STARKVILLE – Robert Johnson is expecting his patience to finally pay off.
The fourth-year junior receiver has shown plenty of promise in his offseason work and practices over the years, but it’s not translated to much production during the season.
And so the book on Johnson is the same as the book on the entire MSU receiving corps this year: There is promise, but not much production. Yet.
The unfulfilled potential hasn’t been easy for Johnson to handle.
“It was kind of hard to explain to everyone at home,” he said.
Johnson has simply had to wait his turn, and now it’s come because all three starters are gone from last year. He did contribute a bit in 2012, catching 17 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Ten of those catches came over MSU’s final six games, of which it lost five.
Johnson, sophomore Joe Morrow and junior Jameon Lewis are currently listed as starters. But they’ll be pushed by newcomers Jeremey Chappelle and Fred Ross, among others.
“Everybody in the room’s got to go to another level,” first-year receivers coach Billy Gonzales said. “The leading receiver out of my unit with touchdowns is Robert Johnson with two. Come on, now. We’re replacing a lot of touchdowns and a lot of yards.”
Waiting a long time
Given how long he’s had to wait to get a crack at starting, Johnson has plenty of motivation to win a job. Asked if it’s been hard to be patient, he cocked his head back, grimaced, and said, “It is. Sometimes you’ve just gotta walk that dog.”
Quarterback Tyler Russell said he has confidence in guys like Johnson and Lewis, and so does offensive coordinator Les Koenning.
“Chad Bumphis is gone,” Koenning said. “(Lewis) hasn’t had much chance to play because Chad was out there, but he had a great chance to learn from Chad, and now it’s his time to step up.”
Over his first two seasons, Lewis has 17 catches for 251 yards and a touchdown. As the slot receiver, his speed could be a big asset for MSU’s offense.
As an understudy to Bumphis, Lewis picked up some valuable knowledge.
“Just route techniques, how to get open,” Koenning said. “Those are big parts of being successful. When you see someone else do it, you can replicate that.”
That transition from backup to starter needs to be a quick one, and Johnson said it’s not been too much trouble.
“Now we’re getting looked up to, and it just pushes us to do everything perfect,” he said.
Gonzales said when he watches film of last season, it’s easy to tell how experienced guys like Chad Bumphis and Arceto Clark were. He said it’s his job to make sure the current crop of receivers matches that level of play.
“Are the guys here right now as talented? Yeah, they’re as talented, or they wouldn’t be here,” Gonzales said. “Now it’s time to step up their game.”