"It's going great and I think we're going to spread the ball around a lot this year," said Luke Ashworth. "We have so many talented receivers with O'Neill Chambers, McKay Jacobson, B.J. Peterson, Tyler Kozlowski and others. I think it's going to go back and be more like the ‘06 season where many had the opportunity to contribute in many aspects."
One wide receiver that has yet to contribute in spring practice is Spencer Hafoka. Apparently, Hafoka is recovering from an illness he suffered that caused him to lose quite a bit of weight, but once he returns he'll be a receiver that will bring added depth and athleticism to the group.
"Spencer is another one that we have that I think will also help us at wide receiver," said Ashworth. "He's just trying to get his weight back and I think he'll be able to get his speed back and conditioning back over the summer."
So what is the difference between this year and last year for these young receivers?
"I think the biggest difference between this year and last year is that I believe I'll have more of an opportunity to make plays," said Ashworth. "I think there is a greater opportunity for me and the other guys to make plays and step it up. I think we're now able to rise to the occasion in a sense. We are trying to fill the big shoes of those that have gone before us. We're starting to step up to the plate, knowing that. We know that we are the guys that the team is going to look at and depend on in the passing game, but not only how we play in the passing game but also in the run game as well. Guys need to know that we as receivers can be trusted to block cornerbacks and safeties downfield for them in the running game."
"The more difficult part they'll face is the insertion," said Coach Mendenhall about his young receivers. "Just the keeping up with different plays, keeping up with the concepts and then matching it against whatever coverage they see. So it's a lot and they're holding up okay at this point."
During Thursday's practice Ashworth held his own rather well and was the recipient of quite a few passes from Max Hall. He made diving catches in traffic and showed a no-fear mentality.
"I try to focus on the plays and doing things right but not be a robot out there," Ashworth said. "We have a lot of talented receivers and I think we're making great plays out there. I mean, you saw O'Neill make that nice diving catch in the end zone along with that catch he made in the corner of the end zone. We were recruited here for a reason because we have talent and skill, so we just need to play to our natural abilities and not get too caught up in all the specifics. We just need to let our natural abilities come out and work within those parameters to make plays. I think the coaches do a great job of recognizing our individual abilities and using them within the offense."
To create greater effectiveness, coaches use the abilities of the players to help complement each other's strengths. Knowing what a player's abilities are and how those abilities can be used to complement another player within the offense or a given play is often part of the equation.
"I definitely think we feed off each other," said Ashworth. "You see how some guys use their natural ability to be successful and you try an implement that within your own game, like today when O'Neill caught that touchdown pass and how he did it. Those things just motivate you and make you want to step up your own game by taking those strengths from others and make them yours. You want to take those great things from each player and make them yours. We all help each other with our weaknesses and communicate really well in what we need to do to be better. Coach Higgins does a great job in telling us what we also need to do to improve."
"They are just opportunistic and they've been waiting for their chance, and now their chance is here," said Coach Mendenhall. "They're making the most of it and they're not seasoned or experienced, but they're eager. They know they have a chance and are making the most of it."
"I definitely think there will be more ways for us to score touchdowns this year," Ashworth said. "I think when you have more weapons and a mentality of using those weapons in multiple ways the threat increases. It really keeps defenses guessing because we have so many great skill players with Max making his reads. I think there will be much more of a passing threat with all the ball distribution that will happen."
The atmosphere during spring camp is more fun, and with that there has been an increase in energy that has filtered down throughout the ranks on both sides of the ball.
"I think we're all having a lot more fun this year," Ashworth said. "A lot of that comes with the opportunity and I think more feel that's the case this year. Guys are seeing that the harder you work the more opportunity you have, so you see guys working hard and getting opportunities. You see a lot of guys coming off the field with smiles on their faces, and even guys coming up with new dances."
Players are having fun again as Ashworth has said, but new dances? Although there hasn't been any cardboard lying around for some break dancing, Ashworth admits that some of the players are trying to come up with fun dances among themselves. The question is, can Ashworth dance?
"I can't dance but I try and watch O'Neill," said Ashworth with a laugh. "Tyler Kozlowski thinks he can dance and that's pretty funny. I just try to imitate them as best I can. We won't be doing them in the games or anything like that, but I'll probably have to go watch the BET channel and studying some dance moves."
On Thursday Coach Mendenhall gave a quick update on the status of wide receiver McKay Jacobson. Jacobson suffered a hamstring pull during winter workouts, so coaches want to evaluate him prior to his return to full-practice status.
"We'll evaluate his routes on air, which is basically just routes with no defensive players, and throwing and catching," Mendenhall said. "Then we'll evaluate from there and based on how that looks will determine what role he'll have next week. Again, if I have a say in it I'm going to be a lot more conservative than aggressive. I don't want a setback with him, but he's anxious to come out so we'll evaluate him Monday."