Mid-Spring Review: Receivers

If it hadn't been for Kasen Williams' unfortunate injury versus California, Spring Football 2014 was shaping up to be a fun one for the wide receiver group at Washington. But then Williams did get hurt, DiAndre Campbell made the decision to surrender his last year of eligibility, and then Damore'ea Stringfellow was suspended for a violation of team rules.

All of a sudden a very deep and talented returning receiving corps looked well decimated.
19 DiAndre Campbell - Sr.
4 Jaydon Mickens - Jr.
16 Marvin Hall - Jr.
1 John Ross - So.
23 Kendyl Taylor - So.

What have they done in practice? - Campbell - along with defensive end Andrew Hudson - have been the biggest beneficiaries of Chris Petersen's clean slate. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Oakland came back to participate in spring football and has taken advantage of the second chance. With Williams and Stringfellow - the two ‘big' receivers on UW's roster - out of commission, Campbell has had to pick up the slack and has done so admirably.

But UW's receiving corps right now is making their bread with their smaller scatbacks, starting with Jaydon Mickens. The 5-foot-11, 171-pound junior from Los Angeles is one of the most noticeable players at practice because of his outgoing nature. If he's not catching passes and making defenders miss, he's talking on the sidelines or learning the language to send in signals to the quarterbacks. Mickens' infectious personality immediately lends itself to being that of a leader, and that's been in full display so far this March. Physically he looks as quick as ever.

Marvin Hall, Mickens' teammate at Dorsey High in LA - and now at Washington - is a similar player to Mickens but not quite an exact copy. He's not as precise with his routes or as consistent catching the ball, but he has that top gear smaller receivers in the Pac-12 have to have in order to be successful. His 50-yard catch versus UCLA gave everyone a glimpse into what Hall can do; he needs to do more of that. This is the year Hall has to break out and show his full arsenal on display.

John Ross showed just how explosive he is when he blew by BYU defenders to score a 100-yard kickoff return in Washington's bowl win last year. He showed exactly why Steve Sarkisian wanted the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder when he took a screen pass against Idaho State, juked one Bengal completely out of his stripes and sprinted 57 yards untouched for a touchdown. The kickoff return at the end of the season only confirmed it. We already know through two weeks of spring football how coveted Petersen believes Ross to be. The new UW Head Coach has continued Sark's experiment of playing the sophomore on defense as well.

Kendyl Taylor is back from his redshirt stint and (alleged) move to defense to play with the receivers once again. At 5-foot-10 and 203 pounds, Taylor is the one receiver that's actually built like a running back. Because of the redshirt year, Taylor is the one scholarship receiver right now that is shaking off more rust than the others, and it's been showing. New Receivers Coach Brent Pease is really working on footwork and cutting and breaking jams at the line of scrimmage, and Taylor is struggling more than most. But he's a sure-handed pass catcher and does offer a bigger body downfield when a blocker is needed.

Where does the position stand after two weeks? - As with all the positions so far, the receivers have been focused on fundamentals, footwork, and the different details that Pease emphasizes in practice. It's clear that he's a stickler for using the proper hand-fighting techniques to defeat press coverage at the line of scrimmage, as well as the fundamentals getting in and out of breaks while running routes. It's also been a bit humorous to watch the smaller receivers work on their downfield blocking techniques; it's clear they have a ways to go to satisfy their position coach.

We know what Mickens can do; 65 catches for 688 yards in 2013 was good enough to be the leading UW receiver last year in terms of receptions. He was Keith Price's go-to guy. There's nothing he hasn't done during the first two weeks of spring that has been unexpected; he's been outgoing, gregarious, talkative, and energetic. He brings his lunchpail of enthusiasm with him every day, and I've never seen him without a smile on his face.

The same goes for Ross and Hall. It's clear that the receivers are having fun so far in spring and are enjoying the change from Sarkisian to Petersen and Kiesau to Pease. The receivers haven't been as consistent catching the ball out of the gate as you'd like to see, but we've seen them when the bullets are flying and they can be counted on to come up with the catches when it matters. And much of that is also due to building chemistry with the two quarterbacks - Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams - and with that process comes some speed bumps.

Campbell, as you would expect from someone given a new lease on life, is also enjoying his football once again. With Williams and Stringfellow out, the main possession receiving targets have to be replaced for spring. Campbell is most definitely a possession receiver, so he's getting plenty of work in the short and intermediate zones. It's unsure how quickly it will take Kasen to ramp up to 100 percent health, and obviously Stringfellow's spot on the team is uncertain at best - so Campbell has a chance to replicate his 2012 numbers (16 catches for 167 yards) if he continues to put in his work. There's no question he'll be well ahead of both Williams and Stringfellow in terms of understanding the new offense and the terminology that comes with it.

Taylor has been a bit of an odd man out, but that doesn't mean there isn't a place for him in the new offense. At Boise State, Petersen showed a willingness to create specific packages for offensive players to take advantage of their skill sets. He's already shown so far in spring that Shaq Thompson is in his offensive plans for fall, and there's no doubt in my mind that Taylor, who was a true hybrid offensive skill player in 2012, accounting for nearly 40 touches for 320 yards as a true freshman, will be utilized in this way. But since the first half of spring is all about getting back to the basics and learning the new UW playbook, it's hard to tell exactly where he'll fit in right now.

What to look for in the second half of spring - For spring, Mickens is the one leading the receiving corps while Williams continues to rehab. When the Skyline senior returns in the summer, he should retake his position the leader of the room. Until that time comes, it's the Jaydon Mickens show.

With limited numbers for the receivers this spring, it's hard to see a lot of movement on the depth chart leading up to spring game. These guys - to paraphrase Denny Green - are who we think they are. Mickens, Ross, and Hall are the cat-quick receivers, the scatbacks that Petersen, Pease and Jonathan Smith want to get in space going full-speed. Taylor is the receiver that can also do some running back-type stuff if needed, and Campbell is the guy that can run the intermediate routes and stretch the field for the quicker receivers underneath.

When the receivers come back to spring April 1st, it's going to be more work on the details of the position - how to get off the line of scrimmage, how to get in and out of cuts without losing speed, and downfield blocking. There really shouldn't be too many revelations in terms of depth chart movement or the like simply given the limited numbers, as well as the currently pecking order that's already in place.

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