Post-Spring Review: Receivers

Starting Wednesday, Dawgman.com will be breaking down all the position groups to see where the Washington Huskies stand after the first 15 practices of the Chris Petersen Era. Up now is the receivers, a group - much like the quarterbacks - that wasn't as complete a group as they should have been.

With both Kasen Williams and Damore'ea Stringfellow out, who took advantage of their absence, and what will the group look like in the fall when they come back?
Receiver:
4 Jaydon Mickens - Jr.
1 John Ross - So.
16 Marvin Hall - Jr.

Receiver:
2 Kasen Williams - Sr.
23 Kendyl Taylor - Jr.
86 Taelon Parson - So. walk-on

Receiver:
19 DiAndre Campbell - Sr. OR
9 Damore'ea Stringfellow - So.
81 David Garlington - So. walk-on


What did they do in the spring? - First, the good news. Between returners Jaydon Mickens, Marvin Hall and John Ross, Washington had over a thousand yards and six receiving touchdowns come back healthy and ready to go for spring. Add to them senior-to-be DiAndre Campbell, who walked with the other seniors last fall due to Sarkisian's apparent insistence that the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Campbell was surplus to requirements yet returned to find a spot on Petersen's roster - as well as the redshirting Kendyl Taylor - and you have four veteran pass-catchers that could be counted on to get their work in under new Receivers Coach Brent Pease.

Mickens is the jokester of the offense, the guy most likely to try and incite the defense during gassers, or basically whenever. If leading by communicating is next to leading by example, Mickens is the man. And he's also the backup holder, as well as involved in the kick and punt return game. Slowly the junior from Los Angeles has become the Jack-of—All-Trades for the Huskies, and he did what you would expect a veteran to do - lead his group, bring energy to practice, and catalyze the competition between the offense and defense.

Hall, who has done most of his damage so far in his UW career as the No. 1 punt returner, also showed he could rip off a couple pass plays too. While he only had eight catches in 2013, two of them were for over 40 yards. He'll need to be counted on again as a big-play specialist and home run threat. During spring they did very, very little live special teams work, so Hall got plenty of chances to show what he could do as a receiver. He's still not as consistent as Mickens, but there's no question the big-play ability is there.

Ross has definitely made his mark on Washington's special teams, returning a kick 100 yards for a score after teasing UW fans nearly all year with his game-breaking potential. Ross also took a screen 57 yards to paydirt against Idaho State, showing early that he was as advertised - a cat-quick receiver that could take a football to the house at any time during the game, and in a variety of ways. Ross scored on his only catch of the day during the Spring Preview - a 31-yard grab from Jeff Lindquist. Not a bad percentage, and it underscores Ross's explosiveness.

The return of Taylor - another player lost in the Sark shuffle - came as a welcome sight. He catches passes like a receiver, but once he's got the ball he finished the yards after catch like a running back. Since he's 200 pounds Taylor can be used as a blocker in the screen game, as well as a receiver who can use his size outside to outmuscle the opponent's secondary.

Now the bad news. It must seem as if the injury and suspension thing has become a bit of a broken record, but that was one of the key talking points of spring. Not only was Washington Football placed firmly behind the other Pac-12 teams because of the coaching switch from Steve Sarkisian to Chris Petersen, but Petersen and his new coaching staff suffered the added insult because of various injuries to top players - like returning receiving star Kasen Williams, injured versus Cal last year. And then Damore'ea Stringfellow made the wrong decision to join teammate Cyler Miles at a post-Super Bowl bonfire while Miles was dressed in Denver Broncos gear…well, you can guess how that worked out. The subsequent investigation into possible assault and theft led Petersen to suspend the two, taking another big receiver away from the Huskies for spring.

In fact, outside of Campbell, Washington really had no ‘big' receivers available for spring. Williams and String were out, and Petersen didn't have the services of 6-foot-5 incoming frosh Brayden Lenius to count on, so Campbell it was.

