Precocious Passcatchers

Wide receivers coach Steve Bird is pleased with not only the talent, but also the character, of the four wideouts in the recruiting class of 2004, and believes that they may be poised for early playing time.

While Bird knew that getting talent to sign on the dotted line was of great importance, he also wanted to make sure that the future Mountaineers were dependable people that were coachable. After struggling with some disciplinary problems from a couple of players over the past couple of seasons, Bird believes that the new group, coupled with the corps of returning veterans, is finally approaching the level where the Mountaineers may be able to unleash the full range of the spread passing attack.

"We had to find some good athletic kids, but the number one criteria we put on the wide receivers this year was that they be great character kids, kids that were going to do everything right and be where they are supposed to be," Bird told BlueGoldNews.com on signing day. "You have to be able to count on them. I think that's what we got, and I feel very good about the character of this group of players."

That dependability was such an important factor is easy to see when a quick glance is taken at the past couple of years in the receiving corps. For every John Pennington that did everything according to instruction, there seemed to be another that didn't want to follow those rules, which led to suspensions, missed game time, and a lack of continuity on offense.

Those types of problems almost always lead to problems in on-field performance as well, and as a result the WVU passing game has struggled for consistency during the Rodriguez era. However, returning veterans like Pennington, Miquelle Henderson, Chris Henry and Dee Alston, the addition of Eddie Jackson, and the four-pack of incoming receivers has Bird excited about the possibilities in the Mountaineer passing attack.

"We have a lot of depth, and the potential for a lot of people to come in and play right away," the enthusiatic coach noted. "I'm looking for them to do that. I'm planning on getting them on the field to see what they can do, and for them to make the travel squad.

"Maybe for the first time since we've been here, we are going to be pretty balanced across the board. We are going to be able to go deep, go intermediate, and also hit the short stuff. We have guys that can catch the quick pass and get upfield. We have guys that can catch the intermediate pass and turn it into a big play, and of course we have number 5 (Henry) who can get downfield. So it's good balance right now. You take the combination of the new guys along with some of the receivers we already have, and I think we have a good group."

Bird also likes the fact that his receivers aren't bunched together so much in terms of eligibility. He believes that will help as the veterans work with the newcomers to help them get acclimated to the college game, and also will make a nice progression as players work through their careers.

"We have a good mixture right now. We have these young guys, then we have some "middle-aged" guys, and a couple of guys that are going to graduate after this year. Now we have the rotation and turnover that we want, where we can replace a couple of guys every year."

By way of example, Bird notes that Eddie Jackson, a senior this season, will likely be a mentor to a yongster like Brandon "Mook" Tate, who is similar in size and build to Jackson. Tate will be able to learn from Jackson this year, both on and off the field, and hopefully be prepared to step into Jackson's slot next season.

Bird also sees differences in his incoming group of receivers, and believes that each player has some unique skills that will blend together to help improve the receiving corps overall. He briefly discussed each of the four:

Brandon Barrett: "Everyone knows about him. He can do a lot of things and probably play a couple of different receiver positions. He brings a little bit of punch to the position, and he knows he has to be a good blocker as well as run routes and catch balls.

"My plan for Brandon right now is that he's going to come in and play, just like the other three. I think the best thing for Brandon is that he plays when he's ready, but some people are saying that he might be a year away. I don't believe that. He has too many good qualities. He has good moves, and we want to see what he can do."

Tito Gonzalez: "I'm really high on him. He fits everything we are looking for in a receiver. I think he's a guy a lot of people didn't know about, but I think he could help us as a freshman. He could play in the slot, or he could play out wide. He's a very intellignet player, and knows how to play the game and the position."

Brandon Tate: "Mook is a great kid. You talk to him and look him in the eye, and you know he's paying attention and will do everything that you tell him to do. He's a big, physical receiver, and had a lot of big plays this year. He can play a lot of positions because of his athletic skill. He's also a very talented basketball player, and if you look at a lot of our good football players, they are good basketball players too. With his big body, little corners are going to have trouble coverng him, and he's going to be a good complement to the speed guys we have on the outside. A linebacker is not going to be able to knock him around. And don't be fooled by his 40 speed. He runs better than people give him credit for. I've seen a lot of guys who supposedly don't have speed, and they are the ones that end up behind the secondary."

Darius Reynaud: "Darius is a guy that has played a lot of different positions too, and what he does is give you big play potential. He is a serious threat. He's a guy that can take it all the way at any time. Defenses are going to have to play him a little differently.

"He's also going to be a threat returnng kicks. He's also a physical guy and knows how to block. He might fit in at the backside slot, because that's a spot you can put freshmen in. He can be a guy that can run reverses for you, go deep for you, catch the short pass and make it a big play."

Of course, it's easy to be excited about players before they hit the field. Bird knows that, and he's not expecting his newcomers to report and begin setting Big East records in the first month of their careers. But there's no doubt that WVU plans to give the freshmen a chance to show their abiity in the fall, and that anyone who looks like they can help will definitely be in line to play this season.


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