For a team that lost five senior receivers, all of whom contributed at some level, Texas Tech won’t go into the 2013 season void of pass-catching options.
Senior split end Eric Ward, coming off two big seasons, leads a group that has a framework in place with flanker Bradley Marquez and inside receivers Jace Amaro and Jakeem Grant.
On the other hand, a receiving corps with almost no experienced returning depth might be hard-pressed to make up all that 2012 seniors Darrin Moore, Alex Torres, Austin Zouzalik, Marcus Kennard and Tyson Williams provided.
Co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie said developing leadership is critical.
“The ability is there physically,” Cumbie said last week. “It’s just mentally, there’s got be somebody tough enough to step up and lead that group. That’s what we lost was a lot of experience, mental toughness and guys that had made some plays. We’ll replace them with some guys that are
really talented, but how quickly will they adapt?”
None of the four first-team receivers seems in danger of being supplanted. Ward has the track record, Grant the speed, Amaro the combination of size and pass-catching ability and Marquez a great makeup to go with his talent.
Ward, coming off back-to-back seasons of 80-plus catches and double-digit touchdowns, no longer has Moore to draw away a defense’s attention. They flourished in 2012, when Moore caught 92 passes for 1,032 yards and 13 touchdowns. Now Marquez, who had 16 catches in six games before a season-ending knee injury, takes over Moore’s spot.
Cumbie said he wants to see Ward lose a few pounds, get a tick faster and be a leader for a much-younger unit.
Tech coaches also would love to see Amaro put together a full season, considering he missed six games last year with a spleen injury. The big tight end caught 25 passes for 409 yards and four TDs in seven games.
Who knows what he might do in 13 games, especially as he becomes more of a focal point.
“We’re big on adapting to our personnel,” new coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He has a certain skill set, obviously, that not many people have. We’re going to have to be creative and get mismatches with him on linebackers and work it from there.”
Tech came out of spring with Jordan Davis behind Amaro at “Y” inside receiver, Foster backing Grant at “H” inside receiver, redshirt freshman Reginald Davis the understudy to Marquez and a pool of youngsters behind Ward.
When asked which backups were the most solid, Kingsbury pointed to three.
“I think Sadale and Jordan and Reg give you guys that you feel great playing with,” Kingsbury said. “And then over at X (split end), you’ve got to get some of those young guys to come on.
“I was really impressed with Jordan and Sadale, playing the slot the limited amount of time he’s done it, and then Reg, the way he came on. Any of those guys you put in there and feel great about.”
Aside from the starters, Jordan Davis’ ascension was perhaps the most pleasant development of spring. The junior from Arlington went from walk-on to the scholarship rolls.
“He’s a kid that probably runs the best routes on our team,” said co-offensive coordinator Eric Morris, who coaches the inside receivers. “He’s really savvy, understands concepts, understands space, understands zones. He just understands the game and that gives him an edge and allows him to get open, and he knows where he wants to work in different coverages.”
Coaches will audition at least four candidates to back up Ward — sophomore Derreck Edwards and redshirt freshman Dominique Wheeler, along with freshman signee Gary Moore and freshman Peyton Williams, a former Southlake Carroll standout who transferred from Colorado.
Edwards is one of the fastest players on the team. He’s shown flashes, catching a touchdown pass in last year’s bowl victory against Minnesota and scoring an 83-yard touchdown in the spring game. But the former Brenham star has never been able to seize a regular role.
“He’s got to show up and be a guy that we can count on, because up to this point he really hasn’t been,” Cumbie said. “He’s got speed that some guys don’t have, but he doesn’t play as fast as he is. Whether it’s a mental deal or it’s coaching, we’ve got to coach him better or find a way to get it out of him.”
If none of the returnees claims the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, Ward’s backup could be Moore, the 6-foot-5 wideout from Class 2A Clarksville. Moore already has generated a buzz around the Tech football facility with what he’s done in summer workouts, ones coaches aren’t permitted to supervise.
The question is which receiver position is his best fit.
“We knew we wanted him on the outside, because he’s such a big target,” Cumbie said. “He’s so big and so long, he creates a mismatch size-wise, especially in the red zone. With Eric (Ward), we figured he’d be a good guy to learn with, and he brings something different to the table than Eric does.”
There’s also room for someone to compete for time at flanker. That’s partly because Javon Bell didn’t make the grade in the spring and partly because current No. 2 Reginald Davis is a novice receiver. Davis, the former star from Class 1A Tenaha, made the most of his opportunity in the spring, though.
“He’s just real raw,” Cumbie said. “He’s raw at the top of his routes, getting in and out of breaks. He runs really well. He has great ball get-off. Anytime we have a scrimmage, when the lights come on, he shows up. But we’ve got to have him do it on a day-to-day basis in practice.”
If Davis hits a lull, junior Shawn Corker or freshmen signees Dylan Cantrell or D.J. Polite-Bray could make a push. Corker made some plays in spring scrimmages. Polite-Bray has what Cumbie calls “difference-making speed” and good route-running polish for a freshman.
Tech initially signed Cantrell with the thought he’d be a “Y” inside receiver, thanks to some agility to go with his 6-4 frame. The former Whitehouse standout still might land there long-term, but he’ll begin August workouts on the outside at flanker.
“He reminds me outside of Darrin Moore — that type of body,” Cumbie said. “He’s not near that type of player right now, but he’s big and strong, he runs well, and he has good body control and ball skills.”
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Depth chart: receivers
Split end: Eric Ward, Sr.; Derreck Edwards, So./Dominique Wheeler, Fr.; Peyton Williams, Fr.; Gary Moore, Fr.
Inside receiver (H): Jakeem Grant, So.; Sadale Foster, Sr.; Carlos Thompson, Fr.; Brent Mitcham, Jr.
Inside receiver (Y): Jace Amaro, Jr.; Jordan Davis, Jr.; Aaron Fisher, Sr.; Jacob Hurla, Jr.; Brad Pearson, So.
Flanker: Bradley Marquez, Jr.; Reginald Davis, Fr.; Shawn Corker, Jr.; Dylan Cantrell, Fr./D.J. Polite-Bray, Fr.
Seniors lost: WR Alex Torres, WR Darrin Moore, WR Marcus Kennard, IR Austin Zouzalik, IR Tyson Williams.
Departures with eligiblity remaining: FL Javon Bell, TE Cameron Wright (to student assistant coach)