Before we get into this, I want to pause to bitch about something. Why, WHY, why don't we produce any NFL-caliber slot guys; small, smurf-like receivers with great hands and gamebreaking speed? I mean, take a look at the past few years, at all of the BCS conference also-rans and D-1AA and D-2 (and even D-3) guys making it into pro football:
- Randall Cobb (5-foot-10), Kentucky
- Cecil Shorts (5-11), Mount Union
- Kealoha Pilares (5-9) Hawaii
- Dwayne Harris (5-10), ECU
- Aldrick Robinson (5-9), SMU
- T.Y. Hilton (5-10), Florida International
- Chris Givens (5-11), Wake Forest
- Tavon Austin (5-9), West Virginia
- Markus Wheaton (5-10), Oregon State
- Ace Sanders (5-7),
- Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera
My point is this: I think UVA puts too much stock in size when it comes to wide receiver prospects. I think Al Groh did it, and I think Mike London is doing it. YES, we recruited Stefon Diggs (who is just south of 6-feet tall) and Dom Terrell and Darius Jennings each ring in at 5-11, but by and large we only target guys 6-2 and up. While the size to tower over defensive backs and compete for jump balls can be awesome... what's better is having receivers with actual speed and explosive playmaking potential. The ability to actually catch the fucking football is also a plus. Relax the insistence on finding receivers with prototypical size, and just go get guys who'll make plays. If Kentucky, SMU, and freaking Mount Fucking Union can do it, why can't we? Anyway, soapboxing over, on to the main event.
For the 2013 receiving corps (and tight ends), the movie I love is...
|Seriously, awesome movie.|
And you Wes Anderson haters can kiss my grits.
In Bottle Rocket, Anthony is the protagonist, the movie's point-of-view main character, and also extremely damaged goods. You are watching him cope with his problems and issues, while trying to support his friends and find his own way.
[Senior wide receiver] Tim Smith is a similar protagonist, damaged goods trying to fight through an ugly injury history in order to put together a transcendent senior campaign and finally make good on all the promise that made him a 4-star prospect in the 2009 recruiting class.
Smith is fast, and he can catch. He's experienced, and driven. He has something to play for this season -- the state of his legacy, and his future pro potential. It's hard not to pull for him... and it's similarly hard to truly and completely count on him. He's just been too flimsy and fragile over the course of his career, and as our de facto #1 wideout (I won't say go-to receiver, because that's Jake McGee), at this point Smith has got to be considered more of a question mark than an exclamation point.
But if he stays healthy all season, I think Tim Smith will give us that #1 guy we need. He's got everything you want in a good wide receiver, minus the hulking size. If he stays healthy, I predict a good season from him... with at least 50 receptions, 750 yards, and 5 TDs. Like Anthony, Tim Smith is looking to fight through that damaged goods label in order to finally make good on his potential.
[Much] more Tim Smith:
Anthony's self-delusioned, ambitious sidekick is Dignan, the "mastermind" behind the Lawn Wranglers and the series of ill-conceived heists that culminate with the über-botched ice factory robbery. Dignan has a certain genius that he's never really able to saddle and ride, but watching him being repeatedly bucked off his own brain is the real magic of the movie.
[Junior wide receiver] Darius Jennings is our Dignan. He has genius - gamebreaking speed, surgical cuts in his route-running, slick open field moves, and natural talent oozing out of every pore - but he struggles on the field to pull it all together, mostly due to his inconsistent hands. If you can't catch the ball, you can't be an impactful receiver.
I have always been enamored with DJ's skillset and abilities, but the drops that plagued him in key moments last season more than undid any of the big plays he was able to put together. I mean, we went 4-8 last season against a shitty schedule, it's hard to say too many good things about anybody on the team outside of maybe Jake McGee. But to me, Darius Jennings was especially disappointing, though his stat line of 48-568-5 was solid. I had higher hopes, and until Jennings meets those expectations, I'll be lukewarm.
The drop against TCU and the drop against UNC (you know which ones I'm talking about) came at key moments in those contests, where a big play from our big-play receiver might have put us in those games. Those drops hurt. Those drops hurt bad. I haven't forgotten them.
However, I will eagerly admit that Jennings still has fantastic potential, and is the most explosive, dynamic receiving option on our roster. So it won't take me long to come back around to loving the guy. One 75-yard touchdown reception on play action will have me buying back in, and hard. And who knows? With another season of development, maybe he hauls in that sideline grab in Fort Worth and that play action bomb against the Tarholes.
As the dust settles, Dignan's the best character in Bottle Rocket, and DJ is the best receiver at UVA... fully-realized genius or not.
Anthony and Dignan's bumbling friend Bob is their getaway driver... but only because he's the only one who has a car. Bob's family is rich, so he's lived a sheltered life, but he has resources at his disposal. In the end, Bob just wants to be accepted.
[Junior wide receiver] Dominique Terrell is a lot like Bob Maplethorpe. I don't want to go down the path that a slot specialist is like an offense's "getaway car" escape route, because that's not how football works anymore. (Slot receivers are now star receivers, just ask Victor Cruz and Wes Welker.) Instead, I'll say that Terrell's drops mirror Bob's bumbling, and if he can get his shit together he just might be a high-functioning part of the team.
