February 29, 2012

Inside the Huddle: Wide Receiver Competition

With the graduation of starters Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr, there is not a better opportunity then now for someone from this young corp of receivers to step up and separate himself from the pack, where hopefully 2 or 3 can lock down who will be in the lead once spring practice concludes.

First we start with the unfortunate news of junior to be Jared McFarlin leaving the team. The native of Monroe (NY) is a gifted athlete, who pulled down seven passes and one touchdown in 2011 ... both were tops for any of the returning receivers. Perhaps the challenge for McFarlin and maybe even why with his potential he was unable to see more reps in 2011, is the same thing that will either keep receivers off the field or see them get on the field in 2012.

What is that you might ask? Well, within the Army triple option offense, it is a prerequisite that the receivers are physically tough and not just gifted athletically. More specifically, they are required to be able block down field as much as pattern-catch-run.

One player who is starting to come on according to Head Coach Rich Ellerson is current freshman Chevaughn Lawrence, who like McFarlin has tremendous upside. In Lawrence's case, the phrase, "brilliance can be a curse" was starting to hold true for the 6-foot-3, 190 pounder. He was probably the first guy picked no matter what game was being played. But now he's in a game where everyone was picked first and going into his sophomore season, Lawrence is now beginning to learn how to prepare to compete.

So have any player(s) begun to separate themselves from the others? "The guys that I put out in front right now are Patrick Laird and E.J. Tucker," declares the Army head coach. "We said that coming out of the fall that is that I want those guys out there and the reason I want those guys out there is two things. They're the toughest ... the physically toughest guys and the most consistent ball catchers."

Ellerson would be the first to admit that both Laird and Tucker aren't the hardest guys to cover, because neither would be the first chosen if you were picking a 4x100 relay team and when the ball comes down, there will be a defender close by. However, they are physically tough, they will fight you for the ball and they aren't going to drop it.

"And if they are crack blocking you, if they are crack blocking a linebacker, you don't want your kid playing linebacker because they will knock them right out of their shoes.," claims Ellerson, when speaking of one of the attributes that is essential to making your mark at receiver for the Black Knights.

The Standard

So clearly there may be others that have more ability and better athletes than the duo of Laird and Tucker, but the latter group will not beat them out unless they go in there and fight with them ... plain and simple. Meaning, the coaching staff is looking for others who can consistently catch the ball and be as tough as they are.

"Those are the things we value most at receiver; physical toughness and great ball skills," echoes Ellerson, who mentioned there are others who have the potential to show their worth this spring.

Others

"Michael Hudson has some real upside when he decides to compete, he's a son of a gun," states Ellerson.

Then there's Anthony Stephens, where in the case of the junior to be, it may just be a matter of consistency relative to him getting game day reps. Like many of his peers, the 6-foot-2, 190 pounder from Greenville (S.C.) has all the physical tools to make an impact.

"This a great group of guys running around ... we've got some really gifted guys out there." shares the Army mentor.

But the ace in the hole of possible impact receivers for 2012 may actually be a running back and that would Malcolm Brown. Last season, Brown caught seven passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns. "Malcolm right now is obviously not able to practice and I'm looking at the group of backs and I'm going there's a place for Malcolm at receiver," shared Ellerson. "He's a really good receiver and obviously he does some great things in the backfield too."

"Who's going to be standing on the sideline and who's going to be on the field? I don't think I want to look over and see Maples standing next to me or Baggett standing next to me or Brown standing next to me ... I want them all out there."

Driving home the point that the need to ensure that Brown's productivity is on field in some form or fashion and receiver may be an ideal fit for the senior to be.

"Maybe that is the place for him and it just might help him physically as well, where he might be able to stay healthier longer if I can get him a little further away from the ball," Ellerson states.

"And he's the kind of guy you want to get the ball in his hands because he's go a little magic. He's not going to drop it and the first guy is going to have a hell of a time getting him on the ground. I told Coach Shields that I'm not sure we will do it and we made need him because he's obviously productive where he is. But if you put him out there the thing that immediately changes and comes to mind is as a signal caller and coach, I want to get the ball in his hands. And if there's only one guy (defender) out there, he'll make them miss and run for a long time."

For any of that to come to past, Brown must be able recover from the ankle injury that he battled through all of 2011 and that currently has him on the sidelines this spring. He did have surgery to clean up his injury and the staff is hoping to have him back soon.

Surely there is some real competition unfolding at wide receiver. As such, stay tuned for our upcoming series, Spring Forward: The Top 5 Position Battles.

With the graduation of starters Davyd Brooks and Austin Barr, there is not a better opportunity then now for someone from this young corp of receivers to step up and separate himself from the pack. Click here for more

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