Our Pirate WR Cup Runneth Over…with Talent Inside & Out

Emerging Star: Hardy is a big-time talent and he is only a sophomore.

[ Editor’s Note: This is a LOOONG post – a true 3 (coffee) mug production.  But, we just have so many notable receivers on the roster…I couldn’t stop myself. Grab a cup or three if you intend to actually read it all. ]

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A year ago, we had talent overflowing in the WR corps, but very little of it was experienced. So, the results showed a couple of things: First, it showed that we have some receivers who can make spectacular plays against the best competition in the country; Second, as good as they were, the team had to suffer through their growing pains, particularly early in the season with fumbles and then later in the season once Lance Lewis was injured.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so there is every reason to believe that this time around, we are simply loaded and deep at the WR positions and several of these guys are so good, that they can move inside or out to give equal depth to both positions or to get certain size, speed, hands combinations on the field at any given time. The entire receiving corps got a ton of meaningful reps in 2011 and those are like dollars in the IRA.

The Leader of the Pack: Bodenheimer will need to lead on and off the field.

What’s more is that this unit (both IWRs and OWRs) has all the nice ingredients needed to maximize collective abilities: Leadership, star quality guys, size/speed/hands, depth, and talented youth pushing up the pack. Yes, the OL has to give the new QB time to throw and yes, the QB must know his reads and get the ball out in the required rhythm. But, man, looking at the guys we have coming back, if the OL and QB do their jobs, it should be the best form of the AIR RAID we will have seen at ECU since its installment. An aerial display complete with oooooh catches, a YAC fest and a Red Zone delights.

So let’s take an Inside/Out look at the guys coming back who will be counted on to make big things happen this season.

Outside Wide Receivers (OWRs):

Lance Lewis was spectacular in his two – way too quick – seasons as a Pirate and the kid has the tools to play on Sundays. But, losing Lance is nowhere akin to what the offense lost a year ago when IWR Dwayne Harris departed. The OWR group can absorb the loss of Lewis and continue the drumbeat, IMO, as well as the departure of promising young receiver Mike Price who left the program.

The numbers are a little lower than hoped, but that is just for this camp as this position was addressed somewhat via recruiting.

This group has experience with three of them getting major game reps, size, with all but one of them over 6-2, and complement each other well. Here are the guys battling for the OWR positions (that is, the X and Z positions):

  • Andrew Bodenheimer (SR-RS)
  • Dayon Arrington (SR)
  • Reese Wiggins (JR-RS)
  • Brandon Weymann (JR)
  • Antonio Cannon (FR-RS)

Andrew Bodenheimer: The entire (inside and out) receiving corps is built around Bodie’s experience and leadership. The guy is a warrior. He is another Harris in regards to his downfield blocking and his ability to get the sticks and to make catches with disregard for his body, make him a daily visual example of what it means to be a receiver in this offense. Bodie – who piled up 484 yards receiving in 2011 – knows what is expected of him and should have a big, big season in the offense for the Pirates.

Prediction: Bodie will lock down one of the OWR No. 1 slots on the depth chart coming out of spring camp.

Dayon Arrington: Riley pointed out that in 2011, Arrington simply was too slow out of the gate, something that a receiver in this group cannot do if he expects to get PT. He only posted two receptions on the season, a stark contrast from where he was in 2010 as an up-and-coming, tall OWR. Now he embarks on his last opportunity to make his mark and he should be game. He knows that there are a couple of WRs coming in during the summer so spring is his chance at big reps and to get on the depth chart. He will be battling emerging star Reece Wiggins at the X position, though he can play both. Riley has expressed that Arrington has talent but he has to hit this camp ready. He had a TD pass in Friday’s workout, which is a nice sign, but he has to be consistent all camp.

Prediction: Arrington should come out of camp as a solid No. 2 at X setting himself up well to fend off fights in the summer and fall for his DC slot.

