- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2013

BLACKSBURG – D.J. Coles didn’t need to scroll through his Twitter feed or read any accounts of Virginia Tech’s 35-10 loss against Alabama. He knew instinctively what the college football world thought of his play and that of his fellow Tech receivers

But he did, anyway. And it burned him up. Little good was being said about the group’s underwhelming performance, and that included Coles’ own position coach, Aaron Moorehead, who tweeted:

Tonight was a rough one no doubt. I can (promise) the Hokie Nation that it will get better. We have a LONG season to go & the WR’s will (get) it right

Virginia Tech’s receivers had dropped balls as if quarterback Logan Thomas had been dipping them in acid. At times, they got lost or physically tossed off their routes by the Alabama secondary.

Coles, as the elder statesman of the group, took the barbs personally. Back on the field after an injury-riddled 2012, the redshirt senior was expected to be front-and-center for 2013. Instead, he was missing in action that night in the Georgia Dome.

Fast-forward to this past Saturday, when Coles was all smiles following a pair of touchdown receptions in Virginia Tech’s easier-than-it-looked 27-17 win against North Carolina.

Perhaps out of concern for past knee issues, Coles continues to be used only in certain packages, most of which coming when Tech is in the red zone. He has responded well to the role – of his 11 receptions, five have gone for touchdowns.

“That first game, people harped on the receiving corps, ‘Oh, they’re no good,’” Coles said. “We haven’t forgotten what people said about us that first week. We’re going to take that as fuel to keep working, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re getting better.”

A big part of that improvement has been receivers finding their roles within offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s offense. Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles have evolved into home run threats, while Josh Stanford has been a key third-down contributor. He converted a pair of third-and-long situations on Saturday.

“I guess we’re starting to understand what’s going on,” Thomas said. “Things aren’t just picked up overnight; we’re starting to understand it. The receivers are getting on the same page with me, I’m on the same page with them and we’re all on the same page with Coach Loeffler. That’s huge. That’s what we’ve got to keep doing.”

Knowles gathered in a 45-yard touchdown pass. Byrn torched North Carolina for 118 yards on four receptions, including an 83-yard catch-and-run that would have gone for a touchdown had Byrn not been nursing a sore knee. That play stood out as an example of just how far the group has come in earning Loeffler’s confidence, since the call came while the Hokies were pinned at their own 2-yard line.

“I was very surprised by the call, but I know how (Loeffler) is,” Thomas said. “He was ready to attack. I just wish (Byrn) didn’t have a little bit of a rusty wheel, or he would have scored.”

As it was, the reception was the third-longest non-scoring reception in school history.

“I was shocked that he called that,” Byrn said. “That was a great call and a great throw by Logan and that’s something. If we keep doing that, if (Loeffler) keeps making those masterful play calls, we’ll be pretty dangerous.”

The evolution of the receivers is the last piece of the puzzle for Virginia Tech’s offense. The running game has been just good enough to allow for play-action calls, so long as Loeffler has faith in the receivers. Play-action appears to bring out the best in Thomas. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 293 yards with no interceptions and the three scores.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a bona fide red zone threat. Though he certainly would like to play more than 10-15 snaps per game, Coles is relishing his newfound role.

“I tell them hurry up and get in the red, because if it’s inside the 25, it’s my time,” Coles said with a laugh. “Touchdowns are where you make your money at, you know? I’m the red man. I’ll take that.”

Coles also can peruse the Twitter feed without fear once more. Among the plaudits and praise Saturday was Moorehead’s latest offering:

Once again proud of the effort & playmaking today out of the WR’s. Lots of different guys doing different things. Great team win!