Okay, look. I doubt anybody in the world is as down on Terrell as I am. But the dude had basically a wasted freshman season, catching eight passes for 59 yards. His sophomore season in 2012 was statistically better, going 38-for-475, but failing to find paydirt. But also in 2012, Terrell badly failed the eyeball test, displaying butterfingers the likes of which I have never before seen from a UVA receiver. I acknowledge the Miami game, where he went 9-for-127 (with the Hurricanes completely surrendering the middle of the field), but you have to give me his horrific, terrible, horrible, horrendous, egregious drops. If Darius Jennings' hands were inconsistent, then Dominique Terrell's hands were... just plain bad.
But all is not lost. He's still a talented young player. There's a fair amount of hype surrounding Terrell, after he had a good spring and a good training camp. He's quick - very quick - and could be a real weapon if he can catch the damn ball.
Personally, I've all but given up on the guy. I don't think a switch can get flipped and a guy with hands that bad can all of a sudden haul everything in like he should. My wish is that we see more two-tight sets and that Terrell cedes playing time to E.J. Scott, who CAN and DOES catch the ball.
But Dominique Terrell is a Mike London guy, and he's going to play and play a lot. So I'm keeping expectations low while allowing hopes to creep higher. At worst, Terrell has resources at his disposal, whether or not he ever ends up being a fully-functional part of the team.
Futureman is Bob's little brother, a winner, a natural talent, handsome, athletic, confident (read: cocky), and the rightful heir to the Maplethorpe family riches.
Pretty simple connection here. In receiving terms, UVA's Futureman is [sophomore wide receiver] Adrian Gamble. Gamble has the right WR size (6-2, 185), has speed to burn, is a great leaper, makes tough catches in traffic, and shows flashes of brilliance. All he lacks is experience, and with the Smith-Jennings-Terrell logjam in front of him, this probably isn't his season to shine. But he'll be Tim Smith's understudy, and will be heir to that outside receiver starting job the second Smith graduates.
Futureman is a minor character in the movie, just like Gamble will likely be a minor part of the offense this season. But when he's on screen, he'll sparkle. He's the future, man.
Said simply, Mr. Henry runs shit. He's James Caan, baby!
The ultimate authority in our passing game this season will be [junior tight end] Jake McGee. I couldn't care less if he can block, you saw the catches he made last year. You saw the big plays. Two of our four wins can be directly attributed to huge catches by McGee. He's a year older, a year stronger, a year better, and now has coaches who know what the fuck they're doing with a talent like this.
McGee is a new-wave "move" tight end. (Think Aaron Hernandez, minus the execution-style killing.) He's athletic and fast, a great "go up and get it" type of guy. He'll flex out to the slot, or even out wide. He'll go in motion. He'll be the focal point of the short and intermediate passing game, and with his plus-plus speed for a tight end, he'll also be asked to slice down some seams in the deep passing game. (Note: I don't give a shit if he can in-line block, and I don't want to see him getting beat up trying to block for running plays. Just have him run a route and drag defenders with him, away from where the running plays are headed. Decoy, baby.) McGee's our best weapon, and he needs 10+ targets in every game, or frankly we're just not doing it right.
I don't need to belabor this. There's a reason Jake McGee is square in the center of the 2013 Virginia Football poster. There's a reason he's on the front of the wallet-size schedule handout. There's a reason his #83 jersey is being sold in the bookstore. The reason is that he's our best receiver, and probably our best player on offense.
Mr. Henry runs shit, and so too does Jake McGee.
The Lawn Wranglers
This season's role players:
- E.J. Scott, junior, wide receiver -- If I had my druthers (I don't), E.J. Scott would be our starting slot receiver (he isn't). But a repeat of last season's 29-390-3 stat line isn't out of the question, even as the 4th or 5th receiver. One thing is certain: if/when we need a clutch catch, #19 should be on the field.
- Zachary Swanson, junior, tight end -- God bless you, Connor Wingo-Reeves. Even if you redshirt, your presence at fullback allows us to move Swanson back to tight end, where his high-slung 6-foot-6 frame is a much more natural fit. I actually really like Swanson as a player, and the times I've seen him working at tight end left me pretty impressed. I think he'll see the field a lot this fall, and I think he'll make some plays.
- Miles Gooch, junior, wide receiver -- GOOOOOOOOOOCCCCH! He's tall, and big, and strong, and a great blocker, and a decent red zone receiving option. None of that adds up to a hill of beans, really, but Goocher is a fine role player for this team. He is - and should be - a fan favorite. I bitch when players don't behave in a manner that suggests a team-first mentality (Clifton Richardson, et al), and one look at Gooch's career arc tells you that he eats, lives, and bleeds a team-first mentality. I'm hoping he gets on the field in a few goal-to-go situations and makes a handful of plays like that sweet-ass touchdown reception against Miami.
- Canaan Severin, sophomore, wide receiver -- He's HUGE (6-2, 225), and I'm excited to see him on the field. He might stampede his way into some sub packages, but any sort of tangible role is likely just outside of his massive catch radius for this season.
- Rob Burns, sophomore, tight end -- After seeing him star in the Spring Game, I'm ready for more. He's a converted defensive lineman, and brings that nastiness and physicality to the tight end position. He's every bit of 6-foot-7. He can block. Plus, it looks like he can catch. I'm intrigued.
- Kyle Dockins, redshirt freshman, wide receiver -- Another big wideout, and another guy who I thought looked great in the Spring Game. He's behind Severin in the pecking order, which means he's currently no better than the 8th wide receiver in 2013. Wow.
- Mario Nixon, redshirt freshman, tight end -- He needs to stay healthy, but he's got McGee-level potential as a move tight end.
- Jamall Brown, redshirt freshman, wide receiver -- He's a fast guy? I think?
The 75 Year Plan