Reese Wiggins: Talk about announcing your presence with authority…Wiggins literally blew up in the Tulane game last season and never looked back, piling up 330 plus yards receiving in the final 5 games of 2011 and did so in grand fashion taking three home runs to the house and etching his first 100 yard receiving night (against UCF). Riley said that the staff knew Wiggins had talent but had – up to his coming of age – had been inconsistent. He is the team’s big strike receiver and now he heads into camp with a lot of confidence. He needs to get better and be that consistent threat. He is called a very hard worker on and off the field which bodes well for him and the team.

Prediction: Wiggins is all that and more and holds off Arrington’s challenge to lock down the No. 1 spot at X coming out of spring.

Brandon Weymann: A Junior with good size at 6-2, 195 pounds. He walked on out of Myers Park a few years ago and has been patient in working toward his opportunity. This spring with the OWR group a bit smaller than usual, he will get his chance at landing a DC spot at the Z position. If he is a reliable, sticks-like receiver willing to work for the hard yards, he might make some people notice him this camp. He needs to take advantage of the reps he will get this spring as those will be dispersed further in fall.

Prediction: Weymann stays on the Depth Chart at No. 3 for the Z position, for now. He needs to be noteworthy in camp to stay there come fall.

Antonio Cannon: Tall and thin, Cannon’s ability to go up and come down with the football belies just how slight he is. He has worked hard in Camp Connors but is still just 160 pounds, so his body could set some limitations for him as he makes his first foray into the depth chart. That said, for those Pirates fans looking for the second coming of Lance Lewis, Cannon is your guy. Uncanny in his ability to make the hard, high grab, he somehow twists his body around and beats the defender for it. Riley was very impressed with Cannon’s work a year ago in the Thursday nigh scrimmages and in practice, saying he had a really, really good year. He will get plenty of reps at the Z (and probably also over at X) this spring and should make some noise.

Prediction: Cannon will exit camp as Bodie’s main back-up at the Z.

Inside Wide Receivers (IWRs):

The Big Mismatch: The Pirates are eager to have Jones a whole season.

Turning attention to the IWRs now, it is fair to say that there is a backlog of talent (proven and emerging) at this position and the Pirates have a bevvy of talents that bring unique skills to the H and Y slots in the offense.

Last year, the position was marked with talented youngsters going through their growing pains, but this year, it is thoroughly loaded with talent.

Right now, the cadre of IWRs – and there are a lot of them – looks like this:

  • Justin Jones (JR-RS)
  • Zico Pasut (JR-RS)
  • Derrick Harris (JR-TR)
  • Gray Mazzone (JR-TR)
  • Justin Hardy (SO-RS)
  • Torian Richardson (SO-RS)
  • Danny Webster (SO)
  • Donte Sumpter (FR-RS)
  • Cedric Thompson (FR-RS)

Justin Jones: Losing Jones right before the season a year ago was one of the biggest losses the offense sustained in the pile of injuries the decimated the O. Much of the attack had been fashioned around what the 6-8 IWR could do for them, on big downs and red zone opportunities. Then, when he finally returned to the line up, he goes crazy, scoring 4 TDs in two games, underscoring just how much of a weapon he is. Riley has hinted that they are going to keep a heavy hand pushing on Jones because he still has some maturing to do, but also indicated that he is such a special talent the offense must find different ways to incorporate him into the game plans.

Prediction: Expect Jones to be listed an “OR” No. 1 at the Y position when camp ends. This position is a little hard to predict because  Riley clearly sees Jones and Justin Hardy as two No. 1 IWRs at the Y. This is because Riley intends to incorporate a lot of traditional tight end packages based on opponents and situations.

 Zico Pasut: Obviously, with Pasut listed on the spring depth chart as a RB, it might seem like he is not being considered a receiver now after filling in last year at RB. However, Riley indicated that Pasut is such a good blocker and a good tight end-type that he will work at IWR as well. He has earned his opportunity this camp, so Pasut will get plenty of chances in the spring to get on the depth chart at Y and he is a guy who can help this team in many ways.

Prediction: Pasut likely will not be on the depth chart coming out of spring, but that doesn’t mean he will not factor into the game planning. He has shown a penchant for helping the team any way he can and Riley will find ways to involve him…particularly in tight end-like packages or if the backfield needs some umphhh.

