Wide Receivers Coach Ron Dickerson lost two of his bell cows from last year, Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster, who accounted for over 1,500 yards in receiving in 2009. Shay alone became the first Rebel ever to have 1,000 yards receiving in a single season.
But Dickerson has no time to cry over spilled milk. He's got to hustle to develop what promises to be a group of receivers either stepping up in roles or who are relatively new to the SEC. While he's got his hands full, he's pleased with what he has seen in spring training.
"First of all, I've gotten some good leadership from my seniors, Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux," said Dickerson. "Markeith has stepped up and improved his game and he's stepping up in our room as a vocal guy. Lionel has picked up his leadership as well, and I appreciate that.
"The young guys are following their lead. They are working hard and that's always the starting point in spring, developing the kind of work ethic you have to have to play this game at the highest level."
At ‘X', Summers tops the charts and is followed by redshirt freshman Ja'Mes Logan, who has surfaced in a big way this spring.
"We didn't know if Markeith was going to be able to do much this spring due to offseason surgery, but midway through he came back strong and has made some plays. He's no longer in the shadow of Shay and some others he has played behind. He has a chance to be the guy this year, but he has to keep coming," said Dickerson. "Ja'Mes has the best percentage in my room for catches and big plays. He's been sure-handed. I have moved him around to Z to X to Y and he has handled the mental load well.
"It helped him last year to work every day on the scout team against Marshay (Green) and Cassius (Vaughn). He hasn't hit a freshman wall and every time I challenge him he steps up to the plate. What I like about him is that he's hungry, but he understands there's still a lot of work for him to do to be the guy and he's willing to do the work."
Sophomores Jared Mitchell, a converted safety, Melvin Harris are next in the pecking order.
"Jared has been a surprise. He's come over and done a great job considering his newness to the position," Ron noted. "He might fit the role that Markeith had when he was younger, and Andrew Harris had last year. He's had a lot of, as we call it, home runs by setting the edge with blocks on DBs. That springs backs for big gains. He's also made some nice catches. He's doing some impressive things while he's learning on the run," said Dickerson.
"Melvin can be scary to defensive backs at 6-6 with a 36-inch vertical jump, but he's got to be more consistent catching the ball. He's made some big plays, but he's missed on some plays he could have made. If he'll keep working, he can be scary good."
Walk-ons Vincent Moss, a junior, senior Billy Dobbs and freshman Matt Featherson round out the group.
"Those kids come to work every day and have shown some good attributes. We're proud to have them," Ron stated.
At ‘Z', sophomore Jesse Grandy gets the top notch for now, but Breaux is also considered a starter by Ron.
"Jesse is ahead of Lionel in some of the things we do, Lionel is ahead in other things. It all depends on our class and matching their skills with what we are calling. Jesse has had some impact days this spring. He's smooth and fast and he's catching the ball very well this spring. He's turned it on," Dickerson noted.
"Overall, this spring Jesse has done a little better job. Lionel has had some days of inconsistency, but I trust him. He is a veteran who understands he has to be more consistent and he will be.
"The thing about my group is that they know there's competition and if you get bumped for a bad day, you can't hang your head. And they haven't. When we go to four wides, it will be Summers, Grandy, Ja'Mes and Lionel most of the time, so I pay more attention to the rotation than I do the depth chart."
Senior Richie Contartesi, who also doubles as the placements holder, and redshirt freshman Jordan Holder round out the group. (Matt Tarpley was hurt and is currently out.)
"Both of those guys are sure-handed and bright. Richie makes plays and Jordan is a great kid who is driven and can get the job done if we need him," Dickerson added.
The wild card in the group is how much will Dickerson get TB/WR Korvic Neat?
"There will be times when we might see him out wide. He's doing a good job at tailback, but he'll probably have a role with me too. He is fast and elusive. We can use him in spots, for sure," Dickerson closed.
Analysis: A lot of improvement was needed in this area during the spring. Some players have stepped up to the challenge, but more need to make their presence known. Summers turned it on late in spring. Grandy was dynamic and steady. Logan made the biggest jump from last fall through spring.
Harris dazzled and disappointed, sometimes within two plays. Mitchell showed he has potential. Breaux had days where he shined and days where he disappeared. There's still a lot of piecing together that needs to be done, but we can easily call spring training a step in the right direction with at least another step needed.