About this series: This is the fifth in a series of previews of Kansas University’s football team by position. The series will run Wednesdays and Sundays in the Journal-World. Coming Sunday: defensive backs.
The unofficial buzz word for the 2010 Kansas University receiving corps may go a long way toward determining how successful the Jayhawks are under first-year head coach Turner Gill.
“One of our team goals this year is to have a more explosive offense,” wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt said. “We want to make it so (our receivers) are always involved in explosive plays.”
In order to do that, at least a couple of receivers will have to explode onto the scene for the Jayhawks, who will take the field without the 186 catches, 2,322 yards and 17 touchdowns that NFL draft picks Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier delivered a season ago.
“Any time you lose that kind of production, that you’ve been able to count on, someone has to step in and fill that role,” Wyatt said. “I think the positive for us is we have some guys who have played some significant minutes. Obviously their roles will have to increase, but we do have some talented guys at the position. It’s a matter of the learning curve and guys stepping up being more significant parts of the offense.”
In line to get the first crack are a pair of upperclassmen who have run plenty of routes during their time at Kansas.
Senior Johnathan Wilson, who essentially was the third starter in the Jayhawks’ wide-open, spread offense last season, is the most experienced of the bunch. During his three years at KU, Wilson, 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, has totaled 81 receptions, 1,074 yards and three TDs. Those totals include an average of 39 grabs and 511 yards during the past two seasons.
More important than his numbers, however, are the intangibles Wilson brings to the position. Be it in practice or when game day arrives, Wyatt said Wilson’s been-there, done-that mentality will be a huge asset.
“That’s the most important thing for me as a coach,” Wyatt said. “Having guys that are familiar with game preparation and walking onto a field at this level in front of 50- or 75- or 80,000 people and being asked to make plays.”
The KU roster features a couple of other players who have shown the ability to make plays when given the chance. Sophomore Bradley McDougald, 6-1, 195, gained 318 yards on 33 receptions during his six starts in 2009. Junior Daymond Patterson, 5-9, 173, also has starting experience. He made two starts during his freshman year — 14 catches, 154 yards and two TDs — before being moved to defense last season.
“With John’s experience and Daymond Patterson’s experience and McDougald getting some significant minutes last year, at least you have that going into the season,” Wyatt said. “You have guys that have played and started games. That’s a big deal.”
After returning to his natural position, Patterson sparkled this spring, leading the team on the field as well as in the box score. His four grabs from the slot during the spring game showed what he’s capable of.
“Daymond has some speed. Of course, you want to try to get the ball to those guys and he’s one of our faster young men out there,” offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. “He takes a lot of pride in it. We like his demeanor, his work ethic and that goes a long way.”
A few other receivers enjoyed breakout performances at the spring game, as well. Red-shirt freshman Chris Omigie, 6-4, 194, hauled in a 72-yard touchdown pass to start the scoring, red-shirt freshman quarterback-turned-receiver Christian Matthews, 6-1, 186, made a leaping TD grab for the game-winner, and sophomore D.J. Beshears, 5-8 174, led all receivers with five receptions in the same role that Patterson played.
Add red-shirt freshman Erick McGriff, who battled injuries all spring, and four true freshmen to that group and you’re looking at one of the deepest and most competitive units on the squad.
So which guys seem to be the best fit for the system that Gill and Long want to run?
“To be honest with you, the thing that we have, the thing that we love about the system is that it’s versatile,” Wyatt said. “We would like to have versatile receivers. Ideally, with our outside guys, we like longer guys and then in our slot positions we like smaller, quicker guys.”
Omigie, Wilson, McGriff and Matthews seem to fill the first role, with Beshears and Patterson being ideal fits for the second.
“When you have the flexibility with a number of guys that can make plays, it’s harder for the defense to game plan you,” Wyatt said. “It’s harder for the defense to single in on one or two guys and try to take them away. Our challenge as a coaching staff is to tweak the offense. We always talk about it being a player-based offense and we’re going to tweak the passing game and make it geared toward what our players can do.”
That’s for the coaches. As for the players, Wyatt said the biggest challenge will be for someone to establish himself as the primary target.
“We don’t have a receiver that has been a go-to guy,” he said. “So that’s the question that has to be answered.”
The Jayhawks report for preseason camp Aug. 3. Practices begin Aug. 4.