A Pleasant Surprise: Harris has great hands.

Derrick Harris: With the pressure of brother Dwayne Harris’ legacy hanging over the younger Harris – a transfer from Valdosta State (thanks Mark for that catch) – the young IWR delivered each and every time he got an opportunity in a game. Riley admitted that Harris’ game performance was a bit of a surprise, but noted that he had been showing day-to-day improvement and was ready when his opportunity arrived. His hallmark is his dependability to make the catch when the ball is sent his way. He had a 168 receiving yards to go with a TD in his first go round as a Pirate. Expect Harris to be motivated to get a bigger bite of the receiving pie this time around in camp.

Prediction: Harris will come out of camp as a clear-cut No. 1 (given Danny Webster’s injury) out of spring camp. He is capable of being a No. 1 at the H.

Gray Mazzone: After sitting out a year per NCAA transfer rules following  a transfer from Wake Forest, Mazzone will be making his first run at a depth chart position, most likely a the H position. He has good hands and is a smart receiver.  Good football IQ having grown up in a football family (brother Taylor played at ECU and father Noel is current OC at Arizona). Mazzone can add some competition for the position.

Prediction: Mazzone will compete hard and likely end up on the depth chart as a No. 3 or an “OR” No. 3 at H coming out of camp.

Justin Hardy: One of the rising stars in this wide receiving corps, Hardy had a fantastic coming out year and was one of the two best players on the offense. He was largely reliable and plays with a big-time flare. He looks like a veteran on the field despite being a SO-RS. Riley has always loved the former walk-on’s skills and attitude and there is no reason to expect anything but Hardy at even higher level in camp and this season – it is in his DNA. Riley has said over and again that he believes when it is all said and done, Hardy will go down as one ECU’s best ever at the position and last year gave no reason to doubt that assertion. He hauled in a team-leading 64 passes for a team-leading 658 yards and 6 TDs (2nd best on the team).  He missed a couple of games with an injury so he needs to stay healthy, but he is a good, good receiver who is capable of a 1,000 yard season.

Prediction: Hardy will come out of spring listed as either the clear-cut No. 1 or an “OR” No. 1 at the Y position. With Justin Jones at the same position, in effective, the Pirates have two No. 1s and so either listing reflects he is on top of his game in camp.

Torian Richardson: Though his name has been mentioned less this off-season and their is this sense that he has been in the program for a long time, it is easy to forget that Richardson is just a SO-RS. Perhaps it is because there have been high expectations for him since he came into the program, but this is an important camp for him. He needs to make a run at a solid DC position at either the Y or H position. He has talent, but it takes more than talent when you are competing against the number of excellent receivers vying for opportunities each spring and fall.

Prediction: Richardson will have a better camp, but it may not be enough. Expect him to eek onto the DC as an “OR” No. 3 at the Y or H position.

Danny Webster: As a true freshman, Webster showed if nothing else, his competitiveness well exceeds his stature. An injury ended his season with a game to go in 2011 and he is currently healing up and will miss spring camp. Aside from that, a year ago, he piled up 418 yards receiving with a TD – not bad for a rookie. He will be in the thick of the battle for the H job in the fall in a hopefully bigger, more durable body. He had some ball-protection issues early, but then shed his true freshman skin by conference time and comes back this year as a veteran despite his youthfulness. He will have a career of big plays for the Pirates.

Prediction: Since he is currently not competing in camp, he will not have a DC designation. That said, he was the opening day starter as a true freshman and expectations are that he will again be a starter come fall as either a clear-cut No. 1 or an “Or” No. 1 with Harris.

Donte Sumpter: In his first spring camp, Sumpter will be geared up to begin to develop his reputation as a competitive Y receiver. Riley has said that Sumpter was quite impressive at times during the Scout Team and Thursday night scrimmage opportunities and he things that Sumpter can make some noise this year. Sumpter has shown reliability in making the catch and is deceptively fast when he catches the ball. He could be a good one.

Prediction: Sumpter will likely find himself at the bottom of the depth chart, but on it nonetheless, which is a good step for a young receiver. He will track in nicely as a solid No. 3 at Y.

