Of all the position groups on the team last season. the wide receivers were easily the most disappointing for Mustang coaches, fans and followers. Wide receivers Coach Jason Phillips was received with mixed feelings in his first year working for SMU and he was given mixed results.
Former standout Darius Johnson left the Hilltop after a lackluster season. Johnson ended up leading the Mustang receivers in yards and touchdowns and was second on the team in catches, but there were a number of games where the playmaker was nowhere to be found. Expected to be the leader of a promising group of young talents, Johnson simply failed to live up to expectations.
But Johnson was one of two. Beside Darius in the slot was emerging playmaker Jeremy Johnson, an athlete Garrett Gilbert took a liking to early on. Johnson became SMU's leading pass catcher and proved to be the most reliable receiver on the team, possessing good hands, speed and playmaking ability.
Going into his senior camp Johnson is predicted to be the team's leading receiver once again. With Gilbert feeling more comfortable with the offense, don't be surprised if Johnson provides the offense with a 70-catch season pushing the 1,000-yard marker.
On the outside, Der'rikk Thompson has used his speed to make big plays for the offense and provides a valuable weapon for Gilbert to stretch the defense with his big arm.
Thompson does a decent job of playing his role as a deep threat. Many times he blows past DB's with no problem and he made a few clutch grabs sprinkled throughout the season.
During this camp, Thompson would do well to improve his route running when he isn't going deep as well as catching the football consistently (something that the receivers need to do better across the board).
One of the biggest problems SMU had last year and one of the biggest question marks going into camp is the outside receiver position opposite Thompson. It seems that the coaches just couldn't find the right guy for the job no matter how much they experimented.
In three seasons, senior Keenan Holman has played in 34 games, 13 of which he has started. His career stat line is 39 catches for 521 yards and four touchdowns. For a receiver that has gone into the past two seasons as the starter, those numbers just aren't up to snuff especially in an offense that throws the ball as much as the Run N' Shoot.
Last year, the Mustangs tried Arrius Holleman on the outside but his difficulties with catching the football (along with his rumored strained relationship with Phillips) landed him back on the pine. The Mustangs also tried freshman Gehrig Dieter who eventually transferred and later in the season Austin Fuller who proved to be serviceable, but there was only so much he could do.
This position battle should be one of the most fun to watch out for during this fall camp with Holman and Holleman both returning. Junior Stephen Nelson has consistently been one of the hardest workers on the practice field but has also been consistently injured. He will get reps as well as a group of freshmen that should come in hungry for playing time.
The incoming receiver rumored to have the best shot at stealing the starting job is JaBryce Taylor. At 6-foot-2 185-pounds, Taylor has good size and has exceptional hand eye coordination.
Taylor is a good athlete who does a great job of elevating over cornerbacks and catching balls at their highest point. Taylor proved to be more than a hand full when going deep against opposing defenses in high school, and he will try to bring the same skill set and production to the Mustang offense this year.
Another possibility is Red Oak all-purpose athlete Jeremiah Gaines who was one of the most heralded pass catchers in the area for the Class of 2013. Gaines was recruited as a tight end, but he could end up lining up anywhere for the Mustangs because of his versatility.
Gaines won't start as an outside receiver but in certain formations or situations you might see the big fella split out wide to give a different look to the defense.
Finally, it has been rumored that one of the best athletes on the team Kenneth Acker will be switching to offense to replace Darius Johnson in the slot opposite Jeremy Johnson. Previously, it was speculated that the job was sophomore Darius Joseph's to lose, but Acker's dynamic ability with the ball in his hands could cause defensive coordinators headaches.
Look for Gaines to also get a few snaps on the inside during camp as well as freshmen Daijuan Stewart, Deion Sanders Jr. and Everett Dickerson.
Pony Stampede Two-Deep
1. Der'rikk Thompson 2. JaBryce Taylor
1. Jeremy Johnson 2. Ryan Walker
1. Kenneth Acker 2. Darius Joesph
1. Keenan Holman 2. Arrius Holleman
Others to watch for: Kyle Guinyard, Anthony Buffini, Nate Halverson, J'Marcus Rhodes
Fall Camp Preview: Wide Receivers
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