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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wide open race: Jayhawks still looking for go-to receiver

Kansas wide receiver Chris Omigie (83) during football practice  Monday, April 25, 2011 at the  practice field.

Kansas wide receiver Chris Omigie (83) during football practice Monday, April 25, 2011 at the practice field.

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Last spring, Kansas University wide receiver Christian Matthews hauled in the game-winning touchdown catch for the blue team in the Jayhawks’ annual spring game.

Wanted: No. 1 wide receiver

Kansas will have 13 wide receivers on its roster this fall vying for the title of go-to guy. Here’s a class-by-class breakdown, with jersey number in parenthesis, height and weight:

Seniors: (15) Daymond Patterson, 5-9, 173.

Juniors: (20) D.J. Beshears 5-8, 174; (47) Chase Knighton 5-11, 184; (7) Kale Pick 6-1, 208.

Sophomores: (12) Christian Matthews 6-1, 186; (88) Erick McGriff 6-3, 209; (83) Chris Omigie 6-4, 194.

Red-shirt freshmen: (80) Ricki Herod 6-2, 183; (84) Brian Maura 6-4, 190; (82) Andrew Turzilli 6-4, 185.

Incoming freshmen: (89) Connor Embree 5-11, 175; (TBD) Marquis Jackson 6-0, 205; (TBD) JaCorey Shepherd 5-11, 170.

Instantly, Matthews, who, at that point, was in the middle of making the transition from quarterback to receiver, was pegged by some as the next stud receiver to play at Kansas, someone sure to follow in the footsteps of all-conference players Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier.

Unfair expectations?

“Yeah, something like that,” Matthews said recently.

The TD, a 37-yard back-shoulder catch on a perfect pass from then-quarterback Kale Pick, was Matthews’ only grab of the game. He followed that up with just a single catch — for 41 yards — in eight games all season.

“One catch doesn’t mean you’re gonna do good during the season,” Matthews said. “If I get a catch or whatever I do, I’m going to take that into next fall. (All of the hype) frustrates me and that’s gonna make me better in the fall. Hopefully I’ll come with it.”

Sophomore Chris Omigie enjoyed similar success during last year’s spring game — four catches for 95 yards, including a 72-yard TD grab — only to watch his big day in late April go down as his most memorable outing of 2010.

Like Matthews, Omigie was not able to parlay his spring-game success into meaningful moments during the regular season. He finished with 73 yards on seven catches in 10 games.

Now, with KU’s wide receivers positions wide open, and the spring game set for 1 p.m. Saturday, Omigie and Matthews are two of the many candidates vying to become the man.

“The group as a whole is probably a deeper group than I had here before,” said wide receivers coach David Beaty, who coached at Rice last season after two years at KU. “Deeper, talent-wise, in terms of the types of guys that we have. We still need to perfect our craft to try to get back up to those guys that have been All-Big 12 type players here before, and those kids understand that. They know they’ve got a lot to live up to, and they’re working towards it.”

Outside of senior Daymond Patterson, who led KU’s wideouts in receptions (60), yards (487) and touchdowns (two) in 2010, the Jayhawks don’t have a single receiver who hauled in more than 10 catches last season.

Junior slot receiver D.J. Beshears leads the list with 10 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Omigie is next with seven grabs, Erick McGriff follows with six catches for 61 yards and Pick (three for 18) and Matthews (one grab) round out the list of returning receivers who played last season. Although those numbers aren’t the kind that garner much attention, Beaty says this group has talent.

Though Beshears did little in the passing game in 2010, he was one of the Jayhawks’ most electric playmakers. He broke a school record with 922 kickoff return yards on 36 returns and also added 213 yards and two TDs rushing. Those numbers alone indicate that Beshears could provide a spark if the Jayhawks can get him the ball. That hasn’t been a problem this spring. Beshears has benefited from extra reps in the slot with Patterson sidelined because of injury.

Of course, it was not just Beshears who received extra reps this spring. KU coach Turner Gill did all he could to make sure all of his receivers — including 2010 red-shirts Ricki Herod, Brian Maura, Andrew Turzilli and walk-on Connor Embree — got a fair chance to flash their skills.

“There are a lot of guys getting a lot of reps and opportunities to see if they can produce,” Gill said. “That is what we are all about.”

For the receivers themselves, the crowded quarters is nothing new.

“There’s always competition at the wide receiver spot because there are so many of us,” Omigie said. “Everybody wants to be the go-to guy so we’re always out here working hard, competing against each other and doing our best. We’re all out here going hard against the defense to show coach that we can be the guy. So the competition is really intense right now.”

With just two practices remaining before Saturday, Matthews said he had identified an easy way to get noticed.

“If you don’t block, then you will not play,” Matthews said. “That is the biggest thing with coach Beaty.”

Another way, according to Omigie, was to make key catches when called upon, something the unit struggled with in 2010.