Cedric Thompson: A walk-on from Kings Mountain HS (NC), Thompson was a multi-position standout as a prep player, seeing PT at RB, QB, WR, so he is obviously an athletic player. In fact he was the Big South conference offensive player of the year in his senior season at Kings Mountain. Particularly of note, as a WR he piled up 963 yards receiving and 10 TDs in a part-time role. ECU has a rich history of walk-on WRs turning into outstanding players so Thompson, who will get reps this spring in Webster’s stead, has a great chance to make a name for himself and get on the DC when camp breaks.

Prediction: Thompson will find himself on the depth chart as a clear-cut No. 3 or an “Or” No. 2 at the H position. Anything can happen and with Webster out, there are more opportunities to get noticed. As an outstanding athlete, Thompson could make good use of this opportunity.

Conclusion: IMO, we have a bountiful collection of WRs on the roster. We have a mix of height, speed, shiftiness, reliability, and football smarts. We have WRs on the roster that create horrible coverage issues for defenses and we are deep. We also have enough quality receivers to move some of them around from inside to out and vice-versa as needed. Most of all, with so much talent in the paddock, the competition should remain intense from opening of spring camp to last practice for the last game of the season. If our QBs can get the balls to this group, they are equipped to do the rest.

So, if you are reading this paragraph, you have endeavored to read this very long post. So, why stop now? Please, share your thoughts…which receivers do you see breaking out this season? Who will step backward? Who are your favorites?

Chime in mates.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Our Pirate WR Cup Runneth Over…with Talent Inside & Out

  1. That’s a great summary and don;t have much to add, so may I provide my reply in form of a question? Not trying to look to far ahead and realizing this is spring ball, but what are your quick thoughts about Lance Ray, assumingly at OWR? Also as a parting quick fun fact; word aroud the campfire is that Antonio Cannon has some serious game on the basketball court. Awesome athelete. Otherwise, you have been a busy man, and it is very much appreciated.

    • Hi PR…thanks for dropping in again…love it.

      Lance Ray…supposed to be a legit guy who can come in ala Lance Lewis and have instant impact. I expect he would be an OWR as you considered…Given his build and speed, I am thinking he should be able to step in – providing he is a quick study. Plus, we need the depth at OWR, IMO. I think he is going to be a high-impact transfer…this staff has definitely done well with its transfers.

      On Cannon, LR went on quite a bit about him and his ability to just figure out how to get the ball…he has serious ups and great hands, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he is highly-gifted on the hardcourt.

      I like this receiving group and the recruits the staff signed are only going to keep it rolling.

  2. rc

    I think we have great receivers but my questions are with the coaching staff. It seems that once they pick a QB, they will not substitute regardless of his performance. Last year we should have given others an opportunity when DD was pretty bad. We also did not stretch defenses with any deep routes therefore opposing teams were able to key on the short passes.

    • Hi RC…love those initials. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts.

      I hear what you are saying on the hesitancy to pull DD last year. I think that it has to do with a couple of scenarios the coaches were dealing with a year ago. First, DD was considered the team leader without question and I guess that the feeling was that to yank him might cause to much additional stress for an already stressed offense (injuries and lack of running game) and the fact that we were in a bowl hunt till the final whistle of the final game. Second, the lack of a deep passing attack evaporated almost exclusively with the departure of LL from the lineup, which is a bit worrisome. Wiggins was home run threat, but I don’t recall any of his long TDs being particularly long passes – seemed like relatively short crossing routes followed by incredible runs on Wiggins part. However, this could be more about the attrition in the OL rather than no confidence in the OWRs and DD. He was getting very little time towards the end there and without LL, the throw it high and deep option was no longer available.

      You are definitely pointing out an area of concern and certainly something to watch this season. I do not feel good about an offense where the winner of the QB battle is then operating with a short leash and a quick hook BUT I think with four QBs vying for the job, the No. 2 should never be off the table if the No. 1 falters in a game.

      Cheers RC…thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Mark S

    D Harris transferred from Valdosta not Nichols State. Your the second person I’ve seen make the same mistake.

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