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Spring Preview - Receivers
And then there's Damore'ea Stringfellow. Stringfellow, along with sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles, has been indefinitely suspended for a violation of team rules stemming from an altercation that took place Super Bowl Sunday. On Monday first-year head coach Chris Petersen told Mitch Levy on Sports Radio KJR that nothing has changed with regard to the suspensions, so the thought is that both will most likely miss spring football while the city of Seattle continues to investigate the incident.
So now what? With UW's top-two big receivers out for spring, how will Petersen, OC Jonathan Smith, and WR Coach Brent Pease adjust? Or will they change anything?
2 Kasen Williams - 6-2, 212 Sr. Sammamish, Wash. (Skyline) - The unquestioned leader of the group, Williams is that classic possession receiver that can high-point the ball with the best of them and also use his strength and determination to get plenty of yards after the catch. The most dependable receiver UW has, when healthy - but he'll be overcoming foot and ankle injuries this spring and will most likely be working out on his own in order to be 100 percent for the fall.
4 Jaydon Mickens - 5-10, 170 Jr. Los Angeles, Calif. (Dorsey) - Another classic body type, this time the 'scat' back, the quick, darting player that can make defenders miss on a dime. Mickens has been utilized mostly in the screen game, but can also get downfield when needed and can also be used as a back in fly motion and other ways to get him in space. Another player that thrives on YAC.
16 Marvin Hall - 5-10, 182 Jr. Los Angeles, Calif. (Dorsey) - A player similar to Mickens, just not as explosive or as consistent in catching the ball compared to his former high school teammate. Hall is a talent, though and his time is now to shine.
23 Kendyl Taylor - 5-10, 198 So. Chandler, Ariz. (Hamilton) - It's been a while since we've seen Taylor, who redshirted 2013 in order to create some space in a crowded receiver room. He should now be bigger, faster, and stronger. Taylor came to UW as a possession player, very comfortable with the ball in his hands as a running back after the catch, very smooth with his moves.
9 Damoree'a Stringfellow - 6-3, 225 So. Perris, Calif. (Rancho Verde) - Another classic big receiver in the Williams mold, Stringfellow is even bigger than Kasen. He's got an NFL-type body right now, and uses it well in positioning himself between the ball and defenders. He's a great compliment to the smaller receivers in this group because his forte is catching the ball in the intermediate and deep zones. And of course he's a tremendous asset blocking downfield for the scatbacks. A true all-around talent that's got his best football still ahead of him.
11 John Ross - 5-11, 173 So. Long Beach, Calif. (Jordan) - Ross is scary athletic. We saw it against Idaho State and we also saw it on special teams against Oregon State and BYU; when he gets in the open field it's lights out for the defense. He has game-breaking speed, so it's just a matter of how can Chris Petersen and company get the ball in his hands, and how often. He can kill you in a variety of ways.
86 Taelon Parson - 6-1, 185 RFr. walk-on Gilbert, Ariz. (Perry) -
83 Neel Salukhe - 5-10, 149 RFr. walk-on San Jose, Calif. (The Harker School) -
81 Wesley Salyer - 5-9, 172 RFr. walk-on Puyallup, Wash. (Rogers) -
Departing Players: 3 (Kevin Smith, DiAndre Campbell, Antavius Sims)
Incoming This Fall: 2 (Brayden Lenius, Dante Pettis)
Where the Position Stands: With only six returning receivers on scholarship - and two likely out per the above - it's going to be prime time for players like Mickens, Hall and Ross to get in as many reps as they can with the quarterbacks fighting for their own spots. It'll be tough not having Williams available while he's still recovering from the nasty ankle/foot injury against Cal that cost him his season, but he's a veteran enough presence now that he'll bounce back strong and lead the Huskies come fall.
There's not a lot of players returning for spring, but what they lack in numbers they make up for in quality. Mickens, Hall and Ross combined for 89 catches, 1036 yards, and six touchdowns. Those three, with Williams and Stringfellow when they rejoin the room, will absolutely make up the core of the 2014 UW receiving group.
There's not a ton of numbers at receiver - and only two true freshmen coming in for the summer LEAP program in Lenius and Pettis - so those available for spring will have to be serious contributors. We all know Petersen can throw the ball down the field, and this group will get tons of opportunities starting Tuesday to show what they can do with a new coaching staff on watch.
Who Has the Edge?: Mickens became the go-to receiver for departed quarterback Keith Price, catching 65 passes for 688 yards and five touchdowns, mostly via screens and passes quickly thrown at the line of scrimmage to create mis-matches on the outside. I'd expect to see more of that in the spring.
Ross came on strong later in the season, although his one score was a 57-yard thing of beauty against Idaho State. The true frosh got comfortable as the year progressed, and by the end was a legitimate two-way threat on offense and on special teams, as UW fans saw with his spectacular kick return for six against BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl.
Who Who Step Up?: Marvin Hall needs to step up, plain and simple. He's shown himself to already be a valuable piece of Washington's special teams as their main punt returner, but that spot may be in jeopardy this fall with the inclusion of Budda Baker. The junior-to-be only had eight catches in 2013, but he averaged a team-high 17.5 yards per catch. UW had some big plays last season, but they need to compliment their short passing attack - which, in all honesty were more like long handoffs - with plays over the top to take advantage of defensive backs cheating up to the line of scrimmage. All three - Mickens, Ross, and Hall - can be guys that can get behind defenders, and Hall could make his mark downfield.
The x-factor here is Taylor, the all-purpose back from Arizona that redshirted the 2013 season. It was thought that Sark moved Taylor to defense - specifically safety - to help shore up the fact that UW loses four safeties to graduation. We'll see if Taylor stays on defense or if he's moved back to offense. He's still listed on gohuskies.com as an offensive skill player, so we'll go by that assumption in the meantime.
In Waiting: I think we've been given a glimpse into how Petersen and Pease want to attack receiver recruiting with the signings of Brayden Lenius and Dante Pettis. Petersen has done some really nice things with the quicker, smaller receivers, so I don't think there's any fan that should have concerns about how he plans on using Mickens, Ross, and Hall. In fact, there should be enough of those scatback-types to allow Petersen to redshirt Pettis, a cousin of former BSU star Austin Pettis.
But Lenius might be a different story. Williams should be fine to go in the fall as Washington's top big receiver, but if the issue surrounding Stringfellow isn't resolved in a timely manner and spills over into the summer and fall, Lenius may have to step up and provide some cover as another big receiver.
In Summary: Even with the matriculation of players like Kevin Smith, the receiver position looked loaded heading into this spring, but you never know how injury and off-field incidents can turn a once-healthy position group into one with question marks.
Rumor has been going around of Petersen moving Darrell Daniels back from tight end to receiver, the position he was recruited to Washington under Steve Sarkisian. If that does happen, you could also see down-and-distance situations where other smaller tight ends like Joshua Perkins moved outside to take advantage of their size and strength against smaller cornerbacks. That's one way the new UW staff could mitigate the lack of bigger receivers in the spring. It could also give both the receiver and tight end spots some versatility and at the same time give the offensive staff some room to play with in terms of shifts and motions with the various skill players to create even more mis-matches against the defense.
If Stringfellow is allowed to return and can get back on the same track that had him making impact plays by the end of 2013, the future is very bright for him taking over the reins from Williams the following season. He has all the talent in the world; now it's just a matter of harnessing it under the new regime and taking his game to the next level.
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