Texas Tech begins spring football practice on March 5. This is the third in a series of spring football previews, looking at outside receivers.
As storylines go, one of the biggest for Texas Tech this spring and summer will be who replaces split end Eric Ward, who had three consecutive 80-catch seasons.
The early answer: Any one or two of about a half dozen wide receivers.
“We’ve got a ton of young bodies lining up to try and take over that role, which will be fun,” Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You’ve got D.J. Polite-Bray, Derreck Edwards, Shawn Corker, all guys trying to push and be that starter over there.
“Then after that, we’ll sort through the backups to see who’ll be Reggie’s backup (at flanker) and who’ll be the backup at X (split end). But it’s going to be a fun competition.”
“Reggie” is Reginald Davis, who looked so promising as a redshirt freshman in 2013 that Kingsbury has him penciled in as the No. 1 flanker.
Last season, Bradley Marquez started all 13 games at flanker with Davis as his understudy. There’s a good chance Marquez will start every game next year, too, but rather than keep two of their best pass catchers stacked at the same position, Tech coaches will deploy Marquez somewhere else.
Kingsbury said the senior from Odessa could be used at either inside receiver position — Jace Amaro left a large void at one of those — or even fill the Ward vacancy if the barrel of candidates at that position don’t inspire.
In other words, wherever the Red Raiders have the most pressing need is where Marquez is likely to play.
“Exactly. Exactly,” Kingsbury said. “He’s shown us he can play every position and play them well. So we’re going to find where we think he fits best and best helps the team and then go from there.”
Marquez caught 49 passes for 633 yards and six touchdowns last year and was the team’s best vertical threat. Davis debuted with 15 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns.
Like many freshmen, Davis arrived at Tech with a stellar high-school pedigree. Unlike many freshmen, he’s quickly moving up. There must be more to it than talent.
“He’s got a very calm demeanor,” Kingsbury said. “He’s explosive, obviously, but he has a very calm demeanor, a good work ethic.
“Having played quarterback in high school, he was raw when he got here, and he really got coached up this year more than he did the previous year. You could see his growth just accelerate and I think it’s going to continue to do that with as many reps as he’s going to get this spring and summer.”
Offensive coordinator and receivers coach Eric Morris has to evaluate myriad candidates at the other outside spot. Polite-Bray, Edwards, Corker, Dominique Wheeler and first-semester newcomer Devin Lauderdale all will get their chances.
Corker’s a senior with five career catches. Edwards is a junior with 11 career catches. If either is ever going to grab a prominent spot, they need to move now.
At the end of last season, Polite-Bray was Ward’s top backup. The 2013 signee impressed coaches much more than his two catches for 5 yards would indicate. Late in the year, Morris singled out inside receiver Dylan Cantrell and Polite-Bray as the young pass catchers who had impressed him most.
“D.J.’s a great player,” Edwards said during game-week practice for the Holiday Bowl. “I’m not going to take anything from him. Straight out of Atlanta, Georgia. That’s where the best come from, so he’s working. Very proud of his work ethic.
“When a freshman’s in front of you and you get a little bit older, it makes you want to go get it more. That’s kind of the position I’m in.”
Lauderdale was arguably Tech’s most heralded signee in 2013, but had to detour to Navarro College for one semester. There he caught 33 passes for 669 yards and six touchdowns.
Like the others, Wheeler was a touted signee, though he’s yet to catch a pass.
“A lot of those guys have been here and kind of had to sit back,” Kingsbury said. “They knew no matter what they did, Eric Ward was going to be the starter because he’s that good. Now they get a chance to really shine, and I know they’re excited about that opportunity.”
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