The Houston Cougars and head coach Tom Herman entered camp in August with a couple of key positions they were looking to get clear answers to heading into the 2016 football season. One key spot that Herman talked about as camp was opening was the slot receiver (often referred to as the "H" receiver) spot that was vacated by Demarcus Ayers after the 2015 season for an early exit to the NFL.
There was a list of names vying for the snaps at the position that was unproven but very talented. Junior transfer Ra'Shaad Samples sat out the 2015 season as part of the NCAA's transfer rules when he arrive on Cullen Boulevard from Stillwater and the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Very well thought of freshman Marquez Stevenson also had a lot of expectations for pushing Samples and providing depth while he developed. The Cougars plan seemed to be taking hold as both Samples and Stevenson staged a battle that was pushing both to play better. Late in camp however, Samples was lost with a concussion and Stevenson was lost for six weeks to a broken collarbone. Neither have taken a snap for the Cougars this fall.
After losing his top two options at the position, Herman moved junior Linell Bonner to the positions and moved true freshman quarterback D'Eriq King to receiver for the remainder of the season. Both have done well in the role but Bonner has continued to be a playmaker for the Cougars when they need it most.
Although Bonner's skill set is not one that is ideal for that of an inside receiver, he has done a formidable job of making plays when the Cougars need them most. Herman praised Bonner for as much at his weekly press conference on Monday.
"Linell is a good receiver," Herman said. "He was coming into the season and was last year. He has obviously gotten better and improved his route running. (He is) a physical, physical guy for that position but I think Major Applewhite and the offensive staff did a good job of saying, Alright this guy is not Demarcus Ayers. He has some strengths that are different than Demarcus and also has some limitations that are different from Demarcus, but he is out guy. He is what we have got right now and we have to continue to kind of adapt that offense and adapt that role around him and what he is good at."
Bonner has become a reliable target for Greg Ward Jr. through the first 5 games of the season. He leads the team with 33 catches for 439 yards and has found the end zone twice so far. He also had a tough one-handed catch in the team's win over Connecticut last week that landed him atop the SportsCenter Top 10 plays for the day.
Soon Stevenson, who had finally begun to emerge in camp before his collarbone injury, will return and prove to be another weapon for the Cougars' offensive staff. It will be tough however for him to unseat Bonner who has made the most of his opportunity with the Cougars. Something he is familiar with since walking on and being placed on scholarship before the start of the 2015 season.