Any time a new coach inherits a wide receiver coming off a 1,000-yard season, it’s a good reason to be excited. When the entire team barely cracked 1,000 receiving yards, one might think it would be a cause for concern.
First-year Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz inherited a squad with 1,002 yards through the air in 2013 — including zero in the Eagles’ 26-20 win over Florida — so he and wide receivers coach Matt Barrett might have expected to have a bare cupboard of wide receivers.
Turns out, that was far from what they saw.
“These guys have exceptional ball skills,” Barrett said about the wide receivers. “If it gets around them, they catch it. They’re driven and determined to succeed.”
B.J. Johnson, the only GSU player with double-digit catches (12) last season, led the team with 216 yards. The other top receivers on the team — Zach Walker, Montay Crockett, Kentrellis Showers and converted running back Tray Butler — combined for 20 catches.
But they’ve all shown the new coaching staff they have hands and speed.
“I feel like everybody brings something different to the table,” said Johnson, the team’s biggest receiver at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. “Showers, Crockett, they can spread the field with speed, and guys like me and Walker, we do a good job of catching the ball.”
The roster lists 17 receivers, seven tight ends and 13 running backs, giving the Eagles almost limitless targets in the passing game.
Right now, in the second week of fall camp, the coaching staff is trying to figure out the right combination of what works and what doesn’t.
“It all depends on what our quarterback can throw,” Fritz said. “We’re throwing every route right now. Every aspect of our passing game, we’re throwing it. When we start getting ready for N.C. State we’re going to see what our quarterback throws well. That’s what we’ll throw mostly the rest of the season.”
Though the rust of the offseason is still there for quarterback Kevin Ellison, Ezayi Youyoute is fresh off an injury and newly-returned to the position, and Favian Upshaw and Monteo Garrett have no game experience, Johnson likes how the team’s passers are progressing.
“They’re getting better with timing and routes,” he said. “We’re starting to click.”
Fritz’s offensive approach begins with running the football, so the deep part of the play-action game will always be there to take advantage of the team’s speed.
“Throwing the deep ball is going to be a big part of our offense, off the play action,” Fritz said. “When they’re packing the box, we’ve got to be able to throw it when we get a bunch of one-on-ones. I think we’ve got some one-on-one beaters.”
The extent of the running backs’ and tight ends’ involvement on the pass-catching part of the offense remains to be seen.
“If they have a hard time catching it in practice,” Fritz said, “we won’t throw it to them in a game.”