Dylan Cantrell released off the line of scrimmage, slipped in front of a safety and reached out with one hand to snatch a touchdown pass from Davis Webb. Then a Texas Tech freshman, Cantrell showed some style with his first career TD catch last season at Kansas.
Backing up unanimous All-American Jace Amaro, Cantrell didn’t have a chance to show much last season, just glimpses here and there.
But with Amaro an early entry to the NFL after a monster season, there’s room for the 6-foot-3, 208-pound Cantrell to have more of an impact this season. Tech coaches moved senior-to-be Bradley Marquez into Amaro’s spot, but the door’s open for Cantrell to be in the rotation as the No. 2 Y inside receiver in 2014.
“I’m just going in every day trying to work as hard as I can,” Cantrell said. “Bradley’s a veteran. I learn a lot from him. I’m trying to compete with him — compete with the best — because he’s the best receiver on the team right now. So I’m just trying to compete with him and work my way up.”
Coaches decided Cantrell was sufficiently prepared to play in 2013 as a true freshman. He debuted with nine catches for 70 yards, including the one-handed TD catch at Kansas.
“I thought he did a great job on special teams last year and made some plays when we got him in the games,” Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He’s a guy who’s very surehanded, a very smart player, always going to be where he has to be. (We) just have to work on his explosiveness and being able to separate.”
Cantrell took his game snaps last year as an inside receiver after some question about where he’d line up. He played outside at Whitehouse High School, but was pegged as an inside receiver during his recruitment. Last summer, though, he spent some time as an outside receiver with former Tech assistant Sonny Cumbie comparing his body type to that of former Red Raiders flanker Darrin Moore.
Ultimately, coaches settled on Cantrell as an inside guy.
“I like the inside position more, actually, just because there’s a lot more freedom with route running,” Cantrell said, “and I think I’ve gotten a lot better at route running.
“I like to think I can play any receiver position, but as soon as I went inside, it was like a perfect fit for me, so I’m looking forward to this season.”
Marquez is making a similar adjustment this spring. The senior from Odessa started at flanker in 2013, but coaches decided the best use of their personnel was to put Marquez’s experience to work inside and give Reginald Davis a chance to be first-team flanker.
“It’s a little bit different on the routes and things like that, so I’m still getting used to it,” Marquez said. “But it’s still running routes and it’s still the same offense we’ve been running, so I’m excited about the change and I’m looking forward to it.”
The third option at Y inside receiver is redshirt freshman Zach Austin, who put up some impressive numbers in high school at Lake Travis.
Minus Amaro, the Red Raiders will have a very different look at that position, but try to remain as productive as possible.
“It’s not really pressure,” Cantrell said. “Obviously, there’s an opportunity. I plan on getting a lot more reps this year. Just anytime I’m in the game, I’m going to try to make plays and help out the team.”
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