First, the Depth Chart for MTSU:
X - Dye, Clear, B. Ford
A (slot) - Jacoby, M. Jones
Z - T. Ashe, J. Brown
Bryce McNeal will be redshirted.
Other than Ford, the receivers with experience (Xavier Dye, Marquan Jones, Terrance Ashe) have a total of 25 career catches and two starts.
Given the inexperience we have coming in this season at Wideout, I've gone through most of the articles available and picked out the most important information on each player. I really believe that if our WRs can catch whats thrown to them (and Parker throws bullets) and run better routes than last year (which I thought was awful), we're going to be just fine at WR. Jeff Scott was interviewed earlier this week about most of the receiving corps and had a few things to say, as have Dabo Swinney and Napier.
Napier had this to say regarding the up-tempo pace the offense has been subjected to in practice, and the WRs ability to process information.
"They had trouble adapting. They'd get winded, they'd drop more balls, maybe a little less focus, a little more fatigued. We're also short in numbers at receiver. But they've had the summer to get ready, and I think they've become a more consistent, productive group."
Now that Jacoby Ford is FINALLY back at full speed and taking contact, Swinney was asked this in his presser:
Question: Talk about the players who have benefited from Jacoby being out.
Swinney: "I think all those guys have benefited, all those guys who play the Z and the A, not as much Dye and Clear. They've been pretty much predominant X-guys. Marquan would be the main guy who has really, really benefited from Jacoby being limited in early camp, although Jacoby is doing everything now.
My biggest worry is just that Jacoby hasnt been taking hits in practice and basically missed all of spring ball due to track. How will that rust show on the field? Jacoby was never an awesome route-runner, or catcher, he's just so fast that he makes up for it at times and this guy really needs to catch about 70 balls this season for us (55 for 710 last year). I don't agree with Swinney's decision to let him miss spring ball for track. Track doesnt bring home the bacon.
"Coach Swinney knew we could help out a whole other program by doing another sport, so he's all for that," Ford said. "When he wanted us to practice, he would text us and tell us to come to practice this long, or come by this period and stay this long. He definitely didn't have a problem with us missing the spring."
"We don't really have a number one receiver," Jacoby said. "We just say, 'You're at this position; you're at this position; you're at this position. Now just go make a play.' That's pretty much how we look at it."
"I definitely wanted to play a lot in camp, just to go out there and be out there with those guys.I definitely didn't like sitting on the sideline and watching my receivers out there working while I'm not really working."
Swinney also challenged Ford and Spiller to become true team leaders.
"Both have that ability. And it's not even with their words, but with their body language. It's how they carry themselves, how they respond if they make a bad play," he said. "They bring out the best in all those other guys."
Marquan Jones is slated on the 2-deep behind Jacoby Ford, but also plays behind Ashe in some packages, so he will be on the field a fair bit instead of Jaron Brown, but really hasn't been talked about much this fall, though the coaches say he's been stellar. He has had issues putting on too much weight in the past, especially last year, and has worked on this during the offseason to harness his speed and not slow himself down too much with weightlifting.
"Marquan is a guy that we feel can go out and play in that first group. We feel fortunate, because we've really got three guys for those two spots – with Jaron (Brown) and the progress he's been showing. But Marquan would be the first guy at those two positions.
He has a very strong work ethic, and I think he got in the weight room and really maxed it out as hard as he could go and got a little too much weight on him. He's trimmed down and playing a lot faster. I think that's part of it, and also in processing what he's doing on his routes and playing faster without the ball."
Jones was asked about his PT, or lack thereof, last season, playing 89 snaps in 8 games. He didnt play in 4 of the last 7 games.
"A lot of people who asked me about that don't really know the inside game," Jones said. "When they look into it, they say: 'Oh, (Jones) may be the best athlete. But that's not what it's really about. It's about game feel and intelligence."
"I probably wasn't ready to play at that level," he said. "Playbook-wise, I probably wasn't in it as strong as I should've been."
