When a school's number one receiver leaves early for the NFL, you know that your offense will need to adapt and simply move on without him. When the number two also makes his way onto the next stage, you tell yourself that other guys will inevitably step up. When you realize that those two players contributed to over 66 percent of the tigers offensive production from the receiver position, you begin to worry.
Think about it. Jeremy Maclin and Tommy Saunders combined for 2093 receiving yards, just about one-third of the total 3160 accumulated by all of the wide receivers in 2008. Losing so much production from one position can be crippling for a team, especially one with a new starting quarterback.
But if you are reading this article, you more than likely already know that Missouri lost a few key components to the school's recent offensive success. Being the optimist that I am, the rest of this article will focus not on what the tigers lost, but who will gain from these departures.
The first of the two players that will undoubtably be starting on opening day in the Edward Jones Dome is senior, Danario Alexander. In Alexander's freshman season, he saw playing time in 13 games and caught 15 balls. His first career touchdown reception was a 74 yard bomb in the sun bowl against Oregon State. At the end of a somewhat productive, injury filled sophomore year, Alexander tore his ACL in his left knee during the Big XII championship against Oklahoma, and was forced to have surgery to repair it. Last season, Danario missed the first two games and played injured with the same knee problem throughout the year.
The question that remains unanswered is how good can this kid be when 100 percent? At 6-5, 210 lbs, Alexander will be able to use his size to cause mismatches in opponent's secondaries. Matching his great vertical leaping ability with his important height advantage, Danario will most likely become a favorite target for Blaine Gabbert in red zone situations. Stepping in as a new starter for Missouri, I expect Alexander to have his most productive season with more than 50 receptions and as many as 10 touchdown receptions. Even though he sat out during the spring practices, Gary Pinkel has said that he will be 100 percent by September 5th.
The second receiver that will be in the starting lineup this season is Jared Perry. Perry has the most experience in this young receiving corps, contributing 16 career starts, including all 14 games during his junior campaign. 2008 was his best year as a tiger, pulling down 41 receptions for 567 yards and 4 touchdowns. Jared is 6-1, 180 lbs, and has solid speed on the outside, which could offer the option of big plays.
Jared, too, sat out for the majority of spring camp, only returning at the very end wearing a red shirt. During the offseason, the senior and leader of the wide receivers had right shoulder surgery, however is expected to be 100% by opening day.
With the departure of the top two receivers and injuries to the next two in line, spring camp looked much different than it had in the past. Two young receivers who saw this as an opportunity to prove their skills were sophomores Wes Kemp and Jarrell Jackson. Both Jackson and Kemp took most of their reps with the first string, which was an essential part to their development.
The spring game was a great showing for Jarrell, who took a reverse for 38 yards and also recorded 26 yards receiving on two catches. Kemp made several impressive catches during spring ball using his height (6-4) to out reach the defensive backs. These two young players will both get plenty of playing time in the Tigers offense in 2009. When Perry and Alexander leave at the end of the year, Wes and Jarrell will become the leaders.
Further down the depth chart are red shirt freshmen Rolandis Woodland (6-3, 195) and Gahn McGaffie (5-10, 185). Both of these players can expect to get some playing time during the season, however, they should not count on seeing too much.
Also expecting some playing time should be Brandon Gerau. Gerau was a walk-on freshman in 2008, who after spring practices has been notified that he will be paying on a scholarship this fall. Brandon's story, similar to that of Tommy Saunders, is dominated by his work ethic and competitive edge. The Columbia, MO product only had one partial scholarship offer out of high school.
One could argue that the wide receiver position is the biggest question mark for the Tigers offense in 2009. The lost 66 percent of their production, their top two returning players missed about all of spring ball, and we just do not know much about how the young guys will do in the big pressure situation that is college football. Will Perry and Alexander be 100 percent by September 5th? If so, how good will they be as the leaders of the team? How good are sophomores Jarrell Jackson and Wes Kemp? These questions and many more will be answered this fall, as the new receiving corps look to make a new name for themselves.
Scary statistical side note: With all of the offensive passing records set by Mizzou over the past two years, you would expect many different receivers to have big games every now and then. Coming into 2009, the entire Missouri receiving corps has only 1 career game recording over 100 yards. That honor goes to Danario Alexander, who pulled down eight passes for 117 yards against Kansas in 2007.
Position Preview: Wide Receiver
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