ford's and Phillips' play.
"I'm never going to be about seniority," Moorehead said. "I think you give the guy who's been here a chance to continue to have those spots. But the young guys have to go in and be able to get it. Cam and Isaiah within the first couple days of practice had really separated themselves as guys who were going to play."
Even with having the open competition, Moorehead said that it is important to constantly evaluate the young players.
"If they do a good job, let them stay," he said. "If they don't, you pull them back, pull their reins [in] and give them a chance a little bit later on.
"I think it motivated the older guys knowing that the freshman had an open chance. They better come to practice every day ready to roll. And the young guys saw the blood in the water a little bit and said, 'we have a chance to come in here and earn a spot.'"
Having the best player on the field is what drives Moorehead to run the wide-receiver competition in this format. And though one player might claim a higher spot on the depth chart, they have to continue to earn it.
"It's always a daily competition because every single day we're trying to see who [are] the best guys," Moorehead said. "If there's no change today, it's [going] to be tomorrow or Thursday. We're trying to figure out who the best guys are every single day."
The wide receivers aren't the only ones who participate in the passing game. Assistant coach Shane Beamer is confident that this bunch of running backs are also good with their hands.
"Sam Rodgers and Joel Caleb are two guys that are really, really good route runners and pass catchers so we want to continue to get them involved in the passing game," he said. "Trey (Edmunds) was a weapon for us last year. J.C. (Coleman) is a weapon for us. In that role, if you're going to play running back here, you've got to be able to run the football, pass protect and pass catch."
Beamer emphasized that he wants the running backs to participate in all three of those categories. Pass blocking is something that Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster work on every Tuesday.
Beamer is constantly getting the running backs to work on more than just their technique. He wants them to have the knowledge to be able to recognize who they need to block and when they need to block them.
Beamer said he had a meeting with true freshman running backs Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams during practice about pass protection. Just as Moorehead does, Beamer must have the best player for the job. And right now, he has the most confidence in sophomore running back Sam Rodgers and McKenzie, but stressed that all the running backs are much improved on these fronts.
"I know Shai is pretty violent in the pass blocking," Williams said. "I'd give it Shai over anyone."
The threat of losing the starting job drives all of these skill position players to leave it all on the field. Moorehead and Beamer both stressed that if a player hasn't proved that he is the best, he won't be playing. For these coaches, practice is everything.