With Mike Davis serving as a reliable centerpiece, this group's ultimate production rests on what we get from a puzzling senior, a precocious freshman, and a talented unproven sophomore; supported by a solid cast of role players.
Let's dive in:
Mike Davis (6-1, 190) is the best receiver on the team and key to any offensive success we have in 2011. He’s also our most versatile pass catcher: nifty in the screen game, can make a tough catch inside, can run multiple routes, and capable of getting deep. He’s a wily athlete who amplifies above average physical traits with high football IQ and skill. While it’s Shipley that gets the plaudits for his purist’s game, Davis actually has a very similar profile. He wants to be good and isn’t shy about expressing it and we need some athletic pride on the offense to give it some sort of identity - particularly if the QB won’t provide it. He reminds me a lot of another Longhorn WR Mike - Mike Adams - though Davis has better hands and more consistency at the same stage. Chalk him up for 60+ catches.
Freshman Jaxon Shipley is a great complement to Mike Davis. Jaxon has better ball skills than his brother Jordan at the same stage (Jaxon is longer, with more of a basketball build), though he’s not as dangerous after the catch. Shipley should factor in heavily in the rotation early and I expect him to start in 3 WR sets by mid-season. No pressure or anything, Jaxon. His ability to get in and out of his breaks is outstanding and his overall knowledge of the position is unique, so handling the playbook shouldn’t be an issue. He’s not physically strong enough to handle an experienced college corner playing press coverage on him yet, so we’ll need to find ways to play him off of the line of scrimmage in the slot, in motion, and in 3-4 WR sets. Jaxon is a baller and should soon be a fan favorite.
With savvy guys like Shipley and Davis playing a prominent role moving the chains, the receiving corps needs a physical freak to emerge and generate fear and exploit physical mismatches outside - particularly when we max protect and chuck it. Last year, we were incapable of threatening a defense downfield and that must change. Enter Darius White. He has big potential as an outside threat with the ability to adjust to the ball in the air with a defender on him and still make a play. He’s our best basketball on grass candidate and though he's 6-2 200, he plays bigger. Though he’s inconsistent you have to play him and take your lumps because when the light does turn on, it’s going be bright. Put the playbook complexity on Shipley and Davis and line Darius up outside with some simple reads and he'll loosen things up.
Or maybe it will be Freak #2 - Malcolm Williams. The Great Potential enters his senior year. He’s 6-3, 230, fast, with a frame that you usually see on a DE. Anyone remember Jerry Porter? Malcolm also has inconsistent hands and between-the-ear problems. It’s not laziness or a lack of effort - Malcolm is trying. Being a receiver is more than just a compilation of combine measures. He can’t run full speed and catch and he isn’t particularly great out of his breaks. I also wonder if he has trouble grasping conceptual stuff. There are still ways to exploit an athletically gifted player who isn’t all that fluid but Williams hasn’t seen that offense. Had he played in a passing offense where he spent his time catching crossing routes that hit the big man on the move or deep posts where he can use his size and strength to shield defenders and look the ball in at an angle, maybe we’d regard him differently. HarsinWhite clearly wants to find some use for Williams, but how and where remain to be seen.
John Harris reminds me of former Longhorn Nate Jones, but we won't have to wait four years for his production. Strong possession receiver (6-2, 205) with good hands and the ability to put a defender on his hip and present a solid target in tight spaces. That’s a QB’s friend and every team needs at least one of these guys. He’s decently athletic after the catch (his senior year as a high school option QB helped him), so he may also have some YAC in him. I don’t think he’ll provide much over the top but he’ll be a contributor and I expect to see him play - essentially he's competing with Onyegbule and McNamara for this role.
DeSean Hales has suffered from not having a clearly defined role in the offense, but he has ability. Right now, his biggest issue is finding a place in which his skill set isn’t already duplicated by some other player and convincing the staff he's an every down receiver. We already know that he can be particularly useful in the screen and short passing game. He has always been game in scrimmages, but we haven't seen it on the field. Yet. His junior year would be a great time to start.
Chris Jones has a good speed and quickness profile paired with a really skinny body (6-0, 160) that needs 15-25 pounds to prevent him from being physically overwhelmed and rerouted by opposing DBs. If he sees time, I think it will be excelling in the screen game. Give him some time and patience.
Brock Fitzhenry will provide depth and special teams play.
Freshman Miles Onyegbule is John Harris redux. Big body (6-3, 210), reliable, acquired some balla skills playing option QB as a senior. He’ll redshirt. This is our obligatory big reliable guy with hands take - basically Dan Buckner without the equestrian fixation.
Junior walk on Patrick McNamara is not listed with a wink and he provides similar things to Harris and Onyegbule. He's a legit 6-3/6-4 210 with really good hands and some ball skills. Dude is a legitimate asset and I don't think his Spring game was a fluke. Obviously, any walk-on has a tough row to hoe to see the field, but he can legitimately get snaps, particularly near the goal line.
We've got a good mix of athletes with clearly defined roles as well as some generalists who can do a bit of everything. As at a few other positions (OT, DE, RB), we need some talented youngsters to come through and for an upperclassman to surprise us. I like this group's potential and I hope they can get the QB and OL play necessary to showcase their skills.
The schemes will be there.