2009 was an interesting year for the Mizzou hands team. First of all, it was the year in which Mizzou all but admitted there is no difference between receivers and tight ends when it comes to routes -- Danario Alexander led the country in receiving by basically running Chase Coffman's routes from last year, while Jerrell Jackson and Jared Perry ran Jeremy Maclin's (an over-simplification, but you get the picture). Second, behind a transcendent Alexander lied one of the youngest WR/TE corps in the country. Alexander and Perry were seniors, Jackson, Wes Kemp, Andrew Jones, Mike Egnew and Beau Brinkley were true sophomores, Rolandis Woodland was a redshirt freshman, T.J. Moe a true freshman, and Brandon Gerau a wily redshirt sophomore.
Alexander snagged a higher percentage of his team's passes than just about anybody else in the country, but plenty of other players got what we hope is worthwhile, useful experience. The list starts with three players to whom many will look for major leadership, as even though they just showed up on campus three semesters ago, they are now the cagey old veterans of the Mizzou receiving corps. Today, we take a look at the receivers, tomorrow the tight ends.
Jerrell Jackson (6'1, 195, Jr.)
2009: 37 receptions, 458 yards, 2 TD; 11 rushes, 92 yards, 1 TD
2008: 9 receptions, 98 yards; 2 rushes, 10 yards
Bill C.: Remember last offseason, when we went on and on about how Danario Alexander had proven himself to be a great #2 receiver, but had not yet shown that he was a #1? Let's just call Jerrell Jackson Danario v2010. At times throughout 2010, Jackson showed that he has a high ceiling and potential to be both an underneath/screens/end arounds type of receiver and a straight-up deep threat. That deep ball against Iowa State, where he outbattled his man for the ball, then sprinted to the end zone? That end around against Kansas, where he threw it into fifth gear and flew by defenders who thought they had an angle? Outstanding.
But then there were the drops and the brain farts. The pick six against Oklahoma State that went straight through his hands. The multiple drops against Baylor and Iowa State. The stupid taunting penalty on a long Danario touchdown against Kansas. Regarding the drops, there's no question that if Blaine Gabbert is going to fire his hand-cannon full-speed at receivers, he needs to put it into their body a little more than he did in 2009; but as I said multiple times this year, if you are getting a free education to catch balls, and you get both hands on a pass, it is your job to bring it in.
Jackson's mental escapades are the main reason he isn't the clear #1 receiver heading into spring ball. He showed plenty of glimpses of not only #1 receiver-level play, but all-conference ability. Now, as a junior and by far the most accomplished returning Mizzou receiver (ouch), he's got to get the mental side of the game under control.
Wes Kemp (6'4, 220, Jr.)
2009: 23 receptions, 418 yards, 3 TD
Bill C.: It is rather jarring to see that Wes Kemp caught only 23 passes in 2009. He had four big receptions in the season opener against Illinois, and at the end of non-conference play he had amassed a respectable 10 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Over the course of a 13-game season, that is a 33-catch, 711-yard pace. But then he got obliterated by Ndamukong Suh on a misguided bubble screen in Game #5 and was never the same. He dropped two more passes that night against the Huskers, dropped a perfectly-placed bomb against OSU (a play that signified the end of Mizzou's chances), and disappeared for much of conference play. In eight Big 12 games, he caught just 10 passes for 116 yards, and while he was emerging as a great deep threat after his Illinois and Nevada performances, his drop against OSU constituted just about the last time Blaine Gabbert would look for him down the field. Not saying the Suh hit caused all of that (then again, I'm not saying it didn't either), but it was pretty well-timed. Kemp redeemed himself with an awesome Texas Bowl performance, taking a sideline pass 56 yards in one of the most beautiful set-up-your-blocks displays you'll ever see, and he proved himself a decent late-season kickoff returner at times (the choice to put Kemp, a 220-pound receiver with only decent speed, as a kick returner was an interesting one, but he pretty consistently got to at least the 30, which is certainly not bad).
