Outside of DeVante Parker, I don’t think that any receiver or group of receivers has truly gotten their due from the fan base in recent years. When Parker was injured during his senior year, guys like Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris drew the ire of some fans because of a rash of drops. That trend continued last year with James Quick being the focus of a lot of negative comments from fans. Some of it is justified. Drops and fumbles and things like that are aggravating, but they shouldn’t negate the positives.
An underrated factor that James Quick and Cole Hikutini brought to this offense is that they were always open. Like all the time. It seems silly to focus on something like that, but I truly think that people dismissed the fact that getting open is the key part of being a good receiver. When Lamar Jackson needed a big play he looked to those two guys over anyone else.
That brings me to my concern with Louisville’s young group of receivers this year. Can they get separation? Bobby Petrino’s offense has always worked well with getting players open on deep posts and crossing routes, but the offense also featured plenty of quick outs, slants, comebacks, and other short routes that require receivers to beat their man and create bigger windows to throw into.
While Louisville’s group of receivers has plenty of speed, it will be key for this young group to actually separate against man coverage. While we saw Dez Fitzpatrick beat guys for contested balls during the spring game, I’m not sure the rest of the group can consistently do the same.
There’s a lot of excitement about this group of receivers and it’s completely warranted. This is the area that Louisville has recruited best and all of these guys have the size and skills that you look for. Jaylen Smith is up to 220 pounds and showed flashes of a go-to guy last year. Seth Dawkins also put on some weight and seems like a guy that could take a big step forward in his second year like Smith did.
Petrino moving Cornelius Sturghill back over to offense was very unexpected to me. Sturghill looked like the second best corner in the spring and was splitting time with the first group in the fall. What really stood out about the move is that Petrino said that he needed more speed on the offense. Sturghill has plenty of speed, but what about the guys already there? It’s just something that seemed out of the ordinary with the focus of recruiting being on speed at the skill spots. Either way, Sturghill adds a weapon that should really help Louisville stretch the field and open up defenses.
As a whole this group of receivers has the potential to be just as good as the 2014 group was if Louisville can find a way to spread the ball around and get everyone involved. If Louisville can work Traveon Samuel and the tight ends into the offense on intermediate routes and quick hitters it should open things up for the outside guys.
We won’t likely see too much of the young guys the Cards recruited in this last class but Josh Johnson is likely the best bet to get significant minutes. Johnson has already impressed the coaches and was obviously ahead of the other new guys in the open practice. Johnson also has a chance to help in the return game if needed. Cory Reed also looked solid in his first practice but would likely have a harder time pushing through to get playing time.
The group of tight ends has big shoes to fill this coming year and their production could be needed. With UofL replacing so guys outside as well as breaking in new linemen, Jackson will need a safety valve. Louisville’s play calling chased the big play to often at times last year and having a reliable tight end should help Jackson make better decisions when the deep ball isn’t there.
Charles Standberry and Micky Crum will likely split time on the field until one of them pulls away from the other. Crum is probably a better overall player but he’s been known to make some big mistakes in games. Standberry is your more reliable guy but he’s not as likely to break a big play or block as well. That’s not the worst problem to have as they at least give you some options. I personally see Crum getting more snaps due to his blocking.