"I think the best thing about this group is their experience. Jamayel Smith, Aubrey Bell and Lance Long all have a couple of years experience playing football at Mississippi State and in the SEC. During the spring, they understood the offense to a point where they could move around and play more than one position. Tony Burks, even though he is a junior college player, played a lot last year.
"The main thing we wanted to accomplish this spring was making plays, whether it was the deep ball or coming out of breaks running intermediate routes. Those were things we stressed from the beginning and I think we accomplished those goals throughout the spring.
"Individually, Brandon McRae, a walk-on, really showed that he can play in this conference. But he still has a ways to go. The experience factor is very important. Once he gains that, then I think the sky is the limit for him. He is a tall, rangy receiver who has really good concentration on contested throws. And he has the ability to turn a short pass into a big gain.
"Tony Burks gained valuable experience last year. It's a big change from junior college to Division-I football, particularly in the SEC. And I think it took him a little time, but once he understood and gain confidence, he came on and did real well last year. He had a good spring. It wasn't a bad or great spring, but a good spring.
"Jamayel Smith, a walk-on, did well last year, particularly late in the season. He is a good route runner and a smooth player, a very confident guy. He is a clutch type receiver who you will see in third down situations a lot. He is a guy who will go out there and give you a great effort every time he's on the football field. He really is a leader in his own way, although he's not outspoken.
"Aubrey Bell is one of the bigger receivers that we have and we have some pretty big receivers. From a potential standpoint, he probably has as much potential as anybody here. He has a big body, a good frame and runs well for his size. He's not a 4.4 type guy, but he runs well enough. And he does a really good job of getting off the line of scrimmage versus press coverage. And you will see a lot of that in the SEC. The biggest thing with him is his confidence. He has to gain confidence in himself and show the coaches that he will be consistent on and off the field. But a lot of that comes from experience and he will get a lot of that this year. So, he's a guy, who if he continues to gain confidence and play with that confidence, can make some plays for us.
"Lance Long, without a doubt, is a leader in the group, along with Jamayel (Smith). He is a guy who will give you the effort every single time. He runs really good routes, catch the ball in the crowd. And just like Jamayel he will be a clutch guy in the third down situations. When we need that third and four or third and five, we can get the ball to him and I think he will make the play for us. More importantly, I think he will want it. There is a difference between a guy who will do it and a guy who wants it. And Lance is one of those guys who will want the football in those situations. And he will be disappointed if you don't call his number. You have to like a guy like that because he has a lot of confidence in himself.
"Ryan Mason was injured after the first week of spring practice and didn't participate after that. But that first week he showed some promise. He's very similar to Aubrey Bell in the fact that he has a big frame, can stretch the field vertically and make those type plays for you. But, like I said, he was injured. So, we have to hope that he has a great summer and this fall is able to contribute to our team.
"Tyler Threadgill, speed is the factor with him. He has been blessed with speed. He is the fastest player in this group. He needs to play the game with the speed that he has. He showed some signs of that and signs that he is improving catching the ball. He is a guy that can make a play or two for us this year, without a doubt. When and where I really don't know. We just have to put him in those situations and see what happens."
Something that I've noticed about Brandon McRae is how quick he is. And he's a tall guy. That's an unusual combination.
"He's not a long strider. His strides are short and quicker. He can move quicker in the box. He's got quick feet, therefore, he can change directions a little better than a long strider. He's also a good route runner who should be difficult to cover. He's a guy who can stretch the field vertically and can run the intermediate routes. Because of that, he can be a threat on every down."
What about his ability to catch the ball?
"I think that has to improve, but it's not bad right now. Hopefully, he will improve it this summer, particularly contested catches, when people are around him and distracting him. But he showed good signs of doing that this spring. And he has really good hand-eye coordination. He can convert his vision to tunnel vision when the ball gets closer to him. But he just has to get better at the distraction of having people around him trying to contest the catch. But he will, there is no doubt about that because I think he is a guy who will extremely hard at it."
You mentioned that Aubrey Bell needs a little more confidence. What are some ways he can build that confidence?
"By taking this summer and working out with the quarterbacks, other wide receivers and DBs and running the routes and catching the football. And do that over and over. It's mainly repetition."
How do you, as a coach, help him gain that confidence once he reports back for preseason practice?
