As the Missouri Tigers are focused on their Winning Edge winter conditioning program in preparation for Spring Football, ShowMeMizzou.com previews the wide receiver position.
It’s been a while since the Tigers returned so little experience at the wide receiver position, so this spring is go time for Missouri’s young wide receiver corps. With just 6 scholarship WRs on the spring roster, and with only 3 of those having seen any, albeit limited, game action, the WR position is wide open to competition this spring.
“It’s going to be wide open,” said Missouri receivers coach Pat Washington, speaking of the competition this spring at his position group. “As I told them, we’ve got guys that are coming back that I’m going to put in there as the beginners. I don’t call them starters. I just call them beginners. After that, it’s going to be wide open. Whoever takes the job wins the job.”
Senior Wesley Leftwich is the veteran of the group, although he’s played sparingly during his time at Missouri. Leftwich is one of the fastest Tigers, and he’s fully invested in the program, so he’ll be the leader in the room. But he’ll need to continue to elevate his play on the field in order to hold onto a starting job. Maybe most importantly, he’ll have to avoid the injuries that have previously slowed his development as a pass-catcher.
Not long ago, I asked Coach Washington about Leftwich?
“I’m excited about Leftwich,” explained Coach Washington. “If he stays healthy, he’ll do some great things for us. I’m excited about him. He can run! He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s a good blocker.”
“He’s getting better,” continued Coach Washington, speaking about Leftwich. “He’s getting better at catching the football. Being able to adjust to the football and catch the football, he’s gotten better since the first day I got here. And, he’s getting better at his route running.”
It appears to me that sophomore Nate Brown is positioned this spring to be one of the Tigers most productive receivers. Like Bud Sasser before him, Brown is learning to play inside in the slot, as well as on the outside. We may very well see him begin the spring in the slot, at the H WR spot. But it’s clear that the Tigers intend to move him around on the field in much the same way that they did with Sasser. We saw glimpses of Brown during the 2014 season, which for him was a season of maturation. At the beginning of the season, Brown wasn’t happy with his lack of playing time, and for a short time, I thought he let it affect his attitude. But by mid-season, he had moved past some of that immaturity and he was buying in to a more team-oriented approach, and a “whatever I can do to help the team” attitude. Like so many Missouri players who have made that transition before him, that’s when he started to actually play better and earn the trust of his coaches and teammates.
My expectation for this spring is that Brown will continue to establish himself as a reliable target for Maty Mauk. He’s well-positioned to become one of Missouri’s top receivers this year.
The third WR who will almost certainly begin the spring with the first team offense is sophomore J’Mon Moore. With a trio of talented red-shirt freshmen behind him, and with even more very talented receivers set to arrive in June, spring football will be a critical time for the very talented Moore to demonstrate that he is more than just a tremendous talent, and to begin to establish himself as a dependable every down receiver and playmaker.
By the time Spring Football gets underway, Coach Washington expects that Keyon Dilosa will be nearly completely recovered from the Achilles injury he suffered last summer. This spring is especially important for the very talented Dilosa, since he missed fall camp, and he didn’t get back onto the practice field until December. He’s done the mental reps, but he needs the on-the-field reps to get up to speed and to be able to play to the level of his talent. Once he does, it will be hard to keep him on the sideline.
Although he red-shirted last season, Thomas Richard impressed the coaching staff enough during fall camp that they seriously considered including him in the playing rotation. In the fall, Richard worked almost exclusively in the slot at the H WR position, and that’s where he’ll begin the spring. Although, like Brown, I can see Richard being called upon to learn the other WR spots. The athletic Richard has the size, speed, and athleticism to play inside or outside for the Tigers.
The freshman receiver from last season who benefited the most from being red-shirted was Desean Blair. He just wasn’t physically developed enough to play as a true freshman. Blair still needs to get stronger, but this spring, he’ll have a great opportunity to display his considerable pass-catching skills and to move up on the Depth Chart. A starting job is not out of reach for any of Missouri’s red-shirt freshmen WRs.
Bud Sasser told me that he was very impressed with how advanced the freshman receivers were last fall.
“They’re very talented,” said Sasser, speaking of the 2014 class of WRs. “When they came in, they picked up the offense so fast! Not only are they picking up the offense, but they are able to read coverages well……………………………………. They work together well, and they feed off of each other. It’s a great group!”
“It’s getting to the point where more high schools are doing more reading (coverages) at the receiver positions,” explained Coach Washington. “In high school, they’re teaching them so much more (about reading coverages and adjusting routes) now, that when the kids get to us, they’re able to pick up things a little bit better because the systems are very similar…………………………………. They’re a little bit further ahead when they get here.”
“I think they’ll be ready for next year,” said Sasser, speaking of the young receivers. “Just the competitiveness they have within themselves. That’s a good group of guys…………………………………………… They’re smart enough for all of them to be able to move around and play every WR spot. They’re very talented! I’m excited to see them play. I have high expectations for them. And I know they do too, for themselves.”
This is kind of how the Depth Chart may look at the beginning of the spring, although the red-shirt freshmen, Blair and Dilosa, may begin the spring on the second team at the outside receiver positions. They’re sure to take a lot of second-team reps from day one, and I think they are both expected to quickly move up the Depth Chart and challenge for starting jobs. X WR 4 J'Mon Moore 6’3” 190 (So) 41 Eric Laurent 6’3” 215 (J) 17 Desean Blair 6’3” 185 (RSF) 3 Shawn McCalmon 6’2” 160 (J)
H WR 2 Nate Brown 6’3” 205 (So) 85 Thomas Richard 6’0” 190 (RSF) 41 Aaron Bailey 5’9” 165 (J ) 81 Jeffrey Kadriu 5’11” 190 (So)
Z WR 18 Wesley Leftwich 6’1” 200 (S) 26 Jake Brents 6’3” 200 (J) 19 Keyon Dilosa 6’3” 194 (RSF) 28 Marcell Kellum 6’3” 190 (So)