Texas Tech loses 189 catches, 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns between Eric Ward and Jace Amaro, which accounts for 41% of this team's catches, 45% of this team's receiving yards and 42% of the touchdowns. That's a lot of production for this team to replace. For the purposes of this particular post, we’re just going to focus on the outside receiver spot and not inside receiver spot. We’ll save that for a later date.
I tend to overuse Eric Ward in this situation, but I think it is good from the standpoint that just because a player has been unproductive early in his career, doesn't necessarily mean that he'll be unproductive all of his career. Ward redshirted his freshman year, which was 2009, and during his redshirt freshman year, he played 11 games, catching a whopping 6 passes for 63 yards. That was the complete and total extent of his first bit of playing time in college. But then things changed.
As a sophomore, Ward caught 84 passes, 82 as a junior and 83 as a senior. The model of consistency and of a guy that quite literally jumped onto the scene. Not only that, Ward is also a the model of being patient with players. It doesn't always work out, but the key for me has always been that a player can disappoint (for whatever reason, maybe because that player is playing behind some solid players, like Leong, Lewis, Torres & Swindall).
With that, I think we can identify some players that maybe fit that profile of a little-known player that can step up and be a huge part of the offense moving forward. We'll be discussing the inside guys, like Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Dylan Cantrell in a later post.
Reginald Davis: Davis had 15 catches for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns in limited action, but had a real coming out party in the Holiday Bowl with a huge kickoff return. When Davis and Wheeler were both part of the same recruiting class, I was pretty sure that Wheeler and Davis were similar athletes, but after looking at their high school tape a bit closer, I do think that Davis is the better athlete and can run past defenders faster, but Davis was playing against lesser competition in 1A football. Davis just seems to be getting to the line of scrimmage faster out of the wildcat
There’s also a certain effortlessness about Davis, after he catches the ball on the Holiday Bowl punt return, Davis explodes into the seam of the coverage and then the rest looks easy. I’ve always thought that guys that make it look so easy are incredibly talented and this looks to be the case.
Derreck Edwards: I can say that I just don’t get it with Edwards. He was highly recruited out of Brenham and thus far, it just hasn’t translated. Again, playing behind Ward doesn’t help, but Edwards even admitted as much before the 2012 season, that he just wasn’t concentrating to the point that he was going to be successful (via LAJ):
"Coming from high school, my mind set wasn’t where it needed to be, but now I think it is," he said. "I think my mindset back then was, ‘I’m Derreck Edwards. Can’t anybody tell me anything.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m Derreck Edwards, teach me what I need to know so I can go make this team better.’"
The physical talent is there with Edwards and maybe this is more about the opportunity than anything else. Edwards has 11 catches for his career and 148 yards and 1 touchdown.
Shawn Corker: It seems that Corker has been waiting and waiting and waiting. Originally recruited as a receiver, Corker was moved to safety and this move most likely put him behind a bit, but at the time, Corker wasn't going to break through a deep receiver corps that necessitated a position change. Corker was moved back to receiver with Kingsbury and I don't fault Tuberville or anyone else for moving him. It usually means that they think enough of a player to get him on the field and that he can mentally handle the change, it's the moving back and forth that's the problem and moving early in the career is better than moving after a player's sophomore year.
Corker had just 3 receptions last year, his first year back after moving to safety and former OC Sonny Cumbie said last year that it is a consistency issue with Corker:
"It really is a big, big summer for him, a big fall camp, because he’s been here for a while," said co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie, who oversees the outside receivers. "It’s one of those situations where there have been flashes, he shows some good things and then there’s other times where he kind of disappears."
One other thing that I noticed while re-watching the Holiday Bowl is that you always see Corker coming over to congratulate anyone that does anything to celebrate. Quite literally, he is one of the first players to congratulate just about anyone. The fact that he's engaged despite the fact that he isn't playing tells me a little about his character.
D.J. Polite-Bray: Bray maybe shows the most polish from his high school film (via Hudl), a lot of receiver screens, but a few double-moves, a dig and out route or two and he has the ability to find some decent holes in the defense that’s not necessarily part of any sort of route. Polite-Bray also showed that he wasn’t afraid to go over the middle of the field. Polite-Bray caught just 2 passes for 7 yards, but it was as a true freshman. I suppose that there is also a tendency for coaches to play the players that they recruited, but I think that for the most part, coaches will play the most talented players whether or not they recruited them.
Devin Lauderdale: Lauderdale was very raw coming out of Bellaire high school and I’ve written before about how Lauderdale probably learned a bit more than just how to run routes, he did enough to get into Texas Tech after just his freshman year. Lauderdale doesn’t offer a ton of variety in his routes, but his JUCO coaches took advantage of what he does well, which is run very, very fast (via Hudl). I think that Lauderdale offers something that maybe just Davis offers, which is the ability to run past defenders. Wheeler, Edwards, Corker and Polite-Bray are probably just fine in terms of speed, but I think that Davis and Lauderdale are a step above those other guys. His speed also allows him to drive off cornerbacks on dig or out routes and gives him plenty of cushion to get separation.
Dominique Wheeler: Wheeler played in one game last year, on special teams against Kansas St. That’s it. I don’t know how much to read into that, but both Wheeler and Davis were part of the same recruiting class and at this point, Davis is already receiving some praise from Kingsbury as a guy that’s going to impress this next year, while Wheeler is having a tough time even getting in on special teams. So all we have is Wheeler’s high school film, where there’s no doubt that he’s a terrific athlete. So much of what he does is take the direct snap in a wildcat situation and just run. He’s definitely explosive, but the question is if this is going to translate.
There are a few plays where Wheeler is playing receiver and he exhibits his ability to out-run the opposing defenders, but you don’t get the idea that he’s a polished route-runner. He may not have had the most capable quarterback either. The only routes that he looks like he’s running is an short flat route or a fade route. Again, we don’t know anything about the quarterback situation, but that was the extent of his routes in high school on film.
It’s always tough to predict how this will play out or why a player that has tremendous ability isn’t getting on the field. Usually there’s a disconnect between what’s between the ears and that athletic ability. And I’m not talking about Wheeler’s intelligence, I’m talking about a disconnect from he has from an athletic standpoint to being able to do it on the field.
If I had to put money on it, I’d put money on Davis, which is a really pretty easy bet considering that Kingsbury has said that he expects Davis to make a huge leap in terms of offensive production. He’s pegged Davis as being the guy and I can't imagine that Davis will disappoint. If I had to guess about anyone else on the outside, I think I’d put my money on Polite-Bray and Lauderdale. If I had to pick a darkhorse, a guy that we're just not expecting, give me Corker.
The other trend that I think is important here is that I think that Kingsbury and Morris really want to put an emphasis on pushing things vertically. I think it's why Bradley Marquez and Dylan Cantrell were moved inside. Sure, they're fast, but I think Kingsbury really wants to push things vertically this year, which should have consequences in improving the running game. I'm betting on burners here, speed guys.