Position series - wide receivers

Cardinal Authority is running a position series as a new preseason football feature to help you get familiar with the entire University of Louisville roster. The fifth day of the series takes a look at the wide receiver position.

OVERVIEW

University of Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said the wide receiver group this year is "deep, talented and so explosive."

The Cardinals have the speed, quality depth and big-play capability to make the wide receivers one of the strengths of the team this season.

"Last year in camp, there was one day when we only had four receivers," senior Scott Radcliff said. "It was a grind and now we have three-deep – at least – at every spot and maybe more than that at some.

"And there's not drop off when somebody else comes in. The ones and twos and even threes are really pushing each other. It's a lot of fun."

Wide receiver coach Ron Dugans said he told his guys they better know each spot because "these guys are going hard, competing for time."

The Cardinals did lose their leading returning receiver Michaelee Harris, who was second on the team in receiving a year ago. He suffered a torn ligament in his knee recently and Watson said he's been a big lift, "because he's still out there and is a leader, he's coaching those other guys and it helps."

Harris has plenty of guys to coach up.

The top receiver back is sophomore DeVante Parker, who hauled in six touchdowns last season as a true freshman. He's the starter at the X-Receiver spot and is primed to have a monster season as an every-down receiver.

Radcliff, a former walk-on, is battling with sophomore Eli Rogers for the starting spot at the H-Receiver coming out of fall camp. Radcliff suffered a knee injury last week but only missed a couple of days of camp.

Junior Damian Copeland is finally healthy and is expected to have a breakout season as the Z-Receiver with junior Jarrett Davis and redshirt freshman Charles Gaines battling him for time.

Senior Andrell Smith and Bryce McNeal, a recent transfer from Clemson and former four-star prospect, are battling Parker for time at the X position.

"I am really pleased with the wide receivers," U of L head coach Charlie Strong said. "Andrell has stepped it out, DeVante Parker is showing a lot for us right now. Copeland, Jarrett Davis, all the guys that we need to step up at that position now are coming into their own. And they're coming into a really good group. "

Gaines and McNeal are two of the most talked-about guys in recent weeks and both are late additions to the group.

"They're such an explosive group," Watson said. "Charles Gaines has made a huge impact and Bryce coming in has upped the ante again. You can't linger on the practice field because everyone is competing for reps and time."

Gaines started at U of L as a receiver but was moved to defensive back last year only to be moved back to wide receiver just before camp. He has speed and Strong said he was making a lot of big-time plays since his switch.

"Taking Gaines and moving him to wide receiver has just added enthusiasm in that group," Strong said. "Gaines is an outstanding player but just the way he goes in, each day he's out there and he's talking.

"And he's not talking to the defensive backs but he's talking to his own group of guys, encouraging them and saying ‘Let's go guys.'"

McNeal, a former coverboy on ESPN's Rise Magazine, started three games and played in 12 of 13 as a freshman at Clemson in 2010. He had 19 catches for 187 yards but left the team after three games last season.

McNeal just joined the U of L program last week but is eligible to play. Dugans said he's "swimming a little bit because it's all new to him," but also noted that he's "shown some flashes. He's here to come in and compete."

"He's a bigger version of Damian Copeland," Watson said. "He has really good speed and nice hands. He's coming along for us."

BREAKOUT PERFORMER

Damian Copeland, junior

The 6-foot-1, 188-pound Copeland has been hampered by injuries throughout his career but is finally healthy and is taking advantage.

He's one of the fastest guys on the team with backup quarterback Will Stein saying Copeland, "just has speed. A lot of speed."

Copeland, who sports a blonde Mohawk hair cut, has drawn rave reviews from the coaches and other players throughout fall camp.

He played in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and then missed all but one game last season because of injury. If he stays healthy, look for Copeland to be one of the team's top receivers.

SLEEPER

Bryce McNeal, junior

He's not a true ‘sleeper' because he is a former four-star recruit, but there are not a ton of expectations at this point for McNeal.

But you can see the confidence in his abilities raise on a daily basis around the program. Dugans started by saying we "have to see if he's a receiver," and Watson and Strong both said he's shown flashes of his big-time ability.

If he keeps picking up the offense in the coming weeks, look for McNeal not only to play but be a major contributor early in the season.

EXTRA POINTS

*Rogers was the leading receiver a year ago with 41 catches for 454 yards and one touchdown in 12 games for the Cardinals.

*Besides Rogers and Parker (18 catches, 291 yards and 6 TDs), the only other players to make catches back are Davis (12 for 102), Smith (11 for 207, 1 TD) and Radcliff (8 catches for 83 yards).

*U of L has no true freshmen wide receivers on the roster with Smith and Radcliff the only two seniors in the rotation.

*U of L was the fifth-ranked passing team in the Big East last season with 243 catches for 2,749 yards – 11.3 yards a catch – and 19 TDs.

COMING UP NEXT

*Watch later today for a feature on DeVante Parker and a look Damian Copeland and why he could be a breakout performer.

*The position series will continue tomorrow with defensive linemen.


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