Entering the 2007 campaign, many concerns and question marks hung above the head of the wide receiver position. There were a few veterans, a few newcomers, and a few unproven commodities. As the season progressed, a tight end stood tall above the rest. This season, however, there is a significant boost of confidence and depth on edge.
THE CONTENDERS: Paul Hubbard, Marcus Randle-El, Luke Swan, Lance Kendricks, Xavier Harris, Isaac Anderson, Jarvis Minton, Nick Toon, Daven Jones, Kyle Jefferson, David Gilreath.
BREAKING IT DOWN FROM EXPERIENCE
The two leading reception makers from the WR position return. Paul Hubbard is a speed guy who just happens to catch the ball fairly well. There were a few times when he drew the ire of the coaching staff for putting the pigskin on the turf, but, for the most part, he had a successful 2006 season. He finished the year with 38 receptions for 627 yards, averaging 16.5 yards per catch. Hubbard hauled in five touchdowns as well. The speedy receiver is one of the better quotes in the locker room, and just a 'good guy' all around. (Be sure to stay tuned to BadgerNation magazine in May. We will have a feature on Hubbard available to our readers.)
If you would have offered people 5:1 odds last year that Luke Swan was going to be the number two receiver, I bet you would have got a lot of action. That is not a knock on Swanny, but rather just an honest look at numbers and the talk around town. But, you cannot hold down the 'Fennimore Flash'. No sir-e. Luke put together a nice campaign, hauling in 35 balls for 595 yards and five touchdowns. His 17 yards per reception average was tops on the team, and notched his first 100-yard receiving game at Iowa (4 rec., 113 yards). What he may lack in speed, he makes up for in heart and dependability.
Isaac Anderson, Xavier Harris, and Jarvis Minton saw spot play action last year. Ike hauled in five receptions, Harris notched six, and Minton grabbed two. Minton was the team's top kickoff return man last season, though he did come under fire a little bit in a few games. Of the three, I think that Harris may have the biggest upside, maybe even getting the opportunity at a different position.
A guy that may get overlooked by some, but is extremely talented, will be Lance Kendricks. Having redshirted for the 2006 season, he had valuable time during practice to learn the offense and all of its intricacies. He came to the UW with high honors and big expectations. Every recruiting outlet in American had him in their 30 best wide receiver category. Scout.com had him listed number 12. Needless to say, he has talent. The question is: will it translate to playing time and success at the Big Ten level? Time will tell. (I did not write that he may be switching to tight end, initially. But readers have emailed me on this. LK is a combo guy, much like Travis Beckum.)
NEW (and old) FACES, SAME PLACES
There is a strong crop of receivers joining the Badger program come this summer. One of the players is a legacy. Another is a member of a football recruit factory. Yet another is somebody you have known about for a year that is finally going to arrive.
When you are the son of, arguably, the best receiver to ever step on campus, the shadows and expectations over and around you loom large. Don't tell that to Nick Toon, he doesn't want to hear it. Toon makes noise with his stellar on field play.
He finished the 2006 season with 51 catches for 799 yards and 13 touchdowns. I feel that he may have a chance to step right in and compete for significant playing time. Toon runs a smooth route and just fits the part of big time player when he is on the field. Stepping right in could also be a point made for David Gilreath. Gilreath may be one the fastest players on the team once he steps on campus. He ran a 4.39 (the fastest of all participants) at the Iowa City Scout.com combine last spring, and has been rumored to have been clocked in the 4.23 range. That is burning it up. David is not a big guy, standing 5'11" and weighing around 170. But, if you are going to say that Luke Swan is 6' tall, then DG is 6'1". The measuring stick does not tell the tale, how you play on the field does. Gilreath is a VERY smooth route runner, with a quick first step, and an aggressive style. His presence may be felt in the slot this season, but will definitely get a chance in the return game. You have to get talent and speed like this on the field.
Daven Jones is a familiar name to Badger fans, as he committed before the 2006 season. He had to go the prep school route to get his grades in order, which he has done, and is now an official member of the 2007 class. He is a power receiver with good speed that may also contend for a spot in the return game. Daven had a good career while at Glenville HS in Cleveland, Ohio. That is the same school that is producing Division I and NFL prospects by the truckload under the direction of Ted Ginn, Sr. It is also the home of Kyle Jefferson.
Kyle is a 6'5", 180 pound speed burner. He is not the go across the middle type of guy, but makes the tough catch. If you want a downfield threat, he is the definition. KJ posted 44 catches, 848 yards, and ten touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, and carried the ball four times for over 60 yards. You have got to like that versatility.
PRESENT DEPTH CHART
1. Hubbard.. 2. Swan.. 3. Minton.. 4. Anderson/Harris/Kendricks
WHO MIGHT MAKE THE BIGGEST SPLASH 1. Gilreath... 2. Kendricks... 3. Toon... 4. Jefferson...
Meshing with your quarterback is the key to success for a wide receiver. When John Stocco was under center, he made it easy for the receivers to do their job. They knew he would get the ball to them on time and in the right place more times than not. With a new QB this season, either Tyler Donovan or Allan Evridge, a new continuity and communication level has to be established. But that is the best part of spring practice. Donovan throws a good ball, as we saw in a few games down the stretch.
The influx of speed and talent in the new guys will push the old guard of Hubbard and Swanny to the edge. Perhaps that edge will be one of great success. I would like to hope so. How different will the Badger offense be from last season? No Joe Thomas to follow. No Stocco under center. But key players remain at key positions, so that will make the job easier on all of these guys.
And they will make the job look easy at times for us all.