Where does the position stand heading into the summer? - The position group after spring is an incomplete one. Williams, who caught 29 passes in eight games last year, has been a stalwart of the UW recruiting corps the last three seasons. By the end of spring he started, albeit very gingerly, to run routes and catch passes in stride. It wasn't much, but it did mark a sign that he's ready to start ramping up his availability. It's very doubtful he'll be cleared before fall to do all the things he'd be expected to do in a game, but by fall he'll be there. It's disappointing that Williams missed out on the final spring of his UW career, and he clearly would have benefitted from it because of the regime change. That being said, he's been around the team the whole spring and has done everything else in the room besides play - watch film, learn the playbook, take mental reps, etc…

Without Williams and Stringfellow, the Huskies didn't have a big receiver to stretch the defense with size outside of Campbell, so they had to do it with quicks and straight-line speed. Washington OC Jonathan Smith said that roughly half the offense had been installed, so they'll have some work to do catching up with those that have been able to take plenty of live reps.

Given the makeup of the healthy receivers available, the quick game got plenty of work. Whether it's Sark or Petersen, both coaches appear to like the idea of getting the football out of the quarterbacks' hands quickly. That means finding the smaller, quicker receivers in space with room to run.

It's still unclear what String's status is going to be for the fall, but since the PRP's (player-run practices) are not run by the coaches, expect to see Stringfellow - as well as Cyler Miles - participate. As long as they are still in school and doing what Petersen has asked them to do in order to get back with the program, there's no reason to think they won't be trying to make up for lost time in a hurry. With Smith reportedly meeting with Miles on the new offense, one has to hope that Pease is doing the same with String if possible. But again, as would normally be expected with legal issues that result in suspensions, Stringfellow has to be realistic with his return. I would be shocked if he traveled to Hawaii. Assuming that's the case and he doesn't miss any more games than that, the damage is still done. It means Pease will have to prioritize those that will be available for August 30th and then come back to String when he's been fully cleared to play.

What to look for in the fall - Just like Miles with the quarterbacks, everyone will be speculating on Stringfellow's return to the receiver group. At 6-foot-3 and nearly 230 pounds, String is a physical freak of nature, a walking, talking mismatch whenever he takes the field. He did very little until he was needed at UCLA, where he exploded with eight catches for 148 yards and a score. That was the String everyone expected to see. Four catches apiece in the Apple Cup and the bowl game win was even more reason to feel confident that String was going to be a major contributor in 2014. With his legal issues in the rear-view, now it's just a matter of the school deciding what they are going to do, and then everyone can move forward. The quicker they decide, the quicker String can get back to the business of being a student-athlete.

Obviously the second key to look for in the fall is just how long it's going to take to get Kasen Williams back in the groove. Missing five games in 2013 was bad enough, but miss all 15 practices of spring with a new coaching staff and I'm sure he feels even further behind than normal. The great thing about Williams is that he's a smart football player, picks things up well, and possesses an incredible feel for the game. That, along with his brawny physique, should keep him in good stead as he makes up for lost time in the fall. The time lost in the summer building needed chemistry with Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams (and to a lesser extent Cyler Miles because the two have worked a little bit together already) hurts a lot, but if the mental reps taken in spring - along with film study - bear fruit, Williams should be back to his old self in no time.

The returns of Campbell and Taylor shouldn't be underestimated. I think most UW fans have a pretty solid idea of what Mickens, Hall, and Ross do - they are the quick backs, the slot receivers, the guys that get passes that are no more than extended handoffs and then dazzle defenses with their quick reactions and even quicker feet. Campbell and Taylor have a chance to really help solidify the ‘bigger' component of Washington's receiving corps. They were the ones that got plenty of reps in the spring, and they can help Williams and Stringfellow get back as quickly as possible.

Washington had seven receivers in 2013 catch passes; expect that number to be similar in 2014. With the three scat backs doing their thing, Williams and String patrolling the intermediate zones, and Campbell and Taylor providing necessary support - the Huskies' receiving group is still very much a work in progress. But getting Williams and String back as soon as possible is akin to the Seahawks adding extra early draft picks. They are both supreme talents that add very distinct and needed skillets to the room. They immediately make the group much better, and while their exclusion in the spring allowed others to ramp up their development via repetition, I'm positive Petersen, Smith, and Pease would have wanted them available back in March, all things being equal.

Better late than never.


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