So ... who is the real Wes Kemp? Is he the next Danario Alexander -- a deep threat who is also dangerous in catch-and-run situations? Is he going to continue to be a guy who disappears for games at a time? Was he just deferring to Danario, and will he be stepping up big-time now that #81 is out of the picture? There's obviously no way to know for sure, but I'm cautiously optimistic. Kemp showed his youth in different ways than Jackson -- he made fewer outright mistakes, but just simply disappeared instead -- but he has the build and capacity to be a nice, physical complement to Jackson, and I've got to say ... nothing will surprise me from the Kemp-Jackson combination next year. If they both turn in 70-catch, all-conference seasons, or if they turn out to be too inconsistent to be counted on, and other young players pass them on the depth chart, I won't be able to feign shock. They have shown just enough to assume the former, and they have made just enough mistakes to assume the latter.
Rolandis Woodland (6'3, 195, So.)
2009: 5 receptions, 26 yards
RPT: One thing is for damn sure -- The dude has got moves. See Exhibit A:
It seems like we've heard about The Legend of Ro ever since he showed up on Missouri's radar. We know about the supposedly electrifying straight line speed he possesses. What we don't know is what we've never seen: production from him on Saturdays. Of course, Ro isn't wholly to blame for his lack of opportunities. But if ever there was a time for Woodland to take control and seize a role by the throat, this offseason will be it. Missouri's offense will be in desperate need of the type of threat that Woodland is supposed to provide. The stacked depth chart excuse is now gone. The ball's in your court, Ro. What are you going to do with it?
Brandon Gerau (6'0, 175, Jr.)
2009: 2 receptions, 19 yards
Here's what I said about safety Hardy Ricks in last year's Walkthrough series:
Maybe everything clicks in his senior year, but ... I'll feel a little more encouraged if a younger player with more (you guessed it) upside overtakes him
What I meant by that was simply, we knew what we would get from Ricks, and it would be decent but far from spectacular. I feel the exact same way about Brandon Gerau. No offense intended toward him -- it's always good having the Tommy Saunders, "hard-working walk-on who earns a scholarship" type in your system; it gets everybody else to work harder, and I got excited when he caught his two passes in 2009. But I still hope to see the likes of Woodland, T.J. Moe and a freshman or two ahead of him on the post-spring depth chart, simply from an upside perspective. If he is ahead of those guys, he'll catch some passes and do his best, but that will signify that the guys below him might not have as much upside as we thought. Either way, again, it's always nice to see this type of story, especially from a local boy (he's the only recent Rock Bridge player who has seemingly had any interest of playing for the home-town team).
T.J. Moe (6'0, 185, So.)
2009: 2 receptions, 8 yards
RPT: Can a player with two career receptions for eight yards be an X-factor? Because I'm at the cusp of declaring T.J. Moe as one. Yet another candidate for what I can only assume will be the "25-30 receptions, 200-400 yards" position in the slot. If he's any near as shifty or as explosive as advertised, he's yet another high school gamebreaker upon whom Mizzou fans will be pinning their hopes to take that ability to the next level. Whether it's returning kicks or working out of the slot, he HAS to get some significant touches next season if he is truly the weapon he's been made out to be.
Gahn McGaffie (5'11, 185, So.)
RPT: If Gilbert Moye was the original "Great QB Transition" experiment, Gahn McGaffie was my own personal hope to do the same. Upon watching his film from his days quarterbacking Galena Park, it was possible to envision McGaffie turning himself into the quintessential "3-yard drag to 23-yard gain" slot receiver. For now, that hype remains largely unfulfilled, even if the talent still remains.
Of course, Missouri enters 2010 with a tremendous void at the lower end of the wide receiver depth chart. But from all I can read from practice reports, I can't imagine McGaffie having an inside track for a spot, even despite having a year of experience on the likes of Washington, Clark, or Stricker, much less the Woodland/Moe/Egnew trio. I've got to imagine that his best shot at utility would perhaps be returning kicks, and I have to assume that Moe and Kendial Lawrence have those jobs on relative lockdown.
Bill C.: What RPT said. I was as excited about McGaffie as anybody else in the 2008 recruiting class, but his potential and agility have yet to result in game action. He'll need to make a move this spring, otherwise some incoming freshmen are waiting to zoom by him on the depth chart, and he'll quickly make the top of the "potential transfers" list. I hope not, though. As Ross said ... his high school film was dazzling, to say the least.
L'Damian Washington (6'4, 180, RSFr.)
