Preseason Preview: Receivers

Returning from a season-long injury, Tony Jones made a bold proclamation that Northwestern's receiving core could be one of the best in the nation. Jones may have a point. The Wildcats' depth at wideout is filled with talent.

Demetrius Fields

The veteran returns for his fourth and final season after a 2011 campaign in which he hauled in 32 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns. He's the most experienced receiver on NU's roster and leads a group that figures to rank amongst the Big Ten's best this season.

He played his best game of the season against Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, a seven-catch, 73-yard performance, exposing the Aggies' secondary for the feeble bunch that was responsible for so many blown second half leads last season. The only difference that day was, despite Fields' dominant play, the Wildcats failed to storm back.

This season, winning games through the air will be a common theme for Pat Fitzgerald's bunch, and Fields will provide Colter with a reliable option and a big-play threat.

Kyle Prater

Any day now, we will learn Prater's fate. It all depends on a waiver that he filed with the NCAA seeking immediate eligibility, based on his reason to transfer from USC: to be closer to his family in Maywood (IL). Chances are, the five-star recruit will get the ok to play this fall, which would be a welcome addition for an already well-stocked receiving corps.

On talent alone, there may be no Big Ten receiver in Prater's stratosphere. The question remains whether that talent will translate to tangible, meaningful production in real games, something that has eluded him throughout his college career. His tenure at USC was a regrettable one. He caught just one pass in two injury-plagued seasons with the Trojans and was supplanted on the depth chart by alpha-male wideout prospects Marqise Lee and Robert Woods.

This is a homecoming for Prater, and while NU touts one of the league's best, deepest groups of receivers, he's now a big fish in a small pond. If he can realize his potential in McCall's pass-heavy offense, there's no telling how good he can be.

Rashad Lawrence

The 6-2, 185-lb speedster proved to be a tough cover for most defensive backs in 2011. He should improve this season as he better learns the ins-and-outs of McCall's offense. Failing that, he's more than you could ask for in terms of third-option receivers, one with the talent, speed and big-play ability to start for most Big Ten teams.

He finished with 203 yards on 19 catches and one touchdown in 2011. Naturally, a full slate of spring practice and preseason workouts leads to improvement, but given the depth and heated competition at this position, there may be no noticeable statistical gain.

Christian Jones

With six feet and three inches of length, speed to burn and a knack for making acrobatic, physics-defying plays in the air, Jones probably has the most potential of any receiver on NU's roster. As a true freshman last season, he finished with 16 receptions for 195 yards, highlighted by a 39-yard grab against Michigan.

The true freshman emerged as one of NU's most reliable targets by season's end, and without Jeremy Ebert and Drake Dunsmore, his workload should increase. Jones' height and jump-ball skills will serve as safety valves for Colter's oft-erratic arm.

Cameron Dickerson

The most memorable highlight of NU's spring game belongs to Dickerson, who outleaped cornerback Nick VanHoose, contorted himself in midair and lost his shoe, all en route to a 40-yd touchdown. The score was more a credit to Dickerson's aerial prowess than Colter's accuracy. But if Dickerson can produce the same, head-turning, high-flying acrobatics on the regular, Colter's accuracy won't be an issue—not when he throws passes to Dickerson.

The rising sophomore could be in line for a breakout year, or he could get lost behind a bevy of emerging players at his position bent on cutting into his playing time. Preseason workouts will be key for Dickerson as he tries to fend off a formidable group of competitors

Tony Jones

One of many receivers to shine in spring practice, Jones missed all of 2011 with a torn Posterior cruciate ligament after a promising 2010 campaign in which he made eight catches for 157 yards in 11 games. Back and ready to contribute, Jones may be NU's fastest player, and that speed was on full display throughout spring practice, where he proved that he's ready to pick up right where he left off as a true freshman.

The ball may not come Jones' way all too often, but when it does, best be sure you have a stop watch on hand, because he will find his way into the end zone in a hurry.

Venric Mark

Mark is the flagbearer for versatility, a kick/punt returner by trade and a wide receiver/running back/trick play extraordinaire. He amassed 1,150 all-purpose yards in 2011, most of them on kick returns, but it would be foolish to ignore how dangerous a player he can be on offense, especially when he gets the ball in space.

McCall should use Mark's speed and open field playmaking ability on slip screens and short passes. It will be a huge disappointment if he's restricted to a special teams only role, because Mark is simply too good to not have the ball in his hands at least a few times with the offense is on the field.

The others

Slot receiver Mike Jensen and the speedy Pierre Youngblood-Ary could get a few passes thrown their way in mop-up duty, and will continue to improve as they learn the offense and mature.

Torin Dupper, Drew Moulton and Cermak Bland played well throughout spring practice, but—at least for this season—will spend most of their time on scout team.

Grade: A-

This is undoubtedly NU's best position group. Whether the depth, talent and speed it touts will translate to success and—more importantly—wins, is a question that will remain unanswered until the Wildcats take on Iowa, Michigan and some of the other high-powered aerial attacks that inhabit the Big Ten.

With so many options at receiver, Colter should have no problem finding open targets, especially downfield, where NU's cadre of speedy deep-threats will stretch defenses and open up passing lanes. This receiving corps can be good, really, really good. It's just a matter of whether Colter can deliver the ball in the right place at the right time.


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