With Miami coming to Charlottesville last season in week six, the Virginia football team’s coaching staff was stumped.
Joe Reed’s 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the Military Bowl was one of the few positives to come out of the end of the 2017 season, but to that point in 2018, he was a non-factor.
“There’s been kind of an enigma there that we haven’t quite been able to identify in terms of development, usage, and just integration,” Virginia football coach Bronco Mendenhall said at the time. “We've attempted and are attempting multiple times, and just haven't quite found the best way to either present the information, have it integrated or have the application come up with the desired result.”
The fog cleared a couple weeks later with Reed’s three-touchdown performance against Liberty. With two touchdown catches and a 90-yard kickoff return, he showed he can be the explosive scoring threat Virginia’s coaches spent the season looking for. This fall, the focus is on getting vertical early and often.
“It’s just about continuing to broaden my knowledge of the game, and continuing to watch film and learn how I can break coverages,” Reed said. “That’s something I focused on late last season, less of what I had to do as an offensive player and more on what the defense was doing.”
The following week at Georgia Tech, Reed posted 200 all-purpose yards, and he capped the regular season with four catches for 119 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown, at Virginia Tech. He was limited to just one catch in the Belk Bowl, but he finished the year with a career-high seven receiving touchdowns and his efforts this offseason to challenge whoever lines up across from him haven’t gone unnoticed.
“The work ethic that Joe has shown from last year to this year, knowing that he could be the guy getting a lot of the touches, is amazing,” Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins said. “We’re at it every day, and he’s always texting me like, ‘you watching film today?’ It’s amazing to see that kind of competitiveness and want to be better, and the student of the game that he has become. It has definitely rubbed off on me.”
With Richmond graduate transfer Dejon Brissett still on the mend after offseason foot surgery, Reed and Hasise Dubois are the only receivers on Virginia’s roster with double-digit starts. Reed knows the only chance he has to produce the way the team needs is if he and Perkins are on the same page.
“Three or four times a week, whether on field or on film or even if it’s not football related, we’re just hanging out and developing that bond that a receiver and quarterback should have,” Reed said.
With 2,246 career kick return yards and three returned for touchdowns — both UVa records — Reed has already cemented himself as one of the best kick returners in Virginia history. Last season’s 25 receptions were a career high, but if the Cavaliers are going to close the gap between eight and 10 wins this fall, he’s going to need two or three times that many.
“Not a lot of guys can tackle him one-on-one in the open field, so get the ball in Joe Reed’s hands and good things happen,” Perkins said.
Depth chart glance: Receivers
If the season started tomorrow, Reed and Dubois would most likely top the depth chart on the outside, with sophomore Tavares Kelly in the slot filling former Cavalier Olamide Zaccheaus’ role.
Dubois is a big-bodied receiver who isn’t going to burn many defenders deep, but he understands how to use his frame to create space and isn’t shy about contact over the middle. Reed relies more on his speed to create separation, and he’s excited to see what Kelly can do in the slot.
“TK has been looking good in and out of his routes, so I’m excited to see what he brings,” Reed said.
Arizona State graduate transfer Terrell Chatman and junior Terrell Jana should also see snaps outside the hash marks, and second-year Billy Kemp could see time in the slot when he returns from a leg injury suffered in spring camp. Brissett can play outside or in the slot.