(This is the third post in a series. Previously we highlighted opposing Quarterbacks and Running Backs. Today we take a look at our opponents' Wide Receiving corps.)
When you start sizing up ND's defense, one thing is immediately apparent: Notre Dame is very green and very young in the secondary. Only Zibby has any live combat experience thus far. And there will be no grace period for our tenderfoots to get up to speed: starting with the first game, ND is going to face a lot of teams that like to air it out, and along with them a host of fleet and dependable receivers. Let's see what we're up against.
(all stats are from the '04 season)
Greg Lee. 68 receptions, 1297 yards, 10 TDs. Returning Starter.
Joe DelSardo. 49 receptions, 573 yards, 4 TDs. Returning Starter.
In the past eight years, a Pitt wide receiver has led the Big East in receiving yards seven times, and the early reports are that Greg Lee (right) is a favorite to make it eight out of nine. One of the top WRs in the country, Lee has the size (6'2", 200 lbs) to go across the middle, but his 19.1 yards/catch average shows he's a potent deep threat as well. He will be a big test for the season opener. Complementing Lee is former walk-on Joe DelSardo. It's not often you see the "possesion receiver" label applied to a 5'8" wideout, but that's what DelSardo is. He has excellent hands and can be dangerous if too much attention is paid to Lee. Depth: The top six pass catchers all return for Wannstedt's initial season, but four of the six play either tight end or running back. Some of the younger receivers will need to pick up the new offense quickly and help take pressure off of Lee and DelSardo.
Jason Avant. 38 receptions, 447 yards, 3 TDs. Returning Starter.
Steve Breaston. 34 receptions, 291 yards, 3 TDs.
Adrian Arrington. 2 receptions, 12 yards, 0 TDs.
There is no obvious superstar this year, but Steve Breaston (left), when healthy, is one of the speedier and more dangerous receivers in college football. For now he is better known as a return man, but he should be a primary target in the Michigan offense this season. Jason Avant returns to the starting lineup and appears to be more of a possession guy than a fly-pattern type. Still, he is the returning leader in receiving yards and will be a frequent target of Chad Henne's passes. Sophomore Arrington is tall and lanky (6'3" 184 lbs) and will try to live up the high expectations placed on him when he came in as a heralded recruit. Depth: Arrington's hold on the #3 WR position isn't solid and he could be replaced by senior Carl Tabb, who only has 10 career catches to his name, or redshirt frosh Doug Dutch, a 5'10" laser. Another possibility is incoming freshman Mario Manningham, who had an excellent game at the recent Ohio North/South All-Star game.
Matt Trannon. 36 receptions, 405 yards, 2 TDs. Returning Starter.
Kyle Brown. 23 receptions, 302 yards, 1 TDs. Returning Starter.
Jerramy Scott. 39 receptions, 444 yards, 3 TDs. Returning Starter.
The Spartans receiving corps does not have any standout stars, but they're a very experienced bunch that has plenty of playing time under their belts. Matt Trannon (right) is a towering target (6'6") who also plays on the Spartan basketball team and will be dangerous on jump-ball situations. Jerramy Scott is a dependable hogskin wrangler who led the Spartans in both receptions and yards last season. Kyle Brown is the Spartan's roadrunner, and after nearly being switched to saftey he responded with a strong spring, where he showed the ability to become a solid vertical threat. He could easily become Drew Stanton's favorite target. Depth: Speedster Agim Shabaj was declared academically ineligible, but the Spartans still have a deep bench. Senior Aaron Alexander (6'5") is finally healthy and should contribute. Carl Grimes, brother of incoming ND freshman David Grimes, is coming off a redshirt year and will likely see the field as well.
Corey Williams. 10 receptions, 128 yards, 0 TDs.
Craig Chambers. 19 receptions, 408 yards, 2 TDs. Returning Starter.
The Huskies will start two younger, yet talented receivers who have plenty of potential to drastically improve the Washington aerial attack. Irish fans might recall Corey Williams as the WR who flashed some skill before crashing into the wall at Notre Dame Stadium last year and breaking his wrist. He's healthy now and should have a good year if the Huskies can get him the ball. Likewise, Chambers (left) is a sizable guy at 6'3" who averaged 21.5 yards/catch and was Washington's best receiver towards the end of last season. His strong finish last year should give him confidence going into the fall. Depth: Sonny Shackelford led the Huskies with receptions last year and will be a veteran presence off the bench. Quintin Daniels is quick, but is trying to return from a torn ACL.
