USF '08: What we Learned: Wide Receivers

Now that USF offseason is almost over, the coaches have had time to review the film and give an overall view of each position. In this exclusive USFN series see what we learned about the 2008 Bulls wide reeivers. Only on

What we learned about the WR unit

Last season the Bulls as a team caught 250 passes for 2978 yards with 19 touchdowns. Even though USF running backs accounted for 246 yards and 1 score, the Bulls receivers caught the rest.


"We have depth at and quality players at receiver," said USF offensive coordinator Greg Gregory. "I mean quality as guys that have proven that they can play and compete at a high level and win games for us."


The Bulls will return almost the entire receiver unit from 2007 with 11 players that had a reception last season all set to play in 2008. Leading the group are Taurus Johnson, Carlton Mitchell, & Jessie Hester Jr. who led the team in receptions, yards, and each had 4 touchdowns. Also returning are Marcus Edwards, Dontavia Bogan, A.J. Love, Colby Erskin, Edner Alcin, Patrick Richardson, & Jason Sherman. With a solid returning core heading into the preseason, the receiver unit is one of the deepest positions on the team.


"The nice thing we got with receiver is competition, and competition makes you a better player, and we have it at receiver," said Gregory. "The guy that's first team knows that with the guy behind him there's not very much drop off. We can shuffle our receivers a lot of different ways and that should be strength on our football team."


Coming off a big year, the WR unit has hit it hard this off-season with a goal to get even better. They've been getting it done in the weight room, on the field and in conditioning, and the results are noticeable.   


"I'll tell you what, we got bigger, faster, and stronger, I know that," said receivers coach & pass coordinator Mike Canales. "Holy smokes, you should see the size of some of these guys. "


The staff has known they had a big, fast and strong group of receivers, but wanted the unit to improve their route running and working against different coverage's, something they've worked on this summer.


"This summer we really emphasized them working on their releases and coming off the line of scrimmage against the press," said Canales. "We also put an emphasis on route running, and that's what we concentrated on as a group."




What we learned about Taurus Johnson


Last season Taurus Johnson emerged as a playmaker for the Bulls, and was a leader of the young, talented, receiving unit. T.J., who is going into his senior year, is a three year starter that is a key component to the Bulls offense, and as long as he can get involved early, can make it look easy.


"I think he's a guy that has lots of ability. We're going to find ways to really feature him," said Gregory. "I don't believe in forcing a ball to a player, but I believe there are ways to utilize him that can really help us."


T.J (6'1-207) finished third on the team with 34 receptions with 407 receiving yards and four touchdowns, and against UCF had a single-game high of six receptions for 83 yards, and also scored two touchdowns against the Knights. T.J also runs reverses and returned 11 kickoffs for 183 total yards with a long of 33. He played in 11 games, starting five times before he injured his knee in the 1st quarter at Rutgers and missed several games, otherwise his numbers would have been bigger.


 "He has the chance to be a very special player," said Gregory. "One of his major strengths is running the football. Taurus can run with the football after he catches it he can run with it on reverses, he can run with it on speed sweeps, and we would like to incorporate more of this into our offense."


This past spring T.J looked like a beast out there, and during USF's spring game, T.J led all receivers with six catches for 68 yards, picked up five yards on an end-around and was the most impressive looking receiver on the night. "I thought he had an extremely good spring game, and think he's showed his ability and versatility."


T.J. looks stronger, quicker, and appears ready to put last year behind him and explode in his senior season.


"T.J is not going to change much, his work ethic is second to none," said Canales. "This summer he worked on his route running, and worked on making the simple catches, because we all know he can make the hard ones. He's a playmaker." 





What we learned about Carton Mitchell


No other receiver made a bigger impact last season then redshirt freshman Carlton Mitchell. At 6'4-210 pounds, Mitchell has the perfect combination of size, speed, and athletic ability that you covet in a receiver.


"Carlton Mitchell gives us a legitimate deep threat," said Gregory. "He's as fast as any receiver in the league, and has all the tools you're looking for in a receiver."


Mitchell had a break out season last year, scoring four times and tallying 537 yards on 37 catches, both USF freshman records. Mitchell showed big play potential with a 55 yard TD against West Virginia, 75 yard score against UCF, and a 75 yard score at Pitt, and had the Bulls only two 100-yard games against UCF (107) and Cincinnati (110).


