"Everyone has been saying all along that this is a weakness, but I really like the wide receiver position," Weis said last week. "I really like them. I like the development. Let's start with David (Grimes), and George (West) is healthy and he is playing well, and everyone who has been in the program is better than they were from last year; and better than the spring. We have a lot a competition from these two freshmen coming into the mix now. We have a lot of competition. I'm not surprised and just say I'm pleased with the direction at that position."
Now what's Weis supposed to say? Obviously he isn't going to say anything negative about his receivers, but during the spring he was truthful about the receivers, and the fact that nobody next to Grimes had stepped up yet. There is no point in embellishing now.
As Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight were making their climb up the Irish career receiving charts last season, West, Robby Parris, Richard Jackson and Barry Gallup Jr., were freshmen trying to impress on the scout team or during the few reps they got with what Weis likes to call, "the good guys."
"I think you could see glimpses last year, a certain play here, a certain play there," junior quarterback Evan Sharpley said.
This fall, instead of glimpses, Sharpley, the other quarterbacks and coaches are seeing more consistency. For example, junior D.J. Hord is fully healthy from an Achilles injury, and instead of dropping passes like he did in the spring, is reportedly catching everything in sight. He certainly looked good in the full practice the media got to watch during fall camp.
While those guys were showing glimpses in practice, Grimes was making plays on Saturday when given the chance. He had 26 receptions for 336 yards last season, including eight catches for 79 yards against UCLA, with one of those grabs of the clutch variety on the Irish's game-winning touchdown drive.
After Grimes, West's two catches for 14 yards, and Parris's one reception for seven yards, are the only stats returning to the position.
Grimes is etched in stone as the No. 1 receiver. The time is now for West, Hord, Parris, Jackson and Gallup, as they're feeling the pressure from freshmen Duval Kamara and Golden Tate on the depth chart. Those two rookies have gotten better by the day, and both bring different things to the table. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Kamara looks to be that big physical receiver, and Tate brings shiftiness and the ability to stretch the field.
"I think the whole group has gotten a lot better," receivers coach Rob Ianello said. "The whole kind of mantra we've tried to follow through with the receivers is you get better or you get worse, you never stay the same player. We really have embraced that idea of improving and getting better, and being critical of ourselves, and what we need to improve on, and the freshman have followed along with that. Without having been here before, and experiencing anything we've done before, they've jumped in there, we've had other guys show them the way. When we go out there, we come to work everyday. That's something we certainly do do."
The receivers have had to grow up fast with Samardzija and McKnight gone, and with the increased amount of reps in practice, according to Weis and Ianello they have. While many expect, including me, the Irish to pound the football with their talented running backs, and utilize two or three tight ends most of the game, maybe Weis will actually spread the field from time to time with his receivers.
"Time will tell," Ianello said when asked how many receivers could play their way into the mix. "Very happy with how we've progressed so far. Very happy with how competitive it's been. Because it's been so competitive, it gives other guys maybe a chance to see if they can get on the field. They challenge themselves, and they buy into what we're doing, buy into the concept of team, buy into everybody having a role. Maybe as we get closer to game time, maybe they'll be some roles for some guys. But I think they've really bought into to being competitive, they've really bought into going to work everyday."