Coach Mike Riley has repeatedly said he likes the talent level that is currently in the program at wide receiver. Despite his kind remarks there has yet to be a receiver to step up and distinguish himself from the rest of the pack. Another word that Riley likes to use is playmaker and that’s just what the coaches are looking for in the receiving group.
Junior Sammie Stroughter is the heir apparent to Mike Hass and while he has excelled in spring and fall camps for several seasons, he has yet to prove it in a game situation. Before he missed the last week of spring practice he was clearly a favorite target of quarterback Matt Moore getting open at will on slants and curls. He uses his body well shielding defenders while going up and grabbing the pigskin. Although Stroughter will help move the chains he won’t consistently stretch the field.
If it wasn’t for his knack of always having a troublesome injury junior Anthony Wheat-Brown (pictured right) would be a superstar. He is an integral part of the offense and the coaches are trying to maximize his potential while protecting him at the same time. Some of his peers must step up so Wheat-Brown doesn’t have to expose himself in the middle of the field or be a target of the defense.
One of the best scraps of news from spring camp was the return of senior Marcel Love, but the excitement may have been premature. He and senior Ruben Jackson are in academic limbo which could devastate the Beaver passing attack similar to what Joe Newton’s absence did last year to the offense.
Love was not part of the attack last year and Jackson had just 11 passes for 118 yards but the coaches love Jackson’s playmaking ability and were looking at ways to get him the ball more. He was slated to return punts and kickoffs as well. Love is a proven player and fall ball would provide him the opportunity to shake off those remaining flakes of rust left over from sitting out a year. Riley joking called Love the best recruit of 2006 class.
If Love and Jackson do not quality it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the younger players to produce. It also puts strain on the coaches to find a replacement at flanker, on the two deeps at split end and limits their options on moving personnel around. At the end of spring ball the coaches were toying with the idea of moving Wheat-Brown to flanker and Love to the slot. Opponents were already going to dare the Beavers to pass and with Love and Jackson missing they are sure to stack the box even more. If there is any good news from this ordeal, it will give the younger players a chance to show their stuff. But we know how that goes as the secondary was inexperienced last year and took their lumps.
One of the most talked about underclassmen is redshirt freshman Anthony Crosby whom the coaches have raved about. He made several spectacular catches in April. Crosby could possibly shift over from split end and start at flanker. He can stretch the field, but his understanding of the playbook and blocking skills need to be improved.
Battling with Crosby will be junior college transfers Shane Morales and Chris Johnson. Morales participated in the summer workouts where he had a chance to meet his teammates and catch passes from the quarterbacks. He was already friends with Matt Moore and his brother Robby so integration with the team was a snap. Morales was one of the top receivers at College of the Canyons catching 36 passes for 598 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman. If he can match or come close to that total in his first season at OSU, the passing game will be fine.
Johnson hails from Grossmont where he helped the Griffins to the 2005 California state title. His coach called him their “big-play guy” and hopefully he continues his big play style at Oregon State. He finished with 15 receptions for 312 yards and four touchdowns in seven games.
Walk-on Taylor Kavanaugh (pictured left) turned in one of the better performances in April showing an aptitude for finding a hole in the middle of the defense. With Love and Jackson’s absence Kavanaugh will certainly be looked at to contribute at receiver. Greyshirt Kyle Brown displayed great athletic ability, but needs to work at getting physical at the line of scrimmage as he is easily jammed.
One possibility is trying incoming freshman James Dockery at receiver. He is slotted to work out at safety, where he is needed for the future of the program, but he has the skills to play on either side of the ball. Is it worth burning his redshirt year? Only the coaches can answer that question.
Two other scenarios would be to use cornerback Keenan Lewis and linebacker Derrick Doggett periodically at flanker. They both ran routes in spring and while depth at cornerback is a concern there is enough talent at linebacker where Doggett could play some receiver without any ill side effects.
Whatever happens, it is sure to be exciting fall and season as the coaches try to sort out the receiving situation. It could be rough early but hopefully by the time Pac-10 play starts on Sept. 30 the rotation is set and the players are comfortable with their roles.