"Because he's a deep threat guy, he becomes a great possession receiver," said Gregory. "Being a possession receiver it helps to have great speed because if they fear you going deep, you'll catch a lot of balls underneath."


Carlton has gotten a lot bigger this off-season, but his size, speed and athletic ability were never in question and it's the little things that he needed to concentrate on to get better.


"His biggest emphasis was to work on route running, and his cuts, his cuts down the field, the comebacks, the posts, the deep digs, the in & outs, and how to shift his hips," said Canales. "He's so quick and fast getting off the line of scrimmage and getting down field that sometimes he needs to be able to control his body better at the breaking points and that's what he worked on this summer."


The one intangible that hasn't been mentioned is how Mitchell's energy and excitement affects the team on and off the field, and brings them to a higher level.


"He's a just great guy to be around," said Gregory. "He has fun and just enjoys playing the game."




What we learned about Jessie Hester Jr.


Redshirt-sophomore Jessie Hester Jr. stepped up and had a breakout season in '07, and no game was bigger then against Auburn, when Hester led all Bulls receivers with 6 catches for 64 yards, including a huge 14 yard touchdown pass from Matt Grothe to give the Bulls the overtime win over the Tigers.


"Jessie is probably the most improved player in the receiver core from a year ago, said Gregory. "He's got a knack for getting open and makes catches."


As a go to guy, Hester was second on the Bulls in both receiving yards (418) and reception (31), and tied the lead with 4 touchdowns, and after a great year, there is no reason why Jessie won't do it again this year.


"He had a good year for us last year, he's consistent, and Matt likes throwing to him," said Gregory. "Quarterbacks develop a feel for certain receivers and Jessie gets open, makes catches, and quarterbacks like that.


Hester was very productive last season and caught a pass in 10 straight games, but at the same time wasn't known for his blazing speed, and something he needed to work on when going against linebackers and nickel backs.


 "Jessie's very quick and uses that to his advantage, and is probably the best guys as far as using his hands and getting away from people at the line of scrimmage," said Canales. "We're trying to get him to use his speed to get down the field better so we can get better mismatches."




What we learned about Marcus Edwards


Marcus Edwards (5'11-165) is a player that is the epitome of consistency of the unit over the last two seasons. Marcus played in all 13 games recording 22 catches for 231 yards and a score in '07, and had 27 catches for 328 yards and two scores the previous year.


"Marcus has been a steady player for us for two years and will continue to be," said Gregory. "Marcus is a guy that may not have the speed as the other receivers, but he is a very consistent player, and has a great knack for getting open and can make catches in a crowd."


The rising senior is also versatile, and served as the Bulls primary punt returner last season with 31 punt returns for a 7.5 avg. He may not be the biggest or the fastest receiver on the team, but makes up for it with steady play, sure hands, and game smarts.


"Marcus is probably the smartest receiver in the group,' said Canales. "As far as knowing everybody's position, understanding coverage's, and knowing what to do on the field."


With a plethora of receivers, and only so many balls to go around, the staff wants to find ways to keep Edwards involved and in the game.


"The biggest thing with Marcus is getting him in the groove," said Canales. "We got to get him in the packages and use him more because when the ball is thrown to him he's so consistent and dependable, that we have to get him more involved."




What we learned about Dontavia Bogan


One of the few bright spots that could be taken from last season's loss to Rutgers was the emergence of true freshman wide receiver Dontavia Bogan. After an injury sidelined starting wide receiver Taurus Johnson, Dontavia came off the bench to catch three passes for fifty-two yards, and continued to make tough catches the rest of the season.


"As far as making big catches, Bogan is probably as good as anybody we've had," said Gregory. "Acrobatic catches, diving for footballs, laying out, and that type of thing. He's really good at that."


At 6'1-185, Dontavia showed the ability to step in right away and perform and carried it through the rest of the season averaging a team-high 15.8 yards per catch and finishing with 12 catches for 190 yards and scored against Louisville. His emergence at a time of need may have surprised fans, but it didn't surprise Coach Canales.


"Bog-man probably has the best tools of the whole group," said Canales. "I truly believe he has the best tools, he reminds me so much of Jerricho Cotchery who played for N.C. State, and now with the Jets. He has great tools and just needs to become even more consistent in his route running."