Kyle Ingraham. 51 receptions, 624 yards, 7 TDs. Returning Starter.
Dorien Bryant. 38 receptions, 584 yards, 3 TDs. Returning Starter.
Ray Williams. 14 receptions, 146 yards, 0 TDs.
Six-foot-Nine telephone pole Kyle Ingraham (right) is Purdue's leading returning receiver, he provides a tall target (well, that's an understatement) for QB Kirsch. On the other side, speedster Dorien Bryant is the wind to Ingraham's tree. Only a sophomore, he is looking to become the star of the Purdue offense. Rounding out a very deep receiving group is senior Ray Williams, who's pretty quick but still hasn't put together a dominant year. Depth: Brian Hare came in as a JUCO last season, averaged an impressive 26.0 yards/catch, and will return as the primary deep threat for a team that usually will go with 4-receiver sets. Angelo Chattams will back up Bryant and Purdue's incoming freshman Greg Orton (6'4") and Selwyn Lymon (6'5") have the size and speed to make an immediate impact.
Dwayne Jarrett. 55 receptions, 849 yards, 13 TDs. Returning Starter.
Steve Smith. 42 receptions, 660 yards, 6 TDs. Returning Starter.
Stop me if you've heard this before: the Trojan wide receivers will be a challenge for the Irish secondary this fall. Lofty (6'5") and rangy Dwayne Jarrett (left) started out a bit slow as a freshman last year but kept getting better every week and ended up leading the Trojan receivers in yards and touchdowns. Steve Smith missed time with a leg injury but still had a solid season, an impressive Orange Bowl, and showed he has a nice right hook. These two might be the best receiving duo in college football (recall, for instance, what they did to Oklahoma as a freshman and sophomore). Depth: Chris McFoy would start for most other programs and is a very dependable oblong catcher. Whitney Lewis is still trying to stay academically eligible, but has the talent to make an impact. Incoming freshman Patrick Turner (6'5) was rated as one of the top receivers in the country and most likely will start seeing playing time right away.
Todd Watkins. 52 receptions, 1042 yards, 6 TDs. Returning Starter.
Bryce Mahuika. 1 reception, 50 yards, 0 TDs.
Matt Allen. 1 reception, 26 yards, 0 TDs.
Perhaps the best single wideout that Notre Dame will face next season, Todd Watkins (right) is one of only two 1,000-yard receivers in the country (the other being Greg Lee) and will likely hit 4 digits on the odometer again. Mahuika is a smaller and sprier, who was primarily used as a return man last year. Allen is another special teams player who will have to step up and help take pressure off of Watkins. Depth: BYU's other star WR, Austin Collie, is on a LDS mission this year and will definitely be missed. Incoming freshman Michael Reed is expected to push for playing time, while Brent Cooper is another quick special teams player looking to make his mark as a receiver. BYU's pass-happy offense will mean plenty of receptions for everyone.
Robert Meachem. 25 receptions, 459 yards, 4 TDs. Returning Starter.
Jayson Swain. 29 receptions, 388 yards, 4 TDs. Returning Starter.
Bret Smith. 18 receptions,291 yards, 5 TDs.
Robert Meachem (left) has rapidly emerged as an excellent receiver and will only be a sophomore eligibility-wise this fall. At 6'3" he has the size to dominate smaller corners and enough speed to beat many of them deep, as his 18.4 yards/catch average attests. Swain will help to take pressure off Meacham, and his velcro hands will likely be top target on 3rd downs. Smith adds more size (6'3") to the Vol unit, and on only 18 receptions he led the Vols with 5 touchdowns last season. Depth: Chris Hannon is the biggest Tennessee wideout at 6'4" and he's also one of the fastest. Recovering from an arm injury, he will provide depth behind Meachem. C.J. Fayton isn't as fast as Meachem but also has an excellent 15.8 yards/catch average. Incoming freshman Slick Shelley is an unproven, but tall (6'4") receiver who will try and add to the Volunteer WR depth, as well as provide some serious moniker credibility.