RPT: There seem to be two topics of conversation when it comes to L'DW. Conversation No. 1 is about how great of a kid he appears to be despite the tremendous hardship he faced growing up (sadly, the defining piece on Washington's upbringing from the Shreveport Times has been moved to pay archives). Conversation No. 2 inevitably turns to his build, which is, um, "slight" at best and "HOLY HELL WHY WON'T YOU EAT ANYTHING" at worst. He told Gabe at PowerMizzou that he put on 5-6 pounds during the season, after putting on "a quick 17" during the summer. Someone still needs to get that man some Beefcake 4000.
Washington seems to be the archetypal Pinkel recruit: underappreciated, overlooked, and somehow ready to contribute despite the odds. Much like Danario Alexander before him, L'DW came in as a two-star recruit but immediately started turning heads, so much so that he was even in the mix for playing time days before the debut against Illinois. The fact that he came just this close to avoiding a redshirt should speak volumes as to what's expected of him moving forward. I think we can feel comfortable in saying Jerrell Jackson is going to be the No. 1 receiver in 2010, but if Wes Kemp continues his intermittent disappearing act, I absolutely would not rule out L'DW taking on a major role in the offense if he appears as ready to handle it as the practice reports seemed to indicate.
Bill C.: I love "L'DW", but how do you pronounce it? Are we going with "Ell-Dee-Double-ew," or the more fancy "Le-Dee-Double-Eww"? Or maybe "Le-Dwah?" "Le-Dew"?
Jaleel Clark (6'5, 205, RSFr.)
Bill C.: Here's a good time to take a moment to thank Mizzou's beat writers -- Dave Matter, Gabe Dearmond, Mike Dearmond, etc. -- for the job they do, as I literally form impressions from redshirting players by how many times I read their names in practice reports. And if that's the system I use, then I'm pretty optimistic about Jaleel Clark. His name was seemingly brought up quite a bit in December's practices, and he certainly provides Mizzou with great depth in the "potential" department. There is plenty of reason to be pessimistic about a receiving corps without Danario Alexander, but with the "potential" involved throughout the depth chart -- it's a word used millions of times to describe Woodland, Moe, McGaffie, Washington, Clark, and other redshirts -- it is not impossible to imagine at least one or two potent weapons emerging from this group. Clark seems like a nice, physical option, which could complement the speedier option of Washington. Regardless, practice reports tell me to like this guy, and like a good, blind loyalist, that's what I've decided to do.
Kerwin Stricker (6'2, 195, RSFr.)
Bill C.: When Mizzou signed Stricker, he seemed to fit the "raw athlete with potential" mold that a lot of Mizzou's recruits do. It is easy to forget about guys like that when you are hearing more immediate positive feedback about others (Washington, for instance). But of all of worthwhile Redshirt Reports that PowerMizzou wrote in December, I remember Stricker's the most, simply for this quote:
PM: In which areas did you improve the most?
STRICKER: Well, I got healthy, finally. I got over my injury and now I feel like I'm bigger, stronger, faster than I was when I came in here. I'm more explosive, a lot more. That's my main area.
PM: What exactly was your injury?
STRICKER: I was a big track hurdler in high school, and my femur and hip area were rubbing against each other, and I actually had a fracture in that area. I couldn't run as fast as I could, and now that I'm healthy, I'm just faster than everybody, except for Danario, but no one is faster than Danario.
If Stricker was mostly forgotten in August because he was hobbled, and if he really did start to show a good amount of speed and explosiveness in December (they chose him to impersonate Navy's slotbacks), then he is a pretty interesting player to watch come springtime. We have already used the words "potential" and "upside" far too much in this post, but he might have as much of those two things as anybody else.
LaRoderick Thomas (6'0, 200, Sr.)
Bill C.: I've got to be honest: I have no idea whether Thomas is still on the team or not. The DB-turned-WR has seen his career derailed by injuries, and I don't know if he's going to try to make a comeback this spring, or if he's going to end up with a trainer/asst. type of role.
Marcus Lucas (6'5, 195, Fr.)