What we learned about A.J. Love


With injuries depleting the wide receiving corps late in the season, A.J. Love stepped in and displayed tremendous promise, using his size and speed to get open and make plays.  A.J got his first career catch in game nine against Cincinnati, and then had three catches for 48 yards against Syracuse the next week, finishing with 8 catches for 111 yards and one touchdown. In the Sun Bowl against Oregon he scored in the fourth quarter had 23 receiving yards.


"He's a big target with good speed and gets out on routes extremely well," said Gregory. "We have big expectations for A.J."


At 6'3-193 pounds the freshman earned a more prominent role for future seasons, and coaches were full of anticipation to see how he'd progress. A.J. Love missed a portion of the spring because of a death in the family, but probably had the best summer of the group in terms of where he's at from where he was a year ago.


"He's bigger, stronger, and lot faster, said Canales. "One thing I learned about A.J. is he's willing to spend the time on the field working extra on route running, ball skills and his commitment has really changed over the last year since he was a freshman."



What we learned about Colby Erskin


Colby Erskin was a walk-on that saw action as a freshman and after a phenomenal spring earned a scholarship. He can play either a receiver or running back, but was most dangerous as an outside receiver slot or at an inside receiver slot, and was a contributor on special teams. He was poised to make a big impact in '07 before he tore his ACL in the preseason. Colby was on the road to an incredible recovery, but needed to have another surgery on the knee this spring.

"No one is going to work any harder to get back then Colby," said Gregory. "His speed and quickness is phenomenal, and he would have been a starter for us if he didn't get injured now we just got to wait and see."


The big thing with Colby is how fast he can back from injury. We know what he could do before the injury, but we don't know where he'll be when he gets back. "That's up to him how fast he gets back," said Canales. "We hope he comes back at the same place he was at, but those questions won't be known until he is on the field."


What we learned about Patrick Richardson


Redshirt freshman Patrick Richardson, got an opportunity when Colby got injured in the two deep, and did what a good football player should do, he took advantage of it and showed he had ability. At 6'0-163 pounds, he's not the biggest receiver in the unit, but has got great leaping ability with very long arms.


"He's not a big guy but he's an explosive guy," said Gregory. "He tends to play a little bit bigger then he is."


"The big thing with Patrick was to get him bigger and stronger," said Canales. "He has great ball skills, runs great routes, and has deceptive speed. He's learning with every rep, and working on doing the things that will make him better."


What else we learned about the unit


Ed Alcin (6'1-185) Alcin had one catch last year for 26 yards, and He as all the tools, he's fast enough quick enough and can catch the ball, but doesn't play physical enough and if he's going to be more consistent,  he's got be a more physical receiver blocking, but its something he's worked hard at improving.


Jason Sherman (6'4-197) Also had one catch last year, and this summer and looks bigger, faster and real sleek, but he came in so raw, his biggest need for improvement is route running.

"We're going with the eight guys I'm looking at, and which eight guys they'll be will be up to them. What guys are going to compete and win that spot, and they're all going to battle for it, because they want to be in the mix. Right now I'm counting on six guys, and I'm going to see who the next 2-3 guys are going to be."


Freshman Daniel Bryant (6'2-185) has just arrived, but it will take time to see how it will take him to acclimate. Rounding out the receiver unit are walk-ons: Rhett Hamrick (6'6-200), Antwon Hanks (6'3-200), Justin Wilkins (6'3-180), and Jeffery Wilson (6'0-165) who has great ball skills and runs routes as good as anybody. It just depends on how much size and weight he can put on his frame.  All earned roster spots, and provide depth, but it will be very hard to see any time with the talent at the top.


"With all the freshman and walk-ons it's going to take time before they can develop and to see what they can do," said Canales



What we will learn in preseason


Big things are expected from the unit, and for first time in school history, the Bulls have a respectable amount of depth at receiver.  The talent is also diverse, and a lot is expected out of the unit when practice starts next week.


"I want them to come back and be more physical and dominating group as in terms of our run game," said Canales. "We know the receivers can run and catch, but we want them to be a more physical group. We're going to take every step, each rep, each practice, as if it was for a championship. We want to win a Big East championship."


USF must improve in the air to be successful. The top guys have experience and should be even better this year. Behind them the Bulls have several players with all the tools and potential, but haven't had the opportunity to really show anything yet. As long as the O-line does its thing, the unit should is primed to make a huge impact in '08.



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