Spring Ball Preview: Wide Receiver/Tight End

Well the good news is that we only lost half of our receiving yards this year compared to over 75% the year before. The bad news is that Ryan Dinwiddie is gone. So last year's formula of letting the master choose his targets isn't likely to be in the cards this year as we break in a first year starter at QB.<br><br>Roll forward to the start of spring ball and what will see? Who knows, but here's some things to look for.

The Offense

Probable Starter TJ Acree

The prospects at QB are many. We have some pure passers, some athletes can run and pass and all appear to have the toughness and determination to cut it as the Bronco QB. But they won't be Ryan Dinwiddie, at least not their first year, so how will the offense morph? This is the first unknown of many that we'll start to learn more about in a few weeks.  But either way it rolls out, it will have a profound effect on what our receiver corps looks like next year.

Smashmouth football, what we're rumored to see a lot more of, requires receivers that can block and receivers that have the speed to break one in play action. We have both.  

Short controlled passing game requires skilled receivers that aren't afraid to make catches in traffic, when they know punishment is coming. No one represents that skill set better than sophomore Tight End, Derek Schouman.

We know we have receivers to plug into last year's offensive scheme. TJ Acree, Lawrence Bady, and others made big plays last year and all showed great speed and toughness. We know that TE Derek Schouman was the most impressive true freshman we've seen play in many years and will anchor the starting TE position. But we know that this offense requires depth, lots of depth.

The Starters

Probable Starter Lawrence Bady

The Players, starting with the most likely candidates for the starting rotation:

Senior WR, TJ Acree (5'10 175lbs) – does he remind you of anyone? Small, fast, tough, great hands? He should be a lock for one of the starting wideouts after his performance in the Ft Worth Bowl. (8 catches for 150 yards and a TD). In a reserve role, TJ had 3 100 yard games and 7 receiving TD's last year. He was second behind Gilligan in receiving yards with 767. There is no doubt that he can produce in 2004 and his knowledge of the offense and downfield blocking skills will be all important with a new QB in the mix. I guess you'd call TJ our ‘possession' receiver since he only averaged 14 yards per catch.

Senior WR, Lawrence Bady (5'11 190lbs) – Bady was third in receiving yards last season with 726 and was electric as a playmaker, averaging about 25 yards per catch. Speed to burn with no fear to elevate in traffic and make the catch. Like most of our receivers, he's about 6', so it takes that speed and leaping ability to make the play. A very determined player that will succeed, plus we love that huge ‘fro.

Sophomore TE, Derek Schouman (6'2.5 225lbs) – Amazing kid. Fast, great hands and great balance. He took some monstrous hits without going down last year and was counted on for the clutch catch more than once. He always delivered, in spite of the few attempts he got each game. He averaged only about 2 catches a game, yet averages a TD every 4 catches. And he always delivered the big block when called upon. Looks like he could get called upon a lot more for that this next year if you believe the rumors of a stronger running game and ball control passing.

Likely starting TE Derek Schouman

The 2nd group of WR's:

This next group of receivers showed us enough to know that they'll figure out in the mix somehow:

Senior WR, Tony McPherson (6'.5 185lbs) – the big ‘asterisk' going into 2004. Tony is a very gifted receiver that will be featured next year, IF he makes the grades. He's working hard in the off-season to do just that and the coaches are guardingly optimistic, but we cannot count on him returning. If we are lucky, we get a guy with loads of talent and speed and someone who was coming on strong towards the end of last season before being disqualified for the Ft Worth Bowl. His best game was a 4 reception/104 yd/1 TD game against Nevada. He's sporting over a 20 yards per catch average like Lawrence Bady.

Senior WR, Mark Onibokun (6'1 205lbs) – man, did the staff try hard to work this kid into the rotation last year. At 6'1" and over 200 lbs, he presents a target like few on the roster. And he's lightning fast (see a trend here?). Labeled a playmaker, the offense' complexities presented some issues for him last year that shouldn't be an issue this time around. One of the big wildcards coming in, could explode onto the scene in 2004.

Junior WR, Brett Ralph (6' 180lbs) – there was a big buzz around this transfer from Wyoming last year, but a concussion midway through the season, after working hard to get back into playing shape, cost him most of the minutes he needed to prove himself. A multi-sport athlete in Canada, he set records in the 100m, 200m and high jump and earned over 16 letters in 5 sports (football, baseball, track, basketball and golf) and was Canada's starting shortstop for Team Canada in the world championships. Was more of a possession receiver at Wyoming, averaging about 10 yards per catch as a true freshman.

SR Tony McPherson

Sophomore WR, Drisan James (5'11 180lbs) – the speedster from Phoenix, James caught 5 passes for 74 yards. He's very fast; in high school he was the conference champion in the 100m, 200m and high jump. He also was named to the Arizona Republic top 25 players in the state his senior year and the coaching staff feels that there is no limit to what James can produce.

Wildcards at WR
This last group of receivers are the dark horses, we've seen a bit of them in scrimmages, practices, and from comments from the outgoing seniors last year. Here's what we know about them.

Sophomore WR/RB, Quinton Jones (5'9 165lbs) – FAST. Ran a 10.6 100M in high school (Los Alimitos High School in Cerritos, California). Was also the 1st team all-CIF tailback for section 1, averaging almost 9 yards a carry. And if you know anything about high school football in the west, you know that Los Al plays in a league filled with D1 players. The staff is trying hard to find some PT for Quinton and we hope they do, he's a big play waiting to happen.

