Younger Dog Receivers Hitting Their Stride

The usual suspects—or is it expects?—saw their share of passes Saturday night. What should have stood out for folk already thinking ahead to future seasons were the balls thrown in the direction of younger Bulldog receivers. Such as, to pick the most impressive example, Robert Johnson.

After some scattered flashes of sophomore season promise, Johnson might have reached his crossroads (sorry) evening at last. He pulled in a pair of passes during Mississippi State's rout of Middle Tennessee, including a 23-yard touchdown in the third quarter for his first collegiate score. And even his coach was impressed by the effort. "He sure did," Coach Tim Brewster said. "He made a great catch." Because Johnson not only went down to his knees to complete the cut, he had to lean back against the momentum to haul in Tyler Russell's line-drive. The result was a reception any Bulldog infielder would appreciate. Yet to Brewster's eye the touchdown was not even Johnson's best demonstration of ability.

"The catch he made on the hook-route, the first catch, was just an outstanding snatch of the ball," said Brewster, referring to a 3rd-and-nine situation where Johnson escaped his coverage for a tight 13-yard gainer. Each reception demonstrated how Johnson, a spring standout only up to now, is tapping into real-game opportunity.

"RoJo has got all the attributes, he's got all the physical qualities that you look for in a big-time wide receiver," Brewster said. "I just think the future is outstanding for him."

Of course Brewster has barely two months' of experience with Johnson and all MSU receivers. He has seen the spring practice tapes though and observed how Johnson, and other still-young wideouts, performed against teammates and in the spring game. Again, the raw gifts are obvious and they do matter. This might be best proven in Johnson's knack for making tough catches with apparent ease, but sometimes whiffing on the easier situations. Such as, dropping a wide-open bomb from Russell at Troy when all he had to do was secure the ball.

"It's all confidence," Brewster said. "It's all confidence with RoJo. And my job with him is not to beat him down but to lift him up. That's what I've done with him, make sure he understands that he is going to improve. He works extremely hard day-in and day-out and the fruits of his labors are coming to fruition for the kids. He's outstanding. He really is, and I believe in him. He does a great job run-blocking."

Just executing in the ground game is a key for Johnson's consistency, too. To Brewster it is merely a matter of translating practice performance into a real game. Johnson seems to be getting there. "It did not surprise me he caught those balls in the game like he did," Brewster said. "Again it's all about confidence and right now I think he feels pretty good about him…and he should!"

TAKING TURNS: Johnson wasn't the only rotation receiver feeling good after game-seven. Joe Morrow, a year younger and having great gifts of his own, had two catches for 16 net yards. Jameon Lewis' only reception went for just a yard, though he also got to rush once for a dozen yards of gain. A larger point to how Brewster and coordinator Les Koenning approached the last non-conference game was even in a tense second period, with State not expanding its lead, they were shuttling the senior starters out and younger backups in just as planned.

"The other night we really did a nice job I thought," said Brewster. "The reps were dispersed extremely well, everybody got a fair amount of work. And that's what we want to do. We're in a developmental phase with those young guys.

"But again, we have a pecking order and a starting group of receivers that has played at an extremely high level. So when the opportunities present themselves, and you guys know there are going to be injuries. If Chad Bumphis gets hurt, Jameon Lewis' job is to be the next man up and us not drop off in our level of play."

AND WAITING THEIR 2013 TURN: Johnson, Lewis, and Morrow, along with senior Brandon Heavens, are the current second rotation of receivers with Ricco Sanders slipping into the background. These seven or eight true wideouts, along with the four active tight ends, will carry Mississippi State's route-running for the rest of this season.

But what of 2013 when starters Bumphis, Chris Smith, and Arceto Clark have graduated? The senior trio have 70 of the team's total 130 receptions at this point. The current rotation guys do expect to all step up, but they will also have some spring practice pressure from a couple of talented freshmen. Brewster has high praise for Fred Brown and Brandon Holloway. "They're doing a great job in the developmental phase. They're red-shirting and they're getting some great work week-in and week-out.

"Every week we have Monday Night Football where the young kids stay out late and work in full pads, in scrimmage type of tempo, that allows them to really get some live bullets. Both those kids are going to be really good players. I think Brandon is really exciting what he'll bring to us from the H-position. And Freddie is a guy who is extremely smooth, talented, catches the ball well outside."

As a by-the-way, who exactly is throwing the passes in MNF or in normal practices? Russell and Dak Prescott are the only recruited-scholarship quarterbacks on this '12 roster, fortunately joined in summer by walk-on Jamil Golden who was recruited once upon a time himself. Golden has dressed out for home and a few away games as the #3 quarterback, though in a huge pinch Bumphis or Lewis might well take over the direct-snap duties.

Still somebody has to throw it around Monday nights. "We've got a number of quarterback that do it," Brewster said. "The walk-on kids and Jamil gets a lot of work in that period right there."

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