Our post-spring series continues on offense today with wide receivers and tight ends.
• Projected starters: Arceto Clark, Sr. (outside); Chris Smith, Sr. (outside); Chad Bumphis, Sr. (slot); Malcolm Johnson, So. (tight end)
• Backups: Joe Morrow, R-Fr. (outside), Ricco Sanders, Jr. (outside), Brandon Heavens, Sr. (slot), Jameon Lewis, So. (slot), Brandon Hill, So. (tight end)
• The skinny: I could have listed even more players, because MSU returns 10 of last season’s 12 receivers and tight ends. The losses were oft-injured Marcus Green (graduation) and little-used Michael Carr (left team). It’s a senior-laden group with a ton of experience – those 10 returnees have played in a combined 230 games with 82 starts.
But these receivers – the core of which were part of Dan Mullen‘s first signing class – haven’t quite performed up to expectations, although there have been some strong individual performances from the likes of Clark, Johnson and Smith. Bumphis hasn’t lived up to his billing, and maybe part of that was due to not being able to redshirt, as well as not having a quarterback who could throw it consistently. Tyler Russell as full-time starter will leave Bumphis and the rest of the receivers with no excuses this season.
Bumphis had a solid spring, as did Lewis, who showed early flashes last season but mostly wasn’t a factor. Lewis has said he’s gained a greater understanding of the offense, and maybe all that talent will finally show up on a weekly basis.
What could ultimately raise this group to another level is the play of Johnson and Morrow. The former is a converted receiver who at tight end can give MSU a big matchup advantage, and that was apparent at times last year, when Johnson was second on the team in yards per catch (18.7). He averaged just one catch per game, though. He looked as sharp as ever in the spring running routes and making catches. Like Clark, Johnson has sticky fingers, and both of those guys know how to make tough catches down the field.
Morrow is the 6-foot-4 target that’s unlike anyone the Bulldogs have had in a while. He looked like a redshirt freshman at times this spring but also showed the downfield ability coaches hope to see from him on game days. Morrow and Russell reshape the dyanamic of MSU’s passing game – as we saw in the spring, it should be more vertical and tougher for defenses to handle.
It might be hard for any single receiver to dominate the stat sheet, just because there are so many options in the passing game, including the tailbacks. The key will be all of these receivers finding and accepting a role, and it’s up to Russell to correctly distribute the ball, egos be damned.