Junior Brett Ralph

Junior WR, Chrisean Christopher (6' 165) – the JC transfer red shirted last year after a stellar summer practice and scrimmage schedule. He seemed to make all the big catches in August' scrimmages. He comes from Jordan High School in Long Beach, California, and lettered in football and track. As a senior, he was named to the California Dream Team in football and was the Moore league 400M champion. We feel that the only reason he was red shirt last year was to put some weight on. At just over 6 feet, he was closer to 150 pounds than he was to 200. If he can come in at 180 or so this year, look out. And he showed some speed last summer, burning our starting DB's many times. Surprisingly, Chris Chris was the best looking WR of the JC Transfers heading into the season, but since he was the only one with a RS available, he sat. Expect big things from him this next season as he has had a year to get hungry.

Junior WR, Jason Murray (5'10 175lbs) – Transfered to Boise State from Sacramento State back in 02 and sat out due to NCAA transfer rules and found himself at the bottom of the totem-pole last year at WR.  Originally was a CB, but moved to WR with the need for depth.  Could be a candidate to move back to CB with the newfound depth at WR and potential need for DB's. 

Sophomore WR, Jovan Hutchinson (5'11 175lbs) – out of Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, he was an all city selection his junior and senior years and received gold medal at the city track championships in the 4x100 and 4x400M relays. The outgoing receivers and DB's named him the player coming in that will surprise the most.

Freshman WR, Tyler Matheson (6'2 185lbs) – walked on the Bronco program last season from Oregon. Rangy, at 6'2" but needs some bulk. Reputation is fast and tough with good hands but we haven't seen it with our own eyes yet.

Senior WR, Jarret Horn (5'10 180lbs) – Local kid transfer/walk-on.  Played mostly Special Teams last year and will probably find his way onto the field once again on Special Teams. 

Senior Mark Onibokun

Junior WR, Josh Smith – (6'1 180lbs) incoming JC transfer that just signed out of Compton JC in California, where he caught over 70 passes for 1400 yards and 14 TD's. Played his high school ball in Lakeland, Florida and was named to the all state teams as a junior and a senior. Named to the Fabulous 5 team from Fox Sports Net. All state high jumper in track as well. Quite a buzz around this guy, we can't wait to see him in a Bronco uniform. Has a red shirt year to burn if needed  but wants to come in and play now, which would really be saying something considering the talent ahead of him.

Freshman WR, Toshi Franklin (6'1 170lbs) – Incoming Freshman from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California. Was a first team all-CIF player catching 54 passes for 954 yards and 9 TD's his senior year. At 6'1" he'll be one of the bigger targets but expects to redshirt.

The ‘Other' Tight End

(Not a glamorous title, but let's face it, Schouman is the starter because he does everything better than the others, but they aren't chopped liver and will definitely contribute):

Senior TE, Andy Weldon (6'3 245lbs) – he caught but 3 passes last year and they had to work hard to get him those. He's a blocker first and a damn good one, but he does have decent enough hands to make the occasional catch.  His ticket in 2004, however, will be as the #1 blocking back. 

Eagle, ID Native Derek Schouman

Sophomore TE, Sherm Blaser (6'4 215lbs) – local all-state player that returned from his LDS mission last season and saw limited PT. Like many return missionaries, the first year back is tough. Look for a strong push from Sherm this year.  Probably the #2 receiving TE on the squad.  An interesting scenario exists if Cory Larsen, (below), works his way into the rotation.  Sherm has a RS year available and could use time to focus on bulking up and blocking techniques.  It is not out of the realm of possibility to see Blaser RS next season, if we can bare to let him sit for that long.

Sophomore TE, Cory Larsen (6'5 240lbs) – Transferred in from Oregon last year.  Big and physical, (Oregon had him playing LB'r), he has the potential, but his speed and hands are unknown.  As of right now, it would appear that he's head to head in the battle for the #1 blocking TE spot with Weldon, but if his hands are good he could vault past both Weldon and Blaser into the #2 spot.

Freshman TE, Ryan Putnam – (6'2 230lbs) we don't know much about Ryan, apart from the fact that he's a good blocker.  In HS, he caught a few balls, but was primarily a blocking TE on a run-oriented team. The staff really worked hard to get him here so they certainly saw something that makes him valuable.

Freshman TE, Julian Hawkins (6'3 225lbs) – incoming freshman from Long Beach Poly High in California, his team was ranked 3rd in the nation his sophomore year. A playmaker at Poly, he stated he had fun "toying with safeties in high school." Has the size and speed to take over for Schou once he graduates.  Likely to redshirt.

Freshman TE, Chris O'neill (6'3 210lbs) – incoming freshmen from Miramonte High in Moraga, California. Prolific pass-catcher in HS, needs to bulk up for D1 ball.  Another redshirt for 2004.

Questions that need to be answered in Spring ball:

  1. With Tony McPherson not eligible, who moves into the #3 WR spot?
  2. Can Brett Ralph return to pre-mission form?
  3. Can Mark Onibokun live up to the hype he garnered last year?
  4. Can one of the three, (Hutchinson, James and Christopher) make a move for a key spot in the rotation.
  5. Can Quinton Jones make the move successfully from TB, or will he move yet again?
  6. Will a pecking order be created, and can a Florida All State player like Josh Smith come in and make his presence felt in the Summer?
  7. Can someone seperate from the pack at TE and become the number 2 TE behind local phenom Derek Schouman?

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