Spring football for the Arizona Wildcats is starting a little later than it has in recent years, but it’s almost here. With Kevin Sumlin’s first full practice as UA coach scheduled for March 19, we will examine the state of his team over the next several weekdays. The series continues on the perimeter.
Who’s here: Shun Brown (5-10, 177, SR), Tony Ellison (5-11, 188, RS SR), Shawn Poindexter (6-5, 212, RS SR), Cedric Peterson (5-11, 188, RS JR), Devaughn Cooper (5-10, 175, RS SO), Brian Casteel (6-0, 214, SO), Keyshawn Johnson Jr. (6-1, 195, RS FR), Drew Dixon (6-3, 206, RS FR)
Who’s coming: Tre Adams (6-3, 190, FR), Jailen Bailey (5-11, 180, FR), Thomas Marcus (6-3, 180, FR)
The big question: Will the new regime favor bigger receivers, and if so, how will that manifest itself in 2018?
One of the critiques of Rich Rodriguez was that he and his staff targeted too many pint-sized slot receivers – or couldn’t land players who were bigger and better.
While that argument may have a kernel of truth to it – Rodriguez’s recruiting shortcomings have been well-documented – it’s not entirely accurate. Nor is it fair to say bigger is necessarily better.
In 2014 and ’15, Arizona’s leading receiver was Cayleb Jones. He was listed at 6-3, 215.
In 2016, the Wildcats’ third-leading receiver was Trey Griffey. He was 6-3, 209.
It is true that Arizona’s best and most productive receivers last season were sub-6-footers Brown and Ellison. And that Nate Phillips (5-7, 186) and Samajie Grant (5-9, 180) eclipsed Griffey’s production. (It wasn’t even close.)
It’s also true that Texas A&M’s leading receiver over the last three years was Christian Kirk, whose official height at the NFL scouting combine was 5-10 3/8.
If you can play, you can play. Antonio Brown is listed at 5-10, 181; Odell Beckham Jr. at 5-11, 198.
All that being said … there are obvious advantages to having size if you can beat press coverage, run routes and make plays. Ideally, you want to have a mix. Sumlin had that at A&M.
Kirk’s No. 2 in 2015 and ’16 was Josh Reynolds, a 6-3, 192-pounder whom the Los Angeles Rams picked in the fourth round of last year’s draft. A&M’s second- and third-leading receivers last year were Jhamon Ausbon (6-2, 220) and Damion Ratley (6-3, 190).
It’s reasonable to assume, at this point, that Brown and Ellison will remain Arizona’s leading receivers in 2018. It’s also reasonable to think Sumlin and his staff will work toward altering the composition of the receiving corps – a process that’s actually already underway.
The majority of the young receivers – players entering their first or second seasons – are listed at 6 feet or taller. Casteel has an Anquan Boldin-type build; Dixon, Adams and Marcus have ideal height to one day develop into outside threats.
As far as this year goes, the 6-foot-plus wideout who intrigues me the most is Poindexter. Extremely raw when he arrived at Arizona, Poindexter flashed his potential late last season. He posted career-best numbers across the board – five catches, 71 yards, one touchdown – in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Two nights before the game, Poindexter met with Rodriguez. Poindexter hadn’t caught more than two passes in any of the previous nine games. He wanted to “share his vision” with Rodriguez.
“I would love to play at the next level,” Poindexter said. “But I need film and I need an opportunity.”
Poindexter is hoping to get it under Sumlin. Arizona will pass the ball more this year and going forward after trending in the opposite direction the past two seasons. Sumlin even has devoted two coaches to the receiving corps.
The NCAA granted Poindexter an additional year of eligibility. He knows he needs more work on the finer points of his craft.
If he puts it all together, Poindexter could do big things.
ARIZONA SPRING PREVIEW SERIES