Inexperienced Spartan receiving corps looks to make impact
Then-freshman wide receiver Bennie Fowler runs in the ball for a touchdown during a game against Northwestern at Ryan Field, in Evanston, Ill. Now a junior, Fowler leads a young receiver contingent for the Spartans.
Speed. Size. Knowledgeable. Physical.
Those are the words sophomore wide receiver Tony Lippett used to describe himself and the rest of the wideouts who enter this season with little to no experience. As a bunch of relative no-names, the group is ready to get onto the field and prove themselves as worthy successors of former standouts B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol.
“Knowing them, that’s just what they want,” junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell said. “Obviously, the quarterback position and wide receiver position are the two biggest question marks on our team this year, so those guys are anxious to get out there. They know their abilities, and they’re confident in the plays that they can make.”
The preseason depth chart slotted sophomore Keith Mumphery at one starting wide receiver position, while Lippett, who split time between offense and defense last season, is listed as the co-starter with junior Bennie Fowler. The trio combined for eight receptions in 2011, which was good for 103 yards and zero touchdowns.
Although the Spartans must replace three senior wideouts — including the program’s all-time leader in receiving yardage and receptions in Cunningham — with tons of game experience, offensive coordinator Dan Roushar insists the play-calling and offensive strategy won’t waver too far from what fans saw last year.
“I don’t think you’ll see a whole lot different,” Roushar said. “I think as the pieces around us emerge at the skill positions, that will probably, I think, bring a level of perspective to who we are.”
What Fowler, Lippett and Mumphery lack in experience, however, they make up for in their comfort level with Maxwell, as they’ve been catching passes from him for years as members of the second-team offense.
“We have that chemistry built up, and we have that connection; we’ve been building it for a couple years,” Maxwell said. “So it’s not something that we just had to start building once camp started … now it’s just going to continue to get better throughout training camp.”
Another benefit to Maxwell is the diverse set of skills the top three guys bring to the table. Their physical presence is the first thing most people notice, he said, adding that the wide receivers have a well-rounded skill set overall.
“Tony, he’s very long; he can play multiple positions, (and he’s) very athletic,” Mumphery said. “When I say Bennie, I mean, speed, great hands (and) big body. I feel the same way; I’ve got great speed, (and) I’ve got (good) hands.”
The backup positions on the depth chart are filled with freshmen, sophomores and redshirt freshmen, so youth and inexperience are a common thread throughout the entire position.
Anticipating the turnover on the outside, the coaching staff brought in four freshman receivers including the top-ranked player in Michigan, Aaron Burbridge. Two of the freshmen, Monty Madaris and walk-on Tres Barksdale, drew compliments from Maxwell on their performances early in camp.
“We’re just young overall at that position,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “We lost some older players, but we’ve got good talent at that position, so it’ll be interesting.”