Jason Tomlinson. 16 receptions, 273 yards, 1 TD. Returning Starter.
Mick Yokitis. 2 receptions, 20 yards, 1 TD.
Traditionally, Navy wideouts tend to be more blockers than catchers. Still, Tomlinson (right) returns after leading the Midshipmen in receptions last season, and he can get open if Navy decides to pass the ball. Yokitis is a big, strong player at 6'2", 223 lbs, which is good, because he's mostly throwing blocks. Depth: Lloyd Regas and Kyle Kimbo round out a receiving corps that won't see the ball all that much.
Tim Lane. 0 receptions, 0 yards, 0 TDs.
Rice Moss. 4 receptions, 40 yards, 0 TDs.
Landel Bembo. 14 receptions, 115 yards, 0 TDs.
Syracuse is going to have to find some dependable pass catchers after losing their top 5 receivers from a year ago to graduation and positional changes. In fact, it's possible none of the listed guys will be starters come September. Lane played special teams, but he's got a lot to prove at wideout, and who knows...he might be passed on the depth chart by the time ND rolls around. Moss started a game last year, but only has 4 receptions to his name. Landel Bembo (left) started two games last season, but at 5'8", 168 lbs he isn't an imposing target. Depth: many 'Cuse fans hope that incoming freshmen Richard Abney and Lavar Lobdell will be able to step into a starting role. The Orange offense will need the help.
Mark Bradford. 34 receptions, 482 yards, 1 TD. Returning Starter.
Gerren Crochet. 3 receptions, 43 yards, 0 TDs.
Evan Moore. 39 receptions, 616 yards, 6 TDs. Returning Starter.
The Cardinal receivers will be a solid, experienced group this season, led by Mark Bradford and Evan Moore. Bradford is entering his third season as a starter and should be Trent Edwards' main target. Moore (right) is a very tall (6'7") receiver who is the leading returning receiver in terms of yardage and touchdowns. Crochet is a fast deep threat who also runs on the Stanford track team. With offensive guru Walt Harris in charge, the passing game will again be a focus for Stanford, and Cardinal receivers will be an essential component of the Stanford attack. Depth: Marcus McCutcheon and Justin McCullum are a step down from the starters, and aren't expected to contribute very much.
2005 Opponent Wide Receiver Analysis and Ranking
This year, the general theme for our opponent receiving corps seems to be, "experienced and deep". There aren't all that many superstar receivers we're going to face, but many teams will offer a core of solid, veteran talent. Michigan State, for example, probably doesn't have any one receiver that will make first team All-Big Ten, but they'll still be dangerous based on their overall depth and above-average talent spread across the entire unit. This means that stopping the pass for ND this season will involve more than just shutting down one guy (except for Pitt, perhaps); the entire ND backfield will have to work together to contain passing attacks that throw the ball to multiple receivers and spread the receptions around. I'm not sure how this year's crop of opponent WRs measures up overall when compared to previous years, but it does seem like a very talented and veteran group. And combined with the number of returning starting QBs, the Notre Dame pass defense will be tested early and often this year.
One extra point that sticks out is the appearance of several very tall wide receivers, especially Kyle Ingraham of Purdue and Evan Moore at Stanford, at 6'9" and 6'7" respectively. Defensive coaching and alignment will have to be sharp to prepare us for simple jump-balls to the corner of the end zone every time a team enters the red zone.
Here's my take on the best WR units that ND will face this season:
2. Tennessee - Meachem and Swain make up a pretty good combo themselves.
3. Purdue - A very deep and experienced receiving corps that adds some tall, talented freshman.
4. Michigan - Breaston should have a breakout year. Others are talented and dependable.
5. Michigan State - No superstars, but an experienced unit with height (Trannon) and speed (Brown).
6. Stanford - Bradford and Moore are both quality wide receivers. Crochet adds plenty of speed.
7. Pitt - Greg Lee is already a star. Pitt needs to develop some more depth though.
8. BYU - Watkins alone should have them ranked higher than this, but the others are inexperienced.
9. Washington - Young receivers have plenty of potential. Now they need to produce.
10. Syracuse - When you are hoping freshman will start, that's not a good sign.
11. Navy - Good athletes, but they will be using their skills to block nine times out of ten.
Next up: Tight Ends.