After a run of three or four years in which some of the greatest receivers in Missouri history lined up on Faurot Field, the Tigers enter spring ball without a senior listed on the depth chart at either WR or TE. Senior holder Forrest Shock has worked at receiver in the past, but has been listed as a specialist since before the beginning of the 2009 season.
The Tigers return four junior receivers who started a total of 28 games last season. Junior WR Wes Kemp started all 13 games, and caught 23 balls for 418 yards (18.2 yds./rec) and 3 TDs, in addition to returning some kicks. Some observers have compared Kemp to former Tiger WR Justin Gage. Entering spring ball, Kemp will be listed as one of the starting WRs, and will be asked to improve his practice habits, especially keeping his hands together when attempting to catch the ball. If Kemp can become consistent catching the football, he could blossom into an NFL-caliber receiver.
Junior TE Andrew Jones 6'5" 245 started 8 games in 2009, and had 8 receptions for 43 yards. Jones stepped into the void created by the graduation, in back to back seasons, of two All-American TEs. The young TE is a solid blocker on the edge, and has shown himself to be a reliable receiver. He will likely be listed as the starter entering spring ball, and will be looking to prove his viability as a receiver in the Tigers' spread attack.
Junior WR Jerrell Jackson 6'1" 190 started 6 games in 2009, and had 37 receptions for 458 yards (12.4 yds./rec.) and 2 TDs, and rushed for 92 yards and 1 TD on 11 carries, in addition to returning some kicks. As the 2009 season progressed, Jackson began more and more to show the great play-making ability of which we've heard Coach Pinkel speak. He will open spring ball as a starter at one of the WR positions. Additional maturity and improved consistency will allow Jackson to smoothly ascend into a featured role for 2010.
A fourth junior receiver, WR Brandon Gerau 6'0" 175, started one game last season, and caught 2 passes for 19 yards, in addition to helping out with punt returns. The sure-handed Gerau probably enters spring ball listed 2nd or 3rd string at one of the WR positions.
Missouri returns 5 other receivers with at least some game experience. This group is headlined by junior TE Beau Brinkley 6'5" 230, who also doubles as the Tigers' long-snapper. When you meet Brinkley, and shake his hand, it leaves an immediate impression, as he has very large hands, even for a big guy. Although he has yet to make a reception in a game for the Tigers, he's shown himself to be a very solid receiver in practice, in addition to being a solid blocker on the edge. He's a hard worker, and coach-able, and will likely begin the spring as the back-up TE.
Entering spring ball, junior WR Michael Egnew 6'6" 230 will probably be listed as a 2nd-string WR. Of course, there is the possibility that Egnew could be moved back to TE, where he worked prior to the 2009 season, in which he recorded 3 receptions for 25 yards. Egnew's a big target, and a strong runner after the catch. In some ways, he reminds me of a young Martin Rucker. We remember Rucker as a junior and senior, running over and through people. Egnew's shown some of that in practice, but is not yet nearly as strong as was the All-American.
A pair of sophomores made significant strides in practice during the 2009 season, although they saw only limited game action. Sophomore WR Rolandis Woodland 6'3" 200 caught 5 passes for 26 yards last year, and has shown break-away ability in practice. He too, will need to improve his practice habits, and become more consistent catching the football. More than anything for Woodland, he just needs to gain experience in order to begin to unleash his considerable natural ability.
Sophomore WR T.J. Moe caught 2 passes for 8 yards last year. He may have been the most improved of the young receivers I saw during the bowl practices. After missing most of fall camp recovering from a foot injury, which Moe says is still not 100%, the former high school QB looked much more polished as a receiver in December. He showed very good hands, and is elusive as well as explosive after the catch. He's smart, too. He's enlisted the aid of former Tigers' WR, Tommie Saunders to tutor him while putting in extra work learning the nuances of the WR position. It's likely that either Moe or Woodland will begin spring as the third starting WR, with the other one listed second.
Another sophomore WR, Gahn McGaffie 5'10" 185, saw very limited game action during 2009, and will probably begin spring practice listed 3rd-string. He's another elusive playmaker who heightens the level of competition at the WR position for Missouri.
Three RSF WRs, L'Damian Washington 6'4" 180, Kerwin Stricker 6'1" 201, and Jaleel Clark 6'5" 215 will begin the spring filling out the 3rd-string WR core. Each of these three have shown real promise, and each one brings somewhat different physical attributes to the competition at the WR position. Washington is tall and slightly built, but is tough, wiry, and has shown an ability to go get the ball in traffic. He has very good hands, and has displayed a penchant for coming down with acrobatic catches in the end zone or along the sidelines.
Stricker is powerfully built and extremely fast. He was injured throughout fall camp, and it was only recently that I actually saw him run. Because he missed fall camp, he's only recently begun to work on developing the kind of practice habits he'll need to realize his tremendous potential. Once he becomes consistent catching the football, and learns his position, the ceiling's very high for this speedster.
Clark is a really talented WR as well. He'll fill out even more, and somewhat resembles Egnew or Kemp in physical attributes. He has good hands, and has shown good blocking ability in space. His development at the Z WR position could allow the Tigers to move Egnew or Kemp around.
RSF TE Alex Sanders 6'5" 225 is still not 100% recovered from the knee injury he suffered more than a year ago, but he says that he expects to be near 100% by the beginning of spring ball. He'll likely start out at 3rd-string TE in the spring
As with the QB position behind Blaine Gabbert, I could see quite a bit of re-shuffling of the depth chart at the WR position behind Jackson and Kemp. Any of the returning WRs could earn their way onto the field next season. The TE position appears more set, unless the Tigers decide to move Egnew back to that position. This will be a very interesting competition all throughout spring, and will continue right into the 2010 season.
It appears that the competition will intensify even more in the fall, as the Tigers are poised to bring in some exciting freshmen receiver prospects in June.