"Now, it's more of me getting in there and reacting instead of thinking what I have to do," Jones said. "I know my assignments better than I did last year, and it's causing me to go out there and just play."
Swinney says his 4.38 speed just doesnt carry to the field, and that's his primary problem now.
"He hasn't played fast," he said. "Jacoby was a little like that his freshman year and then made the transition. That's what I'm looking for out of Marquan."
The X-position is one where the reciever plays on the Flank and needs to be taller and more muscular than the other two. All three players are at least 6'4", meaning that Parker should be able to throw it up and they should catch it. First, Xavier Dye
Evaluation of Xavier Dye?
Scott. "The biggest thing has just been a consistency deal. He has been doing better over the last two weeks. He can go out and make some unbelievable catches, and then at times not make the routine catches. Just getting a consistency play-in and play-out is something we've been looking for. But I'm encouraged, and I think our staff is encouraged by the progress he's made the last two weeks."
Scott went on to say that his starting job, for now, is solid despite the dropsies. I saw Dye play in HS and he basically had to sit the bench at Byrnes for part of his final season because of some transfer issues, so he never really produced there, in my opinion. He was better at Greenwood. Since coming to CU he's been in on a few plays as a backup, similar to Ashe. His biggest issue is the drops. He really didnt do much last year, but was in on a few plays.
He's backed up by Brandon Clear, a sophomore with 17 plays to his name, who has been held out of contact due to a rib injury for most of camp. He's now available to play and is back to contact. He seems to be making his most gains on Dye in the catching ability area.
"Brandon (Clear) is one where a lot of stuff just did not come natural. He's been here two going on three years now, and for some people it takes longer to develop. I've been really impressed with his hands, the consistency in his hands. That's the biggest difference I've seen. He's been catching the majority of the balls, where in the spring he wasn't as consistent as we wanted. But no question, the more he's able to get back out and do what he's doing right now, he'll be in position to push Xavier at the X position."
"The game is becoming easier, I've been here going on three years. It's starting to slow down. I'm able to read the defenses. And really I'm just trying to become a better teammate. My team really needs me to step up this year. We lost some great players. We're not going to be able to fill their shoes, but I feel like we can come along as a receiving corps. We're very young, but we're very talented. And I feel like we're going to make some great strides during the season.
"I'm a little bit behind in conditioning, but other than that I've been paying attention, making sure I'm studying my playbook, and just keep picking up the plays. … It was just great getting back out there, running routes, catching balls. I was making sure I was staying in conditioning, but there's nothing that can match football conditioning."
""I'll tell you; he's a guy who has come a long way and has really worked hard. He's a high energy guy. He didn't have a great football foundation and has had a lot to learn but he has really turned the corner," noted coach Swinney. "He's playing much faster. His technique is much better. He's doing things right. He's not busting as many assignments. His technique is much better and he's finishing plays. He's playing fast and explosive."
3rd String is RS Fr. Brandon Ford (6'4 215), who has missed more time lately with a foot injury. Though he is down the chart, he is considered one of the most talented at the position, catching around 70 passes for 1500 yards and 20TDs as a senior. He has rotated with the 2nd slot (W) as well as Z position as well. Whether Brandon Ford will develop into a threat this year:
"he's got a hurt foot right now. So he's missed the past two days of practice, which has hurt him. But he showed a lot of progress this spring and earlier this fall camp. But he still has a ways to go. I expect him to continue to work, and we'll kind of see how he develops."
His primary difficulty seems to be just his quickness off the line of scrimmage and running his routes.
"Getting off the ball is still a weakness. I have a tendency to sometimes slow down. But I've worked on that every day," Ford said. "Coach (Jeff) Scott told me that I've got to work on my releasing off the ball, technique and attention to detail.
"They've told me that anybody can make a play here or there, but for me I've got to become more consistent and work on the little things. I have to know where I need to go."
"Wherever they need me, that's where they're going to use me. I'll play anywhere. If it's a deep ball they need, I'll go get it. If it's a block, I'll go do it. I'm just glad to be getting a lot of reps."
