Blue Hens look to unlock Joe Walker’s potential as a wide receiver
There is no mistaking that Joe Walker is now a wide receiver.
The maligned former quarterback has not only run with the number ones all summer, but has a chance to be among Delaware’s top offensive threats. For his closing act, the redshirt senior captain is ready to “dominate” and boost the Blue Hens offense, which enters yet another season searching for offensive production, but this time in a new way.
Delaware has ranked last in yards through the air in the CAA the past three seasons, averaging less than 100 passing yards per game. In the first two of those seasons and part of the third, Walker took the majority of the snaps from behind center.
“Obviously there is no looking back, but I feel like our football team is a better football team with Joe out there on the edge creating that threat, that speed, as a wide receiver,” Head Coach Danny Rocco said Monday.
Last season, Delaware missed out on the playoffs after finishing 7-4 overall and 5-3 in CAA play and extended a school-record playoff drought that dates back to 2010. Delaware is ranked 15th in the STATS FCS Top 25 national poll and third in the CAA preseason poll as the team enters the 2018 season.
Delaware will open the season Thursday night against CAA-foe Rhode Island. When they do, it will be Pat Kehoe, a three-year back up from Madison, Conn., throwing the passes for the Blue Hens and Joe Walker, the quarterback turned pass catcher, on the receiving end.
This time last year, Walker dazzled in preseason practices with a daily display of athleticism and arm strength, and beat out transfer quarterback J.P. Caruso to retain the starting job for the third consecutive season.
But he soon lost the position, as Caruso cracked the lineup late in the fourth game of the season against James Madison and led the Blue Hens to a come-from-behind 24-20 win at Stony Brook the following week, in relief of Walker.
Delaware explored using Walker in the backfield and outside as a receiver throughout the rest of the year, but he still worked mostly with the quarterback group at practices. He showed a flash of what he could become as an all-around threat when he recorded 165 all-purpose yards at Maine on November 4. Against the Black Bears, Walker caught two passes for 68 yards, carried nine times for 55 yards and completed a 42 yard pass.
Before then, Walker had never played wide receiver.
After an offseason and preseason camp spent working exclusively with the receiver group, his confidence is now at an all-time high.
“A lot of support from coaches and players,” Walker said when asked what enabled him to fast track his progress this summer. “They really helped me grow as much as I’ve done this offseason. It’s just been really fast honestly, changing roles like that, but I have all the confidence in the world.”
Rocco credited wide receivers coach Erik Campbell with helping Walker improve his basic fundamentals.
“Joe has an amazing amount of talent and a very impressive body, strength, explosion, speed and skill set,” Rocco said. “These techniques and fine-tuning these fundamentals will give him an opportunity to create some space and get open and really make some plays with us.”
Rocco also called Walker “a natural receiver.” While he may still occasionally line up behind center or in the backfield, there is little doubt the coaching staff is relying on him to be one of the team’s primary pass catchers, joining a group that includes Jamie Jarmon, last year’s team-leader in receiving yards, Charles Scarff, a preseason All-CAA selection at tight end and slot receiver Vinny Papale.
Delaware has not had a pass catcher surpass 500 receiving yards since 2014, when Michael Johnson reeled in 78 passes for 830 yards.
“I don’t think it’ll be anything surprising to any teams,” Walker said. “I think a lot of teams are going to expect stuff. They might think it’s trickery or anything, but we just ready to dominate whatever we do out there.
“My mindset has never changed.”