There's 15 percent of the players on Mississippi State's football fall practice roster that lists themselves as a wide receiver.
That percentage is more than any non-lineman positional group on the Bulldogs roster.
Therefore the problem for the MSU program and head coach Dan Mullen isn’t so much a quantity issue as much as finding quality in that bunch.
“I think they’re a little bit older and last year most of the guys playing receiver were true freshman just out of high school so they have a little bit more understanding,” Mullen said.
Since spring practice Mullen has pressed uncertainty that this lack of playmakers for his spread offense won’t be solved with this current group in 2010.
“We still have the youngest receiver group in the country but I think we’re really talented there’s just not much time to learn the system,” MSU passing game coordinator Mark Hudspeth said. “Now they know the system and they are way ahead of last year coming in cold turkey.”
Two starters at receiver return from last year in sophomore Chad Bumphis and senior Leon Berry. However, of the 152 passes that was caught last year, that duo accounted for only 46.
“It's a little bit more pressure,” Berry said. “When the game comes, it's going to be a little bit more fast-paced, so we need (the newcomers) to learn it now. Without depth, you're not going to make it.”
The Bulldogs offense has failed to average over 200 passing yards per game in any of the last five years.
This week marks the first college practices for true freshman scholarship receivers Brandon Hill, Michael Carr and Robert Johnson.
“The key with the newcomers isn’t ability now,” Hudspeth said. “How well they pick up everything in this offense will determine playing time.”
Carr is under temporary status Tuesday and will continue to be under that category until last season’s all-state selection can practice with the team while his NCAA paperwork is under review. Since Carr is a scholarship player, he is allowed 14 days of preseason practice before the season starts before he has to be cleared by NCAA officials.
Carr’s first 10 minutes of Tuesday’s practice had the West Point High School product on a knee appearing fatigued drawing the head coach’s attention.
“I told him not to worry,” Mullen said. “He hasn’t gotten to go through the conditioning the rest of the team has. Physically we've got to be a little more careful with him out there on the field.”
Tuesday’s split squad had the veteran starters (Bumphis and Berry) working with most of the freshman newcomers in the morning session.
Yesterday’s action was the first workout for all 105 players including every one of the 16 receivers.
A noticeable transition to the receiving corps in 2010 is a player trying to quickly make the transition from backup defensive back last year to a 5-foot-9 slot weapon this fall. Last spring when some receivers went down with injuries, Arceto Clark was asked by the coaching staff to fill in during the receiver drills to fill out the current group.
“It’s funny because I feel like receiver comes more naturally to me but I was just at that point trying to help the team that day,” Clark said.
Nobody, including Clark himself, thought the move would stick but the sophomore from Verona has worked his way into the playing time conversation with many spots open on that depth chart.
“He is a receiver now that is going to give us quality depth and all he needs to do is keep working hard,” Hudspeth said.
By the end of Thursday’s practice, Clark was working with first-team quarterback Chris Relf’s offense during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.
“I just consider myself a big-play guy wherever they put me,” Clark said. “Just throw me the ball and I’ll get the job done.”
After Thursday’s practice, which was the first full-team exercise this offseason, Mullen still wasn’t convinced anything had been worked out this early from a depth chart spot perspective among any of the pass catchers.
“You can’t have a go-to receiver in this offense because they’ll just be double-covered the whole game,” Mullen said this past spring. “It’s going to take a few years of recruiting to get the playmakers we need.”