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Mizzou spring football 2013: Receivers try to match potential with production

New receivers coach Pat Washington will try to take a high-ceiling receiving corps to a new level.

Bill Carter

The Trib: Tigers' new coach knows ups, downs

In 26 years of coaching at nine different schools, there's not much Washington, 49, hasn't seen. That experience resonated with Missouri receivers before they stepped on the practice field this spring.

"He knows what it takes to be at a championship level," senior wideout L'Damian Washington said. "And he knows when something doesn't smell right in a 2-12 season. That's kind of good. He's been around for a long time and he knows what he's talking about."

"I have a good feel," said Pat Washington, who's also coached at Southeastern Conference schools Mississippi State and Auburn, where he played quarterback in the 1980s. "I've been with underachievers and overachievers. I have a good feel for guys who have potential. But potential means absolutely nothing. You want to get the word 'potential' totally out of your conversation."

At his third school in three years, it's now Washington's job to extract potential from a Missouri receiving corps that returns five players who caught at least 10 passes during last year's turbulent passing season. Injuries and ineffectiveness at quarterback impacted MU's production at receiver, but Washington inherited a group brimming with his least favorite word: potential.

(I'm not sure a 2-12 season is possible, but point taken.)

PowerMizzou: Realizing their potential

But potential doesn't always equal production, and Missouri's receivers know that. After a 2012 season littered with drops as Missouri played two quarterbacks, the Tigers receivers are ready to prove Washington's words:

"We're competing with every other receiving corps in the nation," Washington said. "I feel like we have the best receiving corps in the nation. Now it's about going out and proving it."

The competition is also on a local scale. Missouri rotates in a healthy number of receivers, so starting isn't everything on paper. But in the minds of these pass-catchers, seeing their name atop the depth chart fuels them this spring.

"If you're a starter, there's always someone coming for you," Sasser said. "If you're a two, there's a guy coming for you, too, a three. We're constantly competing. You can't come out here and lolly-gag because you think you have a spot or you played a certain amount of plays. There's always someone behind you, trying to get your plays."

There is no single unit more loaded with potential than Missouri's receiving corps in 2013. Think of Marcus Lucas tiptoeing the front corner of the end zone against Tennessee ... Dorial Green-Beckham sending a UCF defender tumbling on an 80-yard touchdown ... L'Damian Washington getting behind Georgia's secondary for a long touchdown ... Jimmie Hunt scoring seemingly every time he touched the ball ... Bud Sasser tracking down a bomb from Corbin Berkstresser and just barely outrunning the (tremendous) Vanderbilt secondary to the end zone. And now, this unit is joined by Darius White, a former blue-chipper from Texas. It is easy to get starry-eyed with the receivers.

Of course, there are two problems with that. First, this unit was loaded with potential last year but suffered through some serious drops and wasted potential, particularly in the middle third of the season. Bouncing back and forth between two quarterbacks -- one always injured, one a bit overwhelmed -- throwing different types of passes at different velocities can throw you for a loop. But this unit really did let its quarterbacks down, particularly in the loss to Vanderbilt. Sasser's catch in that game was great; everything else was not.

Second, this unit is dependent on quarterback play to be able to reach its potential. The receivers looked mostly great in November, but it rarely mattered. James Franklin's knee prevented him from throwing even partially accurate passes against Florida, and it wasn't the receivers' fault the defense collapsed against Syracuse and Texas A&M (and the offensive line got punctured repeatedly in short-yardage situations against Syracuse, as well). We'll see what changes new offensive coordinator Josh Henson makes when it comes to getting the ball to his play-makers (of which he has a ton), and we'll see whether Mizzou can discover some stability at the quarterback position. But with another year of maturity and competition, this really could be one of the better units of receivers in the SEC, at least outside of Tuscaloosa.