Wide Receiver: Who's Now?
In 2004, wide receiver Troy Williamson dazzled the SEC with his game breaking speed and ability to burn opponents deep, but when he departed early for the NFL following his junior season, questions surfaced about who would step up in his absence. Who knew at that point that a little known redshirt freshman named Sidney Rice would emerge to put together arguably the best two year stint of any receiver in school history? The Gamecocks find themselves in a similar situation heading into the 2007 season after Rice elected to turn pro and forego his final two years of eligibility. Questions now linger about who will step up to help fill Rice's enormous shoes in the offense.
Returning starter Kenny McKinley is the favorite to take over as the number one receiver target this year, and while the crafty junior doesn't have the speed of Williamson or the size of Rice, he's a consistent and reliable target that prides himself in running crisp routes and making difficult catches in traffic. He can't do it alone though. As USC's only proven returning receiver, it's safe to assume that opposing defenses will shadow McKinley and force other receivers to beat them. Thus, Carolina will look to a handful of returning receivers and an infusion of incoming talent to help complement McKinley in the passing game this fall.
Wide receiver Kenny McKinley will look to build on his breakout sophomore season in 2006 and lead USC's receiving corp this fall.
Sophomore speedster Moe Brown, who was on track to be a solid contributor last season before suffering a nagging ankle injury, was arguably USC's most improved receiver during the spring and entered the summer listed as a starter alongside McKinley. The 6'0", 180 pound Anderson, SC native served as Carolina's deep threat on offense throughout spring camp and developed a knack for coming down with acrobatic catches. Like any young receiver, he still needs to develop a better understanding of the offense and fine tune his route running technique, but he appears primed to see significant action this season.
Freddie Brown is another sophomore receiver who could figure into the wide receiver rotation this fall. The 6'2", 211 pound Brown came on strong at the end of last season, filling the role of the third receiving option in USC's passing attack. What Brown lacks in speed, he makes up for with precise route running and the ability to find the gaps in a zone defense. The quiet but consistent Duncan, SC native will likely never steal the headlines, but he'll look to build on his 2006 success this season and thrive as a complementary option in the passing game.
Highly touted JUCO transfer Larry Freeman arrived at USC in January with the reputation of being a big time receiver. The 6'2", 209 pound Freeman showed flashes of that ability during the spring, but he still has a lot to prove when fall camp starts up this weekend. Freeman's biggest obstacle in the spring was learning Spurrier's complicated offense, but after working through the adjustment period in spring practice and reportedly having a solid summer, he should have a better grasp on things this fall. Freeman is not a burner at wideout, but he provides a big receiving target that can go over the middle and make tough catches in traffic. He uncharacteristically dropped a couple of balls in the Garnet and Black Game, but soft hands had been one of his strong suits for most of the spring. If he can put it all together this fall, Freeman will provide another solid possession receiver for the Gamecock offense.
Newcomer Jason Barnes headlines the list of highly touted incoming receivers from USC's consensus top ten rated 2007 recruiting class this past February. With his combination of size, athleticism and playmaking ability, the 6'4", 200 pound Barnes has already drawn comparisons to a young Sidney Rice. However, he will look to make his own name in the Gamecock offense this fall. Barnes arrived on campus for the second session of summer school in early July and has gone through the team workouts and player orchestrated 7-on-7 passion sessions for the last month. Early returns on Barnes are that he's displayed soft hands and excellent body control while impressing teammates with his polished play for such a young receiver. If the previous trend of Independence High School receivers enjoying immediate success on the college level holds true, Barnes could play a big factor in the Gamecock offense this fall.
Scout.com 4-star rated prospect Matt Clements is another newcomer who will look to see the field this year. The 6'2", 180 pound Clements possesses a good combination of size and speed, as he has been timed as low as 4.32 seconds in the forty yard dash. Clements also prides himself in his downfield blocking, doing the so called "dirty work" that not all receivers like to do. Like any young receiver, Clements will need to get stronger and fine tune his route running to compete at the SEC level, but he will be given the opportunity to compete for playing time this season.
Chris Culliver is possibly the most highly anticipated freshman receiver of the incoming bunch. Billed as one of the fastest players in the country coming out of high school and possessing the ability to make people miss in the open field, the 6'1", 190 pound Culliver brings big play potential to the Gamecock offense. However, after playing mostly safety and running back at the high school level, Culliver has a steep learning curve to make the transition to college receiver. Expected to make an immediate impact in the kickoff return game, Culliver's progress in the offense could be gradual. Despite not being as polished as some of the other newcomers, Spurrier will likely find ways to get the ball in Culliver's hands this fall, including slip screens, underneath patterns, reverses and the always dangerous deep routes.
Highly touted freshman Chris Culliver will look to make the transition from high school safety to college wide receiver this season.
After drawing rave reviews for his combination of athleticism and natural playmaking ability during the summer passing sessions, Joseph Hills is another newcomer to watch this fall. The 6'4, 194 pound Hills is still raw as a receiver, having played multiple positions on the high school level, but he could have as much upside as any of the incoming freshmen. Depending on how quickly he picks up the offense, Hills will compete for a chance to see the field this year as well.
The final newcomer at wide receiver to watch this fall is Dion Lecorn. The 5'11", 208 pound playmaker brings a hard nosed and physical presence to USC's wide receiver corp, as he is not afraid to go over the middle and thrives on yards after contact. Similar to Barnes, Lecorn comes from an advanced passing offense in high school and is more polished than the average incoming freshman. If he picks up the offense quickly, Lecorn will also be given a long look to see the field this fall.
While this year's crop of receivers is certainly young and inexperience abounds, there is more raw talent in this unit than any year in recent memory. Steve Spurrier Jr. will have his hands full, giving the newcomers a crash course in USC's offense during fall camp, but the potential is there for this year's receiving corp to be a deeper and more balanced unit than what the Gamecocks fielded a year ago.
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