(The following is Part II in our series with the assistant football coaches evaluating spring training.)
Wide Receivers Coach Ron Dickerson is seeing the benefit of having veterans at the wideout slots this spring.
With a new offense comes a new passing game, which can be difficult to pick up quickly, but he says the Rebel wide receivers have picked it up quickly and are already playing fast.
"It's difficult going from one passing scheme to a new one, starting from scratch," said Dickerson, "but these kids have picked things up very well and are playing fast, faster than I thought they would this quickly. They have adapted and learned and made the adjustments they have needed to make. That is encouraging because it's not easy. People say ‘an out route is an out route' but that's not necessarily true. The way we get off the ball, the way we run the stem of the route, the way we use leverage, the way we adjust to a defender is different. Every coach teaches things differently, but as I said, they have adapted well to me and to our system."
If that's not encouraging enough, the wideouts are also doing the single most important thing – catching the ball – very well.
"We've shown good hands in the spring. We are adjusting to the ball in the air and we've caught most of the balls we should have," Ron continued. "I'm happy with the progress of the group as a whole. I also like the fact that when you walk in our meeting room you would not know who is a starter and who is a backup. They are all eager to learn and they all critique each other and critique me, which I want. For us to be as close as we need to be, we have to do that. They feed off each other.
"We lost Marshay Green to defense and he was really the voice of the group, but everyone has stepped up collectively and started communicating more. It's fun coaching these guys. They fight for the ball, they compete and they have a passion for the game."
Dickerson has also been happy with the way the wideouts have handled their blocking duties in the run game.
"The first thing I told them when I introduced myself to them as a group was that if you don't block, you don't play. They understand if that is the bottom line. They have to block, no exceptions," he stated. "I see them trying to get knock downs and knockouts. They are working hard on that part of the game and it's paying off. They are really trying to be all-around players. I have been pleased with their play in the run game this spring."
At wide receiver, there is more of a rotation than a first and second team, so Dickerson started at the top and worked his way through his available personnel. Naturally, junior Shay Hodge, senior Mike Wallace and junior Dexter McCluster are in the upper echelon of Rebel WRs.
"Shay does not have eye-popping test results in running drills and other skill measurement drills, but he plays extremely fast. Shay plays as fast as anyone on the field and he really stands out when you talk about adjusting to the ball in the air," Ron stated. "He really knows how to go get it. If he continues to do that, Shay has a chance to be one of the best in the conference and in the country. One of his weaknesses is he needs to work on his mental toughness. He gets down on himself sometimes. He has to realize that the great ones brush off mistakes, bounce back and learn from it.
"Mike is known for his speed, but he's really worked hard on things that needed attention, like his change of direction. He has very good hands and has worked hard on his change of direction. I can see improvement there. I'm very pleased with his progress. He's the leader of the wide receivers and he's done well. He still needs to work on some of his route breaks, but he's come a long way since the start of spring in that aspect."
McCluster has been used all over the field – wideout, tailback, QB in the Wild Rebel set, punt return. The Rebel coaches understand the value of getting the ball in the hands of the most explosive player on the team.
"Dexter has done a little bit of everything. He's caught the ball well, he's run reverses, he's made yardage on screens, and that's just what he has done at wide receiver. I'm very proud of him and his effort. He's also a leader. Dexter's role is still a little undefined but he has not let that slow him down. He's done everything with great passion and energy," Ron noted. "A lot of guys feed off him. His only downfall is that he needs to get a little bigger so he can endure. We don't need him exploding for three or four games and then getting hurt. We need him putting on a few pounds and getting stronger so he has a better chance of holding up physically."
In the next echelon, but still in the rotation of wideouts, are two spring surprises – sophomore Lionel Breaux and sophomore Markeith Summers.
"Lionel has come in and done some really good things. He's faster than people think he is and he's caught the ball very well. We put a lot on his plate, but he's doing very well learning. Sometimes he does not trust his ability when the game starts moving really fast, but then he settles down and is fine. He's young and he will work his way through that," said Dickerson. "Markeith has had to wear a lot of hats this spring. We are moving him around a lot, but he's adjusting very well to all the position demands we are putting on him.
"Markeith runs well and he makes a lot of big catches, which is what we need. He's a big target and he uses his size well. The one thing I want him to work on is his separation from defenders. Sometimes he gets locked on a defender and can't get off him."
Junior Mike Hicks is also in the spring rotation, but he got off to a slow start in spring before closing strong.
"Mike got passed early in spring adjusting to what we are doing. He just was not playing fast early on, but once he picked things up and got comfortable in our system, he started playing faster and making more plays," Ron explained. "He's got great hands and he's a great route runner. He just developed a little slower early on. Now that he has caught up, he's made some great catches and has moved the chains for the offense. He'll be fine now that he has reached a comfort zone."
On the edge of the rotation is senior Jacarious Lucas, who has a chance to break into the rotation after a very productive spring.
"Jacarious is the hardest worker I have and it's paid off for him. He doesn't all the tools right now, but he works hard every day. His speed has picked up and he's playing the game faster. He's learning and has caught my eye and the eye of some of the other coaches. He does some good things with the ball in his hands and he will light you up if you are a defender and it's a run play," Dickerson smiled. "He just needs to continue to work on adjusting to the ball in the air, but I see him work extra every day on that. I'm pleased with him."
Also catching the eye of Dickerson is walkon sophomore Richie Contartesi.
"Richie was a little uncomfortable at first, but as the spring wore on he got more and more into everything," Ron said. "He's undersized, but he's quick and he makes plays because he plays with passion. His size is an issue, but the way he plays the game is intriguing. I will not be afraid to put Richie in a game next year, even though he's not in the starting rotation right now."
Junior Will Cole also made a positive impression on Dickerson in spring training.
"Will has great hands and it's starting to show up in his play now that he's gotten a little more comfortable. He's doing some good things. If he gets a little more confidence in his game and keeps working, Will will be pretty good. He can help us," Dickerson noted.
Senior Chris Adams has been hurt some of spring and that threw him behind, but Dickerson has a soft spot for him.
"Chris is going to be a great coach one day because he's in my office every day trying to learn. He's got leadership qualities. I wish I had seen more of him this spring, but I'm anxious about seeing him healthy in the fall camp," Ron added.
Sophomore Billy Dobbs and freshman Vincent Moss round out the receiving corps.
"Billy is a late bloomer who has also done some good things. He's a competitor. He's also one of those who was wigged out a little early on as we were moving players around, but he's gotten comfortable now and is producing better," noted Dickerson. "Vincent is also in that mold. Things are foreign to him. Vincent has a lot of athletic ability and can really run, but he's still in a learning curve. He needs to be more of a student of the game."
In the Red-Blue game, McCluster led all receivers with 8 catches for 106 yards followed by Wallace with 5 for 90 yards. Summers had only one catch, but it was a 14-yard TD reception. Breaux also managed only one snag, but it, too was for a touchdown. For the Red squad, Lucas had one catch for 38 yards and Hicks had two for 14 yards.
Wide Receivers -
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