Mark Mangino said after the Spring Game that this group stretches the field as well as any receiving corps since he’s been here. But the production has yet to stack up to the potential.
Gone is Mark Simmons, along with his Kansas-record 155 receptions. All of the returning receivers have combined for less than half that in their careers. Still, it’s not like the cupboard is bare … it’s just unproven.
Senior Brian Murph, Jr., is the most accomplished returning Jayhawk. Murph came to Kansas last year from Butler County Community College with a reputation as a solid player who could get downfield on occasion. He finished the season third on the team with 33 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns. Murph has sneaky deep speed -- he won’t blow by most cornerbacks -- and had a big game in the Fort Worth Bowl against Houston, returning a punt 85 yards to paydirt before crossing the goal line again after a 48-yard touchdown reception.
But while Murph is solid, he’s not quite the game breaker you want to build your receiving corps around. Many Jayhawk fans are hoping that player will be Marcus Herford, the dynamic 6-foot-3 210-pounder out of DeSoto, Texas.
“Fans have high expectations for Marcus, and we think that’s a good thing,” said Kansas assistant coach Brandon Blaney. “At some points, it’s probably a bit unfair. He’s an exciting talent, sure. But I think some people also forget that he’s just a sophomore.”
Herford was originally touted by some as the quarterback of the future. But last spring, he tore through spring practices at wide receiver, earning a longer look there. He was switched back to quarterback in the fall, only to change over to wide receiver again as the need arose. Now Herford is set at the receiver position, and looks smoother running routes. He caught seven passes last year, including a 24-yard catch against Kansas State.
Herford also had a solid spring game, catching a 15-yard touchdown on a slant route where he outmuscled the defenders. There aren’t many receivers with his combination of size and 4.4-second speed, especially on the Kansas roster, so he should play a much more central role this year.
Another possibility is fellow sophomore Dexton Fields, who may be the best all-around receiver on the team. Fields has nice size, shows quickness out of his cuts and is a solid blocker on the outside. What he needs now is consistency. If he shows it, Fields will see time. His one catch last year, a 15-yard touchdown that helped defeat Iowa State and send Kansas to a bowl, was a big one.
Dominic Roux brings more speed to the receiving corps, and could be a valuable asset on the edge. But he dropped a picture perfect deep ball from Kerry Meier in the Spring Game, and he’ll need to show better hands on a more consistent basis to become an on-field fixture. The same is true for Marcus Henry, a former starter who snagged 17 balls last year. Henry has the size at 6-4 and mobility to be a factor, but it’s his hands that have held him back. With a nice incoming crop of wide receivers, it may be now or never for Henry.
After those four, the situation becomes more muddled, with freshman Raimond Pendleton, junior Jeff Foster and senior Jonathan Lamb all vying for backup minutes. Pendleton has the speed to make the rotation, while Foster and Lamb both have decent size, and are try-hard types who have seen the field before.
Don’t be surprised if one or both of the newcomers, incoming freshman Tertavian Ingram or Xavier Rambo also push into the rotation. Ingram was the more highly touted, and is the flashier player, while Rambo has been compared to a bigger Simmons. Both boast good size and speed and have big-play ability.
Murph, Herford and Fields make a solid starting trio, while Roux’s speed and Henry’s size could help either secure a spot. Foster may also see some spot time, but it may only be a matter of time before the freshmen, Pendleton, Ingram or Rambo, make their presence felt. While there is talent and athleticism, little to none of it is proven … not a good sign with a freshman quarterback.