Liberty, MO, ****, #2 player in MO
Bill C.: Usually, as one recruiting class winds down, consensus starts to form on who the "must get" in-state guys are in the next class, the guys who were the among the best in the state as sophomores and who are finally seniors playing the recruiting game. For the 2009 class, it was Sheldon Richardson, Blaine Dalton and Ronnie Wingo. For the 2008 class, Blaine Gabbert, Will Compton and Wes Kemp (Andrew Jones might have gone here, but he was all but committed to Mizzou when he was five, so it was easy to overlook him). For the 2010 class, there was no doubt: it was OL Nick Demien and WR Marcus Lucas.
A US Army All-American like Demien, Lucas was a 4-star recruit via Rivals (and pretty much everybody else). Here is the most intriguing part of what ESPN Insider had to say about him:
The trait that sticks out about Lucas is his ability to quickly pluck the football away from his frame, tuck it and get up field. He consistently extends away from his body to haul in passes and has quick hands.
This strength is the biggest weakness for guys like Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp, so if Lucas really does possess a strong ability to catch passes away from his body, he could very quickly find himself in a key role for the 2010 team.
Jimmie Hunt (6'1, 195, Fr.)
Cahokia, IL, ****, #5 player in IL
Bill C.: There is a chance that Jimmie Hunt is Mizzou's best wide receiver and safety prospect in the 2010 recruiting class (his height and weight make it easy to project him as both a Jeremy Maclin type and a William Moore type), but he was told by coaches that they envisioned him in the Maclin slot-receiver role, so we clearly have to assume he starts out (and finishes) as a receiver.
Hunt was a jack-of-all-trades at Cahokia. According to PowerMizzou, "Hunt saw time as a safety, cornerback and linebacker on defense, and wide receiver and running back on offense. Hunt also held PATs and saw time on kick and punt returns." That's what happens when you are by far your team's best athlete. It seems he is a "get the ball in his hands by any means necessary" type of player, and Mizzou obviously has use for those. Lucas was the big in-state get, while Hunt committed so early in the recruiting process that it is easy to forget or underestimate him. That could be a mistake.
(It should also be noted that Hunt is supposedly one of the bigger concerns of the class in terms of qualifying. It's never smart to go too far in assuming somebody isn't going to qualify -- for most players, all they have to do is get a decent test score, meaning they're not qualified ... until suddenly they are. Regardless, there's the possibility that he takes the Sheldon Richardson route to Columbia, first spending two years at a JUCO, then showing up as a three-years-to-play-three guy, and I felt it should be noted here.)
Bud Sasser (6'3, 200, Fr.)
Denton, TX, ***
RPT: Before we dig too deep, I'll defer to our resident DFW recruiting contact, Mr. ghtd36, who had this to say about Sasser:
Kinda sorta totally awesome. Comes from a spread offense in high school — Denton Ryan is a very pass-happy team, with its QB Scotty Young (APSE Texas Player of the Year) committed to Texas Tech. Second-leading receiver on the team, hauling in 71 catches for 1,157 yards and 23 touchdowns (most on the team). 6’3, and physically dominated corners. A terrific pickup for Mizzou, if you ask me.
There's plenty of names on this list that can warrant several targets per game, and you can start to see how certain players easily fit certain roles/routes in Mizzou's offensive scheme. But perhaps the biggest role that has remained unfulfilled since 2008 is the role of the redzone target. Chase Coffman's departure left MU with a GIANT void when it came to catching passes inside the 20, and it is here where Sasser may have his greatest opportunity. The Dallas Morning News said his "incredible mixture of size and athletic ability" made him the primary redzone target at Denton Ryan, and that's exactly the kind of role that could push his name up Mizzou's depth chart.
Bill C.: If Lucas is the Danario of the class and Hunt is the Maclin, Sasser is the Justin Gage. Just wanted to throw that in.
2010 vs 2009
Whereas the QB and RB positions could not possibly see more continuity from 2009 to 2010, the WR unit is a complete mystery. While we figure Jackson and Kemp will emerge from the spring as starters ... well, that's all we know. It is going to be intriguing (and hopefully fun) to see which of the "high-potential" youngsters emerges in the other starting position (not to mention the primary backup roles). Woodland might have an edge, but ... we just have no idea. But spring is the time for mysteries and new storylines ... besides, who wants to know everything in advance? Where's the fun in that??