In the case of our wide receiver group, the depth chart is nearly worthless. After Nate Curry starting, everything is still up for grabs even as we exit spring and head into summer. Curry proved in the time he played in spring ball that he's a level ahead of all the others and is ready to take on the role as the senior leader of this group, as Jonathan Smith did admirably last season. Remember some of Nate's best plays early in his career and the promise he showed? Well he got back to that level and then pushed way past it. This season he will be the player we all hoped he would be when he was recruited. In my eyes there is no doubt that he is poised for a huge senior season. There is enough potential around him now that there's a good chance teams won't be able to focus too much on him, leaving him open to explode in single coverage. I still must emphasize though that the other receivers around him still offer just potential. The group still needs to live up their abilities. If some others do that then it could be an exciting year for the passing game.
The player I look most forward to having an impact in the passing game wasn't even enrolled during spring drills, Calvin Johnson. We all know the hype that comes with Calvin to GT so I won't rehash that. For now let's look at those that did participate in spring practice and see who made the biggest impressions and who we might look to as factors this fall.
Maybe the most pleasant surprise of the spring was the play of Damarius Bilbo. I don't think he really handled his change from quarterback to wide receiver last season the way he should have mentally. His physical abilities have never been in doubt. He's one of the top "athletes" this team has had in years. He's built like a linebacker with receiver speed. He just needed to find a home. This spring he seemed to have dedicated himself mentally to learning the finer points of being a true wide receiver and no just an athlete. With help from Coach Geis, Bilbo improved his route running, positioning and ability to separate from defenders. He also showed much better hands than I remembered seeing from him last season. I believe he also shed a few pounds. Still he's an imposing figure for smaller cornerbacks and Damarius victimize guys in our backfield on numerous occasions during spring. I don't see him as a player that will have the number of catches that Curry is likely to get but I see Bilbo as a big play receiver and a red zone target. My prediction for 2004 is decent yardage for Bilbo but a high number of touchdowns. He's one of those players that wants to make the highlight reel and I have no doubt he'll do it this season. He needs to stay healthy though because he does seem to be the guy that continually gets some kind of nagging injury. If he can stay strong mentally, I see no reason why he can't keep Reggie's attention on him more and more. He's a true secret weapon. If other teams have forgotten about Bilbo, then he'll quickly remind them.
I'm going to lop the next two top targets together. Levon Thomas and Chris Dunlap have similar strengths and weaknesses. Both are capable of being super receivers and show it in bursts. But a lack of consistency and dropped footballs from both guys will keep their playing down from where they are going to want it to be. There may not be a better receiver after the catch than Levon; he just needs to hold onto the ball more consistently. Dunlap has a penchant for making a big catch just when you're starting to get down on him. He always seems to play a little better in tense situations. For instance, he's the one that would usually make a big catch in the two minute offense. Since they are so similar, I expect that Levon will see the field more because of his experience.
Xavier McGuire & Mark Logan are the wild cards. I mentioned the time that Logan spent at QB, but in spring he also got in some work at WR, which is probably the only place he'll actually see the field this season. He's probably doesn't posses the same potential as some of the previously mentioned receivers but he'll play some. He does what you want from someone further down the bench… he hustles. In practice, he dives after balls even if it seems out of reach. He's a senior that's been around and is always willing to do what's asked of him even if it's not the most glamorous roles. Xavier sometimes frustrates the heck out of me. He's 6'4" but still doesn't properly use his body to his advantage and his hands often fail him. But like Levon, he's a bit of a problem once the ball's in his hands. On one memorable play from spring he caught the ball then danced around picking up another 4-5 yards. By the time he went down, he had 10 blue shirts (defenders) on top of him. I really want to see more of that from him. It makes you see what he's capable of but you realize that you just don't see enough of those plays.
Rounding out the names we have Eddie Lee Ivery Jr. who hasn't really been healthy his entire time at Tech. I don't have many expectations for him and honestly haven't seen him healthy enough to even know what he's capable of. James Johnson & Patrick Clark are two other talented incoming freshman that I don't expect to see much of in 2004. Both provide solid talent to this group for the future. I like James' chances of sticking with WR more than I do Clark's. I think there's a chance Pat Clark will end up on the defensive side of the ball at some point.