As the Missouri Tigers ready for fall camp, ShowMeMizzou.com continues our Preseason Position Previews with a look at the receiver positions.
Since last season, the Tigers have undergone marked turnover at the wide receiver position, and this fall, there are sure to be a number of new faces occupying those spots, and being counted on to make plays for the Missouri offense. Coach Washington described the competition at wide receiver this spring as “wide open”, and with the influx of a speedy and very talented class of freshmen, the competition this fall will likely continue to be pretty much just that.
A half-dozen or so wide receivers took advantage of the opportunity this spring to lay claim, at least heading into fall camp, to spots on the working two-deep. Among that group are the three WRs, senior Wes Leftwich, and sophomores Nate Brown and J’Mon Moore, who collectively account for all 10 career receptions (for 114 yards) with which this position group enters the 2015 season. Those three are the only wide receivers on the roster who have previously caught a pass for Mizzou. That does give each of them an edge in experience, and it probably places each of them on the two-deep to begin fall camp. But, it certainly doesn’t assure any of them of a starting job, or even a place in the playing rotation once the season gets underway. So in that sense, it’s still a wide-open competition, although I think all three of those ‘experienced’ WRs will be in the thick of the competition for playing time.
Brown is the one who I’d say has the best chance to win a starting job, but he’ll still have to earn it in camp. He played on the outside last fall, and started out this spring on the inside, so he can play anywhere. Even if he begins fall camp on the inside, in the slot, I think he could end up playing on the outside, as well. Whether he remains at the slot receiver position or moves back to the outside will likely depend as much on the performance of other WRs as it will his own play.
Like Brown, junior walk-on Eric Laurent is capable of playing inside or outside. And like Brown, Laurent is a big target and a reliable possession-type receiver. Heading into fall camp, Laurent will be in the mix for a spot on the two-deep, and he’ll be competing for the chance to be a part of the wide-receiver rotation for this season.
Staying in the slot, there’s a pair of red-shirt freshmen who will be heard from this fall. Thomas Richard has been practicing in the slot since he arrived at Mizzou. He has good size for that position, but he’s not as big as Brown or Laurent. He just needs to continue to develop strength and to improve his fundamental technique. And, he needs to continue to become more consistent with his route running and especially with catching the football.
That last statement is true of nearly all of the Missouri receivers. Heading into the summer, virtually all of them needed to become more consistent with their route running, and especially with catching the football. We’ll see which ones have.
Unlike Richard, Ray Wingo just moved to the slot receiver position late this spring. Up until then, he had been a cornerback. Wingo is an exciting athlete, who brings elusiveness and explosive big-play ability to the slot receiver position. He doesn’t appear to have any problem with catching the football, and he’s electric with the football in is hands.
A couple of true freshmen will likely start out in the slot, so there may be some sorting out to do before the Tigers even take the practice field. Like Wingo, Richaud Floyd and Johnathon Johnson each bring explosive speed, elusiveness, and big-play ability to the slot receiver position. If at least two of those three are able to quickly demonstrate their readiness, we could see Brown and/or Laurent move back to the outside.
That would not only transform the dynamics of the slot receiver position, it would also improve the level of competition at the outside receiver positions.
So in addition to the likelihood that Brown and/or Laurent will end up competing for playing time on the outside, there’s four other returning wide receivers and two more true freshmen who will be competing for playing time at those outside spots.
Moore was the Tigers’ most-productive wide receiver this spring, and Blair was named Missouri’s Most-Improved Wide Receiver this spring.
This spring, Moore and Blair each lined up exclusively on the left side of the formation, at the X WR position. With the improvements that each of them have made, they give Missouri a pretty solid pair of developing receivers at that position heading into fall camp.
On the right side, there’s Leftwich and Dilosa. Lefty brings senior leadership the importance of which cannot be overstated. And, Dilosa is an exciting talent who is still catching up in his development following last summer’s Achilles injury.
Then there are the two very talented true freshmen, Justin Smith and Emanuel Hall, each of whom heads into fall camp as a legitimate contender in the competition for playing time this season.
So as you can see, entering fall camp, there’s no shortage of talent at the wide receiver position in what is really a pretty wide-open competition for a half-dozen or so spots in the playing rotation.
As mentioned previously, Missouri has been looking at the possibility of utilizing a pair of tight ends on the field together in the passing game, potentially playing two tight ends simultaneously by sometimes replacing the slot receiver with a second tight end. The Tigers have the tight ends to do some of that.
Junior Sean Culkin is the returning starter at tight end, with 21 career receptions for 180 yards and 1 TD. Sophomore Jason Reese appears to be at least as good. Last year, he caught 1 pass for 12 yards, and this spring, he was named the Most Improved at his position. So, the Tigers enter fall camp with what appears to be a pair of starter-quality tight ends. Then, there’s also senior Clayton Echard, who’s seen quite a bit of playing time the last two seasons as a blocking tight end in short-yardage situations. And, red-shirt freshman Kendall Blanton is another talented pass-catcher who will also be competing for playing time.
Here’s kind of what the Depth Chart might look like at the receiver positions to begin fall camp:
6 J'Mon Moore 6’3” 190 (So)
17 DeSean Blair 6’3” 185 (RSF)
8 Justin Smith 6’8” 200 (F)
28 Marcell Kellum 6’3” 190 (So)
39 Brendan Martini 6’2” 190 (So)TE
80 Sean Culkin 6’6” 245 (J)
10 Jason Reese 6’5” 240 (So)
82 Clayton Echard 6’5” 260 (S)
11 Kendall Blanton 6’6” 255 (RSF)
87 Austin Ray 6’3” 240 (So)
2 Nate Brown 6’3” 205 (So)
41 Eric Laurent 6’3” 215 (J)
16 Thomas Richard 6’0” 190 (RSF)
14 Ray Wingo 6’0” 180 (RSF)
Richaud Floyd 5’11” 170 (F)
Johnathon Johnson 5’9” 175 (F)
41 Aaron Bailey 5’9” 165 (J )
19 Oke Akushe 5’10” 185 (So)
81 Jeffrey Kadriu 5’11” 190 (So)
18 Wesley Leftwich 6’1” 200 (S)
15 Keyon Dilosa 6’3” 194 (RSF)
26 Jake Brents 6’3” 205 (J)
84 Emanuel Hall 6’2” 200 (F)
89 Shawn McCalmon 6’2” 165 (J)