Auburn, Ala.--Expected to be a strength of the 2001 team, the wide receivers instead were a major disappointment as that group and the entire offense struggled to produce throughout the season.
With leading receivers Tim Carter (graduating) and junior-to-be Deandre Green (transferred to Murray State because of disciplinary problems) gone, the pressure falls on key returnees to get the job done this spring. For position coach Greg Knox that means having players step up and take over roles as a leaders on the offensive side of the ball.
"This is a group with four guys returning who had some playing time for us last year," Knox tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "We're really looking for those four guys to come in and give us some leadership and be able to pick up the offense. This is a new offense to everyone so we're really looking for those four to come in and really show the offensive coordinator (Bobby Petrino) that they can get the job done."
Marcel Willis is expected to provide leadership this season.
The four players mentioned by Knox make up the experienced group of wide receivers that quarterbacks Jason Campbell, Daniel Cobb and Wesley Hill have to work with this spring. Senior Marcel Willis is the leading returning receiver with just 14 catches for 142 yards last fall while struggling with a high ankle sprain for the entire season. Expected to be back to full speed, the 6-1, 185-pound Willis should provide the type of example that Knox and the coaching staff are looking for this spring.
Junior Jeris McIntyre comes into spring practice down 10 pounds from last season to improve his quickness.
Also back at receiver are junior Jeris McIntyre and sophomores Joe Walkins and Silas Daniels. While all garnered considerable playing time, none were featured in the offense by any stretch of the imagination. McIntyre, a dependable 6-0, 210-pounder who can make the tough catch, caught 12 passes for 187 yards last season from the slot receiver position. He, too, was slowed by injuries.
McIntyre's running mate, the quick 5-8, 180-pound Walkins, also caught 12 passes. Walkins produced just 124 yards on those catches and should improve on those numbers. Petrino mentions Walkins as a player the Tigers need to get more involved in the offense.
Last but probably not least is Daniels. A playmaker with the ability to stretch the defense vertically, the 6-0, 186-pound Daniels caught eight passes for 85 yards in limited action last fall. That should change this fall.
Joe Walkins will be counted on to provide a spark in both the passing game and return game.
"With Marcel we hope we can have him back to 100 percent," Knox notes. "Silas is coming off his first year, playing as a true freshman. We also have Joe Walkins and McIntyre coming back. Those four guys will be the primary four we figure into the scheme this spring. Then we'll work the other guys in, also."
Silas Daniels is the deep threat for the Tigers this spring because of his speed and ability to go up for the ball in traffic.
The other wide receivers mentioned by Knox include talented walk-ons Todd Bradford (6-2, 183) and Andrew Letts (6-1, 183) as well as redshirt freshman Larry Summers (5-11, 166), walk-on sophomore Sam Rives (5-11, 179), junior Brian Henderson (5-11, 174), redshirt freshman walk-on Craig Williams (5-11, 199) and junior walk-on Justin Fetkso (5-8, 160). Fetsko is the only one with experience in that group.
"Those guys are all players and this is the perfect opportunity for them," Knox says. "It's a new offense and new situation. It's a great opportunity for them to step in and show the offensive coordinator that they can get the job done. There are going to be lots of opportunities this spring. Believe that."
With the history of passing success in the college ranks by new offensive coordinator Petrino, this spring will be important for all the receivers as they learn a new system that features getting the ball down field to the wideouts as well as utilizing the tight ends and running backs. While there is some learning involved in the new offense, Knox says that the older guys should have no problems adjusting to a new system.
"The biggest difference is terminology," he says. "A lot of the routes are the same, but the terminology is totally different. That part will be a little bit tough for those guys to pick up at the beginning, but I think with the repetition over and over again they'll pick it up."
The learning process begins Friday at 3 p.m. when the Tigers open spring practice on the practice fields behind the athletic complex. The practice is the first of 14 they will have before the annual A-Day game on April 6 inside Jordan-Hare Stadium. All practices are open to the public.
When the newcomers join the program in August, Knox is going to welcome four of the most highly regarded 2002 signees in Devin Aromashodu, Ben Obomanu, Montae Pitts and Courtney Taylor. He says all four will have a chance to play immediately for the Tigers, who will open the 2002 season on the road Sept. 2nd vs. Southern Cal.
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