Spring Preview: The Wide Receivers

GBW continues to preview each position on the Michigan offense and defense -- both for the spring and in the fall. How do the wide receivers stack up going into Spring Practice? Here is GBW's anaylsis, including comments from former Assistant Recruiting Coordinator Mark Ouimet.

In 2002, Braylon Edwards led all Michigan players with 67 receptions for 1035 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was named to the second team of the coaches All-Big Ten Team, and was an honorable mention to the media's selection. Edwards' height, speed, and athletic ability made him a nightmare to cover as just a sophomore, and he's only getting better. In 2002, he dropped too many balls. He had a tendency to jump up for catches that he didn't need to, which affected his ability to run after the catch. Spring Practice will provide Edwards with an excellent chance to work on these skills, while making other minor corrections. He will enter the spring, and the fall as Michigan's number one receiver.

Former Assistant Recruiting Coordinator Mark Ouimet: "Everyone saw the talent Edwards has last season. He can improve, he dropped some balls. But he's got the whole package: speed (notice he ran a 6.88 60 meters in the Big Ten meet), height, toughness. He's the home-run receiver, and will wear "#1" I believe."

Braylon Edwards (Getty Images/ Danny Moloshok)

An obvious question arises on who will become the second receiver to Edwards. In 2002, Edwards led the team in receptions, followed by seniors Ronald Bellamy, Bennie Joppru, and BJ Askew. Receptions from the fullback will likely decrease in 2003, and we will discuss the tight end position in an upcoming article. Despite the lack of experienced talent, there is cause for great optimism and excitement about the future receiving corp. And that excitement begins with Jason Avant, who fans hope and expect to be the next great sophomore star at wide receiver, following in the footsteps of both Braylon Edwards and David Terrell. Similar to Edwards and Terrell, Avant saw limited action as a freshman, being used primarily as a run blocker. And with his muscular build, he impressed greatly in that capacity. As the season wore on, Avant moved up the depth chart, and attracted more attention in the passing game. While finishing the season with only two catches for 21 yards, his grab against Michigan State (pictured) bordered on spectacular. During Spring Practice, Avant will work to secure a starting spot opposite Edwards. Michigan fans hope to see a lot of him in the Spring Game.

Ouimet: "Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant are definitely one-two. As a combo they have speed, and big-time height. Jason Avant: I think he can be a 'better Bellamy' because he's a little more suited for the role of catching the tough pass over the middle. He runs good routes, and he's tough as nails."

Jason Avant (Getty Images/ Danny Moloshok)

Competing with Avant at flanker are seniors Tyrece Butler and Calvin Bell, and junior Jermaine Gonzalez. Butler may have the greatest chance of winning the starting job away from the Avant, as the team's second leading returning receiver. In 2002, he pulled in 21 catches for 199 yards, while seeing extensive action at the beginning of the year. He provided a phenomenal effort against Washington, but a series of dropped balls saw his playing time diminish greatly. Spring Practice gives Butler a chance to prove that his hands have improved. If he does that, he will see the field a lot in the fall, as a big, physical, and talented receiver. Calvin Bell will certainly see game action as well in 2003. While his production has dropped off, he has excellent hands, and has been a dependable ball carrier on reverses. Jermaine Gonzalez will also compete, having completed his first full year at wide receiver, after switching over from quarterback. This will be his first full Spring Practice at the position, and will thus give him the opportunity to improve his technique.

Ouimet: "The three-four-five receivers are Calvin Bell, Tyrece Butler and Jermaine Gonzalez. These three are very important. These are the guys who in the three-and-four receiver sets run the backside curls, the backside posts, the backside dig routes (across the middle), the quick hitches. They won't have the most catches, but they do the dirty work -- blocking ond so on. And these three guys are experienced, reliable, and are all 6-1+. I believe Bell will be #1 of these three guys. Bell is the fastest of the three. Bell and Edwards will run the reverses too. Gonzalez is talented too, and since he can thow you will see some trick plays with him. Also, these guys will be ready to step in in case of an injury to a starter."

Tyrece Butler (Getty Images/Tom Pidgeon)

Avant entered in 2002 with two other talented receivers in Steve Breaston and Carl Tabb, each of whom redshirted last year. Fans may be more excited about seeing Breaston in the Spring Game than any other player on the team! The skinny star has drawn endless acclaim for his speed and elusiveness. A quarterback in high school, he redshirted last year in order to learn the position and get stronger. But if he's even half as good as advertised, fans can expect a lot of balls to be thrown his way in both the spring and fall. While Breaston has received the most attention, fans should not forget about Carl Tabb, who is one of the fastest players on the team. And at 6-2, 190 pounds, he isn't small either. Tabb provides a deep threat, but also has great leaping ability. His style of play may remind fans of former Wolverine great Mercury Hayes. In the spring, both of these young players compete to backup Edwards, while also trying to secure a spot in three-receiver formations.

Ouimet: "Steve Breason and Carl Tabb are 'the future'. Both are very fast. Both need to get stronger of course, and improve on their blocking. But in my opinion, one of the two will jump a little out this year. They have to do what Braylon did as a freshman -- make a few plays in order to get some playing time. Both will get a lot of spring repetitions. They have to shine in the spring, and I think they both will, especially Breaston. Both will play on special teams. Breason has a chance to be the punt returner, and will be tried at kick returner as well. He has a knack to make guys miss in the open field."

Steve Breaston (AP Photo/Scott Martin)

While Michigan failed to land any wide receivers in 2003, they have already grabbed an early commitment from Morgan Trent, who could play that position. They will continue to recruit the position hard, and possibly focus on grabbing taller receivers, to fill a void that has developed there.

Ouimet: "They didn't sign a single wideout in the incoming class because of the depth they have ... it gives them a break for next class. They lose four receivers in the next two years. They need receivers and running backs in the next recruiting class -- and they will get some."

Final word from Ouimet: "This is one position where it's true that: 'They're tremendous; I like 'em all. Michigan has seven good wide receivers, with some possible great ones in there. Thanks to the last two recruiting classes. The receivers' talent level is very good, and they are in good hands with Coach Eric Campbell. Seven receivers is not too many, they need that many. There will be no position changes here in my opinion."

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