He now wears #80, Kelly's number.
Bryce McNeal was pushed by Napier and Swinney towards redshirt status, primarily because of his lack of muscle (6'2 172). Jeff Scott believes the kid can play now at A and Z, but the depth above him is good enough that he's not needed, and agrees that he needs about 10-15lbs put on his frame. He has spent considerable extra time with Scott on learning the plays, above and beyond the others.
I don't think our decision in trying to redshirt Bryce is any indication on where he is mentally or physically. There's no question he has some ability that is very, very special. He's got a quick twitch. He can put his foot in the ground and separate. He's got excellent hands. He's very knowledgeable about what he's doing."
"I think Bryce is a long way away from contributing right now, to be honest with you, not only mentally but physically," the coach said. "But the guy has talent. He's got the genetics. He's got the makeup to be a good wideout.
"I think he's really lacking in strength, and right now mentally things are a little fast. He's got to process information, and then all of a sudden Byron Maxwell walks up in his face, it's a little bit more difficult. But we're excited about him. He's going to be a good player for us."
"The tempo of practice itself is high. You're trying to keep up with everybody else. I have to try to really make that happen, considering the fact that I don't really know what's going on with the playbook yet."
"If they tell me that I'm going to red-shirt, then I'm going to use it to get better and know that it was the best decision for our team. If I have to red-shirt, I will not be lackadaisical about it. I'll try to work very hard to get better so that I'm in an even better position to help my team next year."
Jaron Brown lines up at Z, backing up T. Ashe on the other flank. He's made a few great plays in spring ball and in scrimmages, but still being a RS Freshman he isnt expected to contribute just yet.
"It's been an adjustment," Brown said. "I'm learning the playbook, getting a lot of reps, picking up on the concepts and learning to play faster."
Jeff Scott was asked about whether he can be counted on to produce from day one and his ball skills improvement.
"Jaron has that fast twitch that you really look for," Scott said. "He's nowhere close to his potential. He did not play in a spread scheme in high school, so it's been new for him, but he pays attention in our meetings and every day he's learning," Scott said. "We're excited about his potential. He has a really high ceiling."
Obviously he's never played in a game before, so you know that. But we're preparing him, and I think as the year goes on his role will increase. He'll be given a little bit out there at the beginning, and we'll see how he responds. But he's a guy I expect as the year goes on will become a bigger and bigger factor for us.
In the spring, and in the fall of last year on the scout team, he liked to catch everything with his body. We've really been working on him getting his hands out in front of his body and framing the ball. He's done a really good job with that.
Coach Swinney compares him to Derrick Hamilton:
"That Jaron Brown is going to be some kind of dynamite football player," Swinney said. "It's really starting to click for him.
"He was a raw kid when he came in here. He really took advantage of his redshirt," he said. "I think (he) will be a Derrick Hamilton kind of player.
"I think he's got better ball skills than Derrick. He's got those similar traits and athleticism that Derrick had."
Terrance Ashe played sparingly last year, but moreso than Dye or Brandon Clear and the coaches rave about his route-running ability and pass-catching skills.
"Terrence is probably our most consistent guy of the whole wide receiver group. The thing I like about Terrence is, you get full speed out of him all the time. He does not know how to slow down his motor. I believe he got four IV's in the first six days of practice. I've told some of my guys that they don't go fast enough to get themselves to that point.
"He knows all three positions. We can win with Terrence playing X, A or Z. He just gives you so many more opportunities to put him in the game. Him and Jacoby are probably the most knowledgeable guys in my room. He'll be a big factor for us this year, no question. He's been consistent all camp. I can hardly remember him dropping a ball or doing anything wrong. He's a guy you just accept in your mind that he's going to get it done, and now we've got to get the young guys to that level."
So while Ashe might've been the least heralded of all our WRs as a recruit, it seems he will end up as the most dependable.
Obviously you hear too much positives in all these quotes, some need foot quickness and some still cant catch either, and it doesnt get mentioned enough. So who do you think will be our major producer at Wideout?