"You try to put him in an environment in which he wins. And the more he wins, the more confidence he gets. It's not just him because every player is like that. I just mentioned him because it was something that I noticed. I thought he had a lot of potential, but the consistent confidence wasn't there."
Something else that you mentioned was the fact that Jamayel Smith and Lance Long are leaders. What do you see in them that makes them leaders?
"Most of your walk-ons are self-motivated guys. Brandon McRae is a walk-on. They aren't guys you have to crack the whip on to accomplish goals. In fact, they are looking at you and are feeding off you as a coach. They want to know what they can do to get better, because the day they walked on campus they had already been told that they were not good enough to earn a scholarship out of high school. Therefore, they've had to prove themselves. And Lance, a senior, and Jamayel, a junior, have shown the coaches and players that they can play.
"And another thing is by doing it, they show others that they can do it too. Because they demand so much from themselves, I believe they will demand the same from others. So, it's more by example by those two guys. When a Lance Long speaks, a Brandon McRae will listen because he's been there."
Talk about the junior college signee that you have coming in, Co-Eric Riley.
"It will be the same as it was with Tony Burks. It just takes awhile for a young junior college guy to step in and contribute, particularly in the SEC. But from an ability standpoint, he's in the mix of players that we have. He is very similar to a McRae, a Burks or a Smith. But he probably has more confidence than any of them, because he is a very confident person. What he can bring to the group is a confident person, a guy who will be extremely disappointed when he doesn't catch the ball. In my mind, just from knowing this kid, he will be extremely disappointed if it's third and five and we don't call his number. He has a lot of confidence in himself. Because of that, he may help bring up the game of a player of two due to the competition."
Ability-wise, is he a mixture of McRae and Burks? Is he a long strider or a short strider?
"He is a long strider, but, at the same time, he has a second gear to accelerate. Most long striders have one gear and that is where they stay at all times. But (Co-Eric) can actually change his gears. He just has a knack for getting the ball wherever it is. Guys like that can just change gears. When the ball is in the air, whether it's a high or low ball, he can change his gear to get the football. He's like a baseball player playing centerfield, he can judge the flight of the ball and get it no matter what speed he needs."
What are your thoughts about your freshman signee, O'Neal Wilder?
"He is raw, but he is tall and he is a fast. He is more of a long strider, but he is very fast. He really has a lot of ability."
You mentioned earlier about judging the flight of the ball. Like having quick feet or having quick hands, is judging the flight of a ball a natural gift?
"No doubt, no doubt. I had a guy who I coached, Kelly Washington, who was a baseball player. He played baseball for four years at Tennessee and decided that he wanted to play football. The thing that he could do was when the ball was in the air, he could immediately find it and get to it. Some people don't have that ability and can't quite judge it until it gets close to them."
When you are recruiting players, can you tell if a guy has a great ability to judge the flight of a ball?
"Yes, we call someone like that a guy with really good ball skills. When he jumps he seems to time his jump perfectly and catch the ball. Some guys have it and some guys don't have it."
What are you looking for in a wide receiver?
"If you can put a game tape on and see a guy, whether he is a 4.4, 4.6, 4.7, gaining more yards than what the play looks like it should get, then that is the first thing I want to see in a receiver. And he doesn't even have to play the receiver position. He could be a running back or a quarterback. He is a playmaker. Then, you add 6' or better height and he runs a 10.6 hundred meters. And he has a 3.5 grade point average and a 24 ACT. Now, everybody wants to recruit the guy because he is special.
"But there may be some guys who are a little shorter and run a 4.5 to 4.6 forty. I had a kid from Memphis named Cedric Wilson, who was about 5-11 and ran about a 4.6 forty, but when the ball was in his hands he was hard to tackle. He was a playmaker. He was a guy who played as a true freshman despite the fact that he was a quarterback in high school.
"So, I look for guys who make plays. And if he is playing receiver, I watch his route running ability to see if he can sink his hips. Then you want to see how well he catches the ball in traffic. You also like to see a high ball to see how he times his jump and how high he can get up.
"But the most important thing to me is the run after the catch; how many yards does he gain after he catches the football? I would rather a guy have 20 catches and 750 yards than a guy who has 120 catches for 1,000 yards. I like a guy who can catch it and make something happen with it. He may not have the blazing speed to go the distance, but he will get more than what the play says he should."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.