Wide Receivers -- In FluxThe unit practiced most of the spring with just eight scholarship players after the transfers of sophomores Davonte Neal and Justin Ferguson. Two more will join in the summer. Of the ten 2013 scholarship receivers, only two exhaust eligibility at season's end.
Spring Pecking Order: Seniors T.J. Jones and Daniel Smith, along with rising junior DaVaris Daniels are far ahead of the pack, with sophomore Chris Brown and redshirt-freshman C.J. Prosise locks for the game day rotation next fall. A pair of early enrollees, Corey Robinson and James Onwualu, along with senior Luke Massa fill out the eight-man group exiting spring. Robinson was the most impressive of the latter trio, routinely making leaping, acrobatic receptions at practice prior to suffering a hyperextended elbow -- executing a diving catch, no less -- one week prior to the spring game.
Spring Star: Jones was easily the best and most consistent player, but Prosise was the unit's major riser, his move from safety to wide receiver, and immediate contention for playing time, the lead storyline. At 6'2" 217 pounds, Prosise resembles a running back but brings strong ball skills to the slot.
Remaining Spring QuestionsWhy didn't Daniels step up to Jones' practice level after starring in last year's BCS Championship game? Can Prosise become a reliable weekly option by mid-September when the Irish hit the meat of their schedule? Can Smith add the threat of a mid-range possession game to his run blocking prowess? Can Jones be a 50-reception, 8-touchdown, chain-moving threat without Tyler Eifert drawing the lion's share of attention from secondaries?
Can Robinson do enough inside the hash marks to become a viable weekly option in the red zone? Or for at least five snaps per game? Can Onwualu join the back end of what is expected to be a six-player Saturday rotation? Are Brown's one-trick pony days (the post-route) in his rear view? Can Brown or Robinson execute blocks when the offense audibles to a run call? At 6'4" 234 pounds, what does Massa bring as a blocker? Will Prosise's size be evident as a perimeter blocker?
Can Daniels reach his considerable ceiling this fall, or will Irish fans be forced to wait until 2014? Can he stay healthy after ankle, collarbone, and knee injuries -- the latter minor this spring -- over the last seven months?
Final ThoughtsEither Fuller or Robinson is likely to emerge as the No. 6 receiver by mid-season; look for Onwualu to contribute on special teams from the outset…The offense needs three major unknowns to come to fruition: Smith must become a viable pass-catcher as a senior; Daniels must emerge as one of the team's 3-4 best offensive players as a junior; and Brown must become a legitimate BCS Bowl-level receiver as a true sophomore…Jones will play well -- can he and Daniels put the passing game on their backs in Ann Arbor while the rest of the group adjusts?
Considering Eifert was largely a receiver in 2012, for the first time since 2007, the unit includes far more questions than answers.
Next in the series: The team's tight ends…