Throughout spring football, I’ll be writing a series of blogs looking at each position unit on the Kansas football team, starting with the one that on paper — rather in cyberspace — looks like the weakest and building to the strongest. Wide receiver has the dubious distinction of batting leadoff.
Logic says if a wide receiver couldn’t earn playing time as a junior on a team that didn’t have a single touchdown reception from the position for the entire 12-game season there is no reason to believe he’ll do anything memorable as a senior.
So why am I thinking, yet again, that things finally will click for Christian Matthews? Maybe it’s because when he does do something well he does it in a way that makes it look as if a big-time athlete is trapped in there waiting to bust loose. This will be his last chance and that senior sense of urgency sometimes can lead talented athletes to stop thinking and start playing.
In limited action the past two seasons as a running quarterback in the wildcat formation, Matthews has blended speed with sharp cuts to make moves that would seem to translate well to yards after catches. So far though his spring-game success hasn’t carried him into autumn. He followed a 37-yard TD reception in the 2010 spring game with a 53-yard score in the 2011 game. His regular-season receiving stats: A 41-yard catch in 2010, 11 receptions for 100 yards in 2011, no receptions in 2012.
Without having anything solid to back up my hunch about Matthews in 2013, I thought about keeping it quiet. Then I asked tight end Jimmay Mundine for his opinion as to the best wide receiver on the squad.
“If I had to pick a guy now I’d pick Christian Matthews,” Mundine said. “He’s working hard. He’s starting to take more of a leadership role. We’re expecting more out of him than last year, that’s for sure.”
“His work ethic,” Mundine said. “When we’re out there doing seven on seven, he’s catching the ball, finishing his route, exploding upfield, things that you hate doing. You hate the coach being on you about it. When you see a guy doing it when no one’s telling him to do it, it makes you realize he really cares.”
Mundine said he thinks Matthews and Chris Omigiee are the two hardest workers among the receivers participating in spring football.
“I’m going to try my hardest senior year,” Matthews said. “I don’t want to go out like a sucker, so I’m going to give it my all.”
Matthews lined up at receiver at the end of a few games last season but said he didn’t have a single pass thrown to him. He’s listed behind Tre’ Parmalee on the depth chart at the slot, a big step toward more snaps.
Matthews has something in common with every player except one listed on the roster at receiver in that he is seeking his first career TD catch. Andrew Turzilli, who is entering his red-shirt junior season, caught a TD pass against Georgia Tech in 2011. That makes one Division I TD catch on the entire roster at the position. (Junior-to-be JaCorey Shepherd, who shifted to cornerback last season, had two TD receptions in his first college game, against McNeese State in 2011, and picked up a third against Oklahoma State.)
Asked to name a receiver who has caught his eye, Matthews said, “Drew Turzilli. He’s big. He can catch, fast. Can’t stop that.”
Things didn’t work out at Oklahoma for Justin McCay and the Sooners had no trouble signing off on letting him transfer to another Big 12 school. Chances are he never would have played his way onto the depth chart in Norman, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make an impact for Kansas. He’s not a burner, but he’s not slow either. He’s physical with sure hands.
With no sure things on hand, the Jayhawks needed to score big at this position in recruiting and didn’t. Or did they? Mark Thomas, a junior college receiver from New York, runs a 4.4 40 and was overlooked early because he played in a run-first offense. West Virginia recruited him late and the Mountaineers don’t mess with slow receivers. Something about the way head coach Weis looks when he talks about Thomas indicates he thinks he might be the sleeper of the recruiting class.
Weis talked up the receiving unit a year ago at this time and, next to quarterback, it became the team’s most disappointing unit. Don’t look for disappointment to enter the picture this year because expectations hang low.