The wide receiver unit for the Bulls was easily the most maligned unit of any position on the team during the past season and lent too many of the struggles on offense. Head Coach Skip Holtz went as far as quoting "Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer" in calling them a part of the "island of misfit toys." This was reference to the scrambling the staff had to do bolster the unit after two key receivers were lost for the season with injuries in A.J. Love and Sterling Griffin. Players such as Evan Landi who served as a quarterback moved fulltime to wide receiver as well Lindsay Lamar making the switch from running back. Other players such as Joel Miller and Isaac Virgin also made the switch from running back and tight end/H-back respectively.
The lone bright spot on the unit was senior receiver Dontavia Bogan who was thrust into the number one role when he was probably better suited for the number two spot. He responded by posting career highs in receptions (43), yards (673) and touchdowns (6). He was the only receiver on the unit that provided any consistent big play ability by catching 8 passes for more than 25 yards. While that may not seem as a high number, consider that the Bulls were more of a run-first team this year and focused their passing game on intermediate strikes. His best game of the season came on the road against the Cincinnati Bearcats in which he accounted for 103 total yards and a touchdown. His 64-yard reception helped the Bulls take control of that game and it is no coincidence that that was the Bulls best offensive output of the season.
After Bogan, the Bulls continued to search for answers at the position, Lindsay Lamar's role on the offense consisted of him being the "screen-guy" and pitchman out of the speed option. Considering that it was his first year at the position and his diminutive size, expectations were not as high and he proved to have a valuable role in the offense. His receptions out of screen formations helped neutralize strong pass rushes from opponents and this fact was shown perfectly in the bowl game against Clemson. Lamar caught 5 passes for 40 yards and kept the strong Clemson pass rush from taking over the game.
Evan Landi was another player making the switch to receiver and his efforts are definitely a work-in-progress. He showed flashes of potential and was sure handed in most games, catching 29 passes for 402 yards and 2 scores. Landi is a hard worker and other aspects of his game should be mentioned such as his good downfield blocking which helped spring big runs. Other players such as Faron Hornes, Joel Miller and true freshman walk-on Stephen Bravo-Brown rounded out the unit and each player made big plays in critical moments. Hornes caught a big pass against Cincinnati. Miller caught a critical slant in overtime against Miami, which led the game winning score. Bravo-Brown earning playing time also showed that he is certainly a talented player but more so because of the lack of effective options at the position.
Another player who will be making a position switch will be Terrance Mitchell. Mitchell, who served as the team's primary punt returner exhibited dynamic abilities with the ball in his hand. For his efforts, he was awarded Freshman All-American Honors. He will be making the switch from cornerback to receiver. The decision to move Mitchell is predicated on finding the best way to utilize a player with his speed and agility.
Losing Bogan to graduation will be a big loss as he has been a valuable contributor for four years. However, the return of Love and Griffin, provided they stay healthy will help offset this loss. Their collective return will also have a profound impact on the rest of the unit because both of them combine to be the best pure receivers on the team. This will allow guys like Landi, Hornes, Miller and Bravo-Brown to be utilized in situations where there is not a high degree of pressure of them to perform. Spring practice will be a good gauge to measure Love and Griffin's effectiveness after major injuries and allow the staff to find more suitable roles for the other receivers. It will also give the staff an opportunity to further evaluate guys such as T.J. Knowles, Victor Marc, Derrick Hopkins and talented redshirt freshman Deonte Welch. With more guys in the fold, this could give the staff an opportunity to move Isaac Virgin back to his more natural position.
In addition to the players returning, this past recruiting class brought in three receivers in Alex Mut, Andre Davis and Ruben Gonzalez. Mut will not be seeing playing time this season, as he will be rehabbing from a major knee injury. Davis and Gonzalez who were both successful local products will get an opportunity to show if they are ready to compete for early playing time. Since they are slated to arrive in the summer for fall practice, they will be a bit behind the other players. They will have to show a lot in order to earn playing time but both players should make impacts early in their careers.
Even though the wide receiver unit was less than stellar this past season, there is huge opportunity for them to improve drastically. The return of Love and Griffin will easily make the unit better than it was this past season and adding Mitchell to fold brings in more speed and athleticism. The future is bright for the unit and the staff is in a much better situation heading into the spring than it was last year as they are aware of what they have and how to best utilize it.
Stay Tuned as USFNation.com continues its season review and spring outlook.