“We talk about that a lot,” Omigie said. “Our thing this year is that we are trying to show the coaches that we have that ability to make big plays whenever they give us the chance. All we have to do is prove it to them in the upcoming spring game and keep doing our thing in practice. Hopefully they will get the message.”

Comments

NebraskaJayhawk 10 years, 9 months ago

I think it's great to have Coach Beaty back on the sideline for us. It will be interesting to see the development of these receivers with his return.

rockchalknation 10 years, 9 months ago

“If you don’t block, then you will not play,” Matthews said. “That is the biggest thing with coach Beaty.”

Great to hear that comment!! Quite frankly I thought the blocking from the receivers last year was awful....never saw the bubble screen blocked properly once all year in addition to a lack of any DBs getting de-cleated. Looking forward to significant progress being made with this talented group of receivers.

Kman_blue 10 years, 9 months ago

I totally agree! I love that comment and it immediately caught my eye too. I think it's quite possible KU got a blessing in disguise when coach Wyatt left for Texas and KU got coach Beaty back. No knock on coach Wyatt, but I think coach Beaty is a better all-around WR coach. It will be very interesting to see how all of these talented WR's develop this off-season and this fall.

Phoggin_Loud 10 years, 9 months ago

Down-field blocking also helps the running game break longer runs.
This will be key with KU going to a more run-oriented attack. If you are on the field, you better be doing something other than standing/watching someone else make a play! I love to see tough-minded WR's! Welcome back, Coach Beaty.

ahpersecoachingexperience 10 years, 9 months ago

Another wasted spring! Gill had all of these players for a year yet no decision on qb or wr.

orbiter 10 years, 9 months ago

yeah, I agree, competition is a bad thing.

jaymar74 10 years, 9 months ago

The following programs are examples of programs which do not have their 2 deep roster set on April 27. Auburn, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, Boise State, TCU, Penn State, .....

justinryman 10 years, 9 months ago

In Ohio St.'s defense, they don't even know who their coach is going to be in the Fall, and there are a few players that have to miss the first 5 games.

hailtoku 10 years, 9 months ago

That's like a Colorado basketball fan saying, "KU doesn't have their starting 5 set either".

Those schools you mentioned have their depth chart set, trust me. Its just a matter of which all-American they want to start.

ahpersecoachingexperience 10 years, 9 months ago

Just cross out last seasons awards given to kuhum and insert Atljay.

Jeff Coffman 10 years, 9 months ago

For someone trying to show respect to Coach Gill, you could at least spell his name right.

DallasHawk 10 years, 9 months ago

+1 on Herod, Maura and Turzilli. I think that is going to be a great crop. I have a feeling Herod is going to be a stud. We are super deep at this spot, but we need to find a way to utilize the height by taking more shots downfield. RCJH!

KGphoto 10 years, 9 months ago

I've got Marquis Jackson as my #1 by the first game. He has more physical tools than any other WR on the team. Sure he's fast, especially at 205lbs., but he's got lower leg strength and the potential to be a really good downfield blocker. On a team were the best receiver might only catch 40-50 passes, the guy who can block for the run game will have the most opportunities.

bigtex 10 years, 9 months ago

When I pull up the web site coachturnergill.com they have section posted play of the day. They have the players video who received the play of the day during spring practice.So far there has been 12 practices and only one player has more than one play of the day, Kale Pick has three. I really like Pick's size,speed,strenghth and it looks like he has great hands on the video.

Ryan Shelton 10 years, 9 months ago

I was excited about the comment that Beshears set a team record for kickoff return yards until it dawned on me that it meant the other teams had to score a lot for that to happen. Still, 25 yards per is pretty good. Here's to fewer return yards next fall!

Andy Tweedy 10 years, 9 months ago

They sure seem like a physically gifted group, but last year our receivers couldn't block, couldn't run routes and couldn't catch the ball, facts that are underlined by the second leading receiver averaging less than one catch per game. I'm as optimistic a KU football fan as there is, but throw in the fact that our line sucked and our QB play was pathetic and our offense was basically a total disaster last year. I am pretty sure the line will be much better, and more quality backs should help the running game, but these guys better take Beaty's advice and learn to block. They better also start holding on to the ball. Again, I'm optimistic, since these guys were pretty young last year. I'm crossing my fingers!

hailtoku 10 years, 9 months ago

My confidence diminishes with each passing week.

Kevin Studer 10 years, 9 months ago

Works the same as when you have 2 quarterbacks: When you have 10 wide receivers, you have no wide receivers.

Jeff Coffman 10 years, 9 months ago

I like competition as much as the other guy, but I have heard the comments that players need repetitions to improve. I think that there has to be decisions made early to get the best players reps, which gets consistent play made. Splitting time between QBs and RBs can hurt the timing and consistency that these players should be starting to develop at this time of year.

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