Spring Preview - Receivers

With Washington’s Spring Football campaign nearly upon us, it’s time to look at each position group to see what they’ve done in the off-season. UW’s receiver group may not be big in numbers this spring, but there are going to be some interesting storylines come April.

Obviously there needs to be a great connection between quarterback and receiver for there to have a ton of production, and by that measure 2014 wasn’t a fantastic one for Washington’s receiving corps. Kasen Williams’ leg injury never allowed the senior to fulfill his immense potential that he showed his first two years at Montlake, and Damore’ea Stringfellow’s transfer to Mississippi thinned out a group that already had to rob players like John Ross just to make ends meet at other positions of need.

But if you go by some of Washington’s WR Coach Brent Pease, Ross’s springtime position may not be as clear-cut as we thought. Jimmy Lake, the Huskies’ DB Coach, has always been adamant about Ross playing DB once he moved over to take Marcus Peters’s spot. On March 12th, Pease posted this vine of Ross putting up a personal best lift, thereby ‘sounding the siren’ in the weight room.

Is it just a case of Pease not letting go of Ross so easily? Is it Pease dropping a hint that Ross may just be working more with the receivers this spring than many of us realized? There’s no doubt the 5-foot-11, 179-pound playmaker will be used in all three phases of the game this fall, but he’s still listed as a defensive back on gohuskies.com so I won’t list Ross with the receivers here.

But it is clear the tug of war between Lake and Pease in terms of how Ross will be used in 2015 is anything but clear. That’s just one of the main narratives to look for with the receivers this spring.
Here’s the position group heading into spring:
Jaydon Mickens (5-11, 171) (Sr.)
Marvin Hall (5-10, 187) (Sr.)
John Ross III (5-11, 195) (Jr.)
Dante Pettis (6-0, 183) (So.)
Brayden Lenius (6-5, 217) (So.)
Neel Salukhe (5-11, 171) (RS Jr.)*
Drew Before (5-11, 195) (RS Jr.)*
Taelon Parson (6-1, 187) (RS So.)*
John Gardner (6-3, 186) (RS Fr.)*
Max Richmond (5-9, 178) (RS Fr.)*
* denotes walk-on

The Incumbents: For the second-straight season, there’s no doubt who runs the receiver group: Jaydon Mickens. Sure, his production was down from 2013 a little bit, but that was much a reflection of helping break in a new starting quarterback than anything else. But the senior was back at it this fall, setting personal lifting bests and sounding the siren. I fully expect Mickens to come out in spring with all guns blazing, this being his last spring in the purple and gold. Amazing how quickly a college career can go; it feels like yesterday when Mickens committed to UW over Oklahoma State and others on Signing Day in 2012.

It's becoming clear that John Ross is being moved back to receiver after filling in part-time at cornerback when Marcus Peters was dismissed. Ross did an admirable job, but Jimmy Lake must feel awfully good about Naijiel Hale, Sidney Jones, Darren Gardenhire, and Jermaine Kelly to give Ross back to Pease. Ross has been the most explosive, game-breaking offensive threat the moment he stepped on campus; now it's just a matter of UW OC Jonathan Smith making sure Ross gets his touches. For whatever reason, it was an issue in 2014.

Making a Play: This year has to be the year for Marvin Hall to play a meaningful role in the UW receiving corps, and with scholarship numbers thin in April that definitely starts this spring. To put it in perspective; Hall’s career receiving yards aren’t even a third of Mickens’ 2014 production alone. One of the biggest problems to date was that Hall was the worst choice between him, Mickens and Ross - but with those three being the only upperclassmen receivers available for 2015 it means Hall will have every opportunity this spring to show he’s ready for a 400 or 500-yard season. He’s capable.

Making a Play, Part 2: Just when it looks like Hall’s path to more playing time has been somewhat cleared, here comes Dante Pettis to provide another roadblock. Pettis caught more yards as a true freshman than Hall has his entire career, so it feels like the player hand-picked by Pease and Chris Petersen has already pushed past Hall in the receiving room. The fact that he also became Washington’s main punt returner two games into his career means the coaches generally trust the true sophomore-to-be with the football at all times.

Finding a Niche: With Williams and Stringfellow gone, the Huskies desperately need a bigger receiving threat. They’ve had a glut of 5-11 speed merchants that run bubble screens; they need taller players that can create mismatches with defensive backs down the field. Enter Brayden Lenius. Despite playing in all 14 games last year, the 6-foot-5 Lenius just didn’t have the production you would have hoped for in a season of eligibility; seven catches for 56 yards. I’ll go out on a real big limb and say Lenius will dwarf those numbers in 2015, simply for no other reason than there’s very little in the way of options when it comes to bigger receivers (unless you consider some of the tight ends ‘bigger receivers’, a topic worth discussing when I break down the TE’s next).

The New Guy: Washington is in an interesting position heading into spring with their receiving group; they have more walk-ons listed than actual scholarship players. That means the Huskies desperately need one of the five walk-ons expected to start spring ball to step up and provide a spark. Could it be one of the long-standing walk-ons, like Neel Salukhe or Taelon Parson? I doubt it; we should have at least seen some glimpses before now but the two have barely even seen any playing time since joining the Huskies, yet alone come up with a catch or two. I suspect it’ll be one of the walk-ons brought in by Pease and Petersen, like a Max Richmond. Richmond is another one of those smaller, scatback types, but he came from a massive Bellevue program and knows what kind of work it takes to make a difference. And a guy like John Gardner has the size UW really needs to stretch defenses.

What does spring mean for this group?: In the end, outside of finding that right balance for Ross between defense and offense and seeing if a walk-on emerges as a viable receiving threat for the fall, it could simply be ‘business as usual’ for this group. One of the other main reasons for this is because there is a serious infusion of frosh talent coming this summer, an infusion that could really alter the makeup of the room and render whatever we see in spring somewhat obsolete. If Ross ends up going back to offense full-time, as it looks more and more likely, he'll need to hit the ground running to get back up to speed - so to speak. He's gained 15 pounds in the off-season, so how will that affect him?

It wouldn’t shock me at all if a player like Isaiah Renfro comes in the fall and has a Pettis-like impact. Same for Quinten Pounds. I doubt the smaller receivers - Andre Baccellia and Chico McClatcher - will have to burn their redshirts, but you never know.

The ‘X Factor’ for this room this spring is quarterback. With Cyler Miles on a self-imposed hiatus, that means the receivers are somewhat back to square one when it comes to building chemistry. They have experience with Jeff Lindquist, but very little with K.J. Carta-Samuels and pretty much none with true frosh Jake Browning.

So while spring won’t necessarily be a time where receivers are moving up and down the depth chart, it will still be a vital period for them to focus on their fundamentals and get in as much work with the quarterbacks now and in summer to provide the chemistry they’ll need to improve on 2014’s totals.

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