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'U' unseasoned at wideout

April 11, 2003

Seasons past have produced the likes of Kirk Gibson, Andre Rison, Muhsin Muhammad and Charles Rogers. This fall, a new era is set to begin at the wide receiver positions for the MSU football team.

But the spring depth chart starters' career numbers don't jump out at you.

Last season, senior Ziehl Kavanaght and sophomore Agim Shabaj combined for 17 catches, 168 yards and no touchdowns. Sophomore Kyle Brown lined up at the receiver position, but had no receptions.

"I don't think there's going to be any star," Shabaj said. "Everybody's gonna get the ball and the chance to show what they can do."

Two players have been converted to wide receiver this spring.

Sophomore Aaron Alexander, who's making the transition from quarterback, was throwing passes through the first spring practice. Redshirt freshman Jerramy Scott has moved out of the backfield to add depth to the wideout position.

Matt Trannon (6-foot-7, 210 pounds) is expected to make some noise upon his return to the team. He was ineligible last season.

"This is a group that hasn't had a lot of playing time and doesn't have a lot of experience," offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin said. "We're lacking some things from some of the wide receivers. They're competing, but we need a little more speed out there."

Lack of experience is definitely an issue. MSU's tight ends - juniors Eric Knott and Jason Randall - had better numbers than all of the wideouts combined. Knott caught 35 passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns, while Randall pulled in 20 receptions for 255 yards and three scores.

Baldwin said he has seen good things out of Brown and Shabaj. Brown has shown tremendous speed and quickly got over a case of the "dropsies." Shabaj has exhibited great quickness, and will excel with the underneath routes he'll be running as the slot receiver.

The unit is getting used to the spread style of play along with the rest of the offense. Although they are having a good time, it does have its disadvantages. Shabaj said the receivers have learned a little of the "confusing" offense, but they have a lot more to go. With so many different routes to run, he said they're thinking too much.

"It's fun, but it's tiring," Shabaj said. "And our coaches are on our butts. We get graded after each practice so we have to make sure we perform to the best of our abilities."

And although each wideout is unproven, they are confident in their abilities and expect to perform well come the 2003 season opener on Aug. 30.

"In the fall, we'll be real good," Brown said. "When Aaron gets healthy and Matt comes back, the MSU wide receivers are going to be a unit to be reckoned with in the Big Ten."

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