The chicken or the egg has been stuck in my head as I've been thinking about how to discuss the receivers. Over the last two seasons, the raw numbers for the receivers have been terrible. That's on objective fact but what isn't particularly clear is the reason for the poor numbers. Dayne Crist was a statue in the pocket who consistently overthrew his receivers and Jake Heaps fell in love with the 15 step drop. The players running the routes struggled to get separation and when they did find the ball in their vicinity, they failed to hold up their end of the bargain (actually catching the ball) far too often. And finally, the play-calling has to get a little bit of the responsibility as well.
Remember in that in 2012 not a single wide-receiver caught a touchdown pass. That's a bit of a technical fact though as Tony Pierson tied for the most touchdown receptions on the team and he's more of a receiver than running back. Of course, he tied tight end Jimmay Mundine with two touchdown catches. When the team only has 7 touchdown passes, there aren't many to go around. Things were slightly better in 2013, Justin McCay caught a touchdown pass in the season opener breaking the "streak" that carried over from 2012. However, after that it was a struggle for the receiver position. Mundine led the team in touchdown receptions again with five. No other Jayhawk caught more than one touchdown pass.
As a matter of fact, lets hope the style of offense and play-calling deserve a whole lot of the blame. Looking ahead to this year should provide a bit of hope as something has been done to address the lack of production out of the receiver position over the last couple of years. First, the program added Eric Kiesau as the new wide receivers coach. We also have the obvious addition of John Reagan as offensive coordinator, who has been successful running college offenses previously. It's not likely to be an Air Raid attack but there is hope for more of a spread attack that will allow the players to get open. Maybe most importantly, there are some new additions to the roster that are expected to make an impact this year.
The New Guys
Nick Harwell- Transfer from Miami (Ohio). Harwell sat out last year due to the transfer but is expected to be the number one receiver for the Jayhawks this year. His production as a receiver at Miami was above and beyond anything we have seen in Lawrence over the last few years. In 2012, he led his team with 68 receptions, 870 yards, and 8 touchdown catches and that was actually down from his sophomore season. In 2011, he caught 97 passes for 1,495 yards and 9 touchdowns. The competition will be tougher in the Big 12 but he will still force defenses to pay attention to him.
Nigel King- Aka "the guy from Maryland". King transferred to Kansas after graduating from Maryland at the end of the summer and landed at Kansas due to a connection with Kiesau. He led Maryland last season with 4 touchdown receptions and had 33 receptions for 450 yards on the year. However, his playing time was the result of injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart and he decided to move on from the Terps. Kansas gets the benefit of an experienced player with good size to add to the mix.
The Guys We Know
Tony Pierson- Has been listed at running back over his career but is a receiver who plays in the slot. Pierson brings great speed and good hands to the position but he is undersized and missed five games last year due to a concussion. According to reports out of camp, he is back to 100% and is ready to play. He was second on the team in receptions last season while only playing 7 games (blaming Heaps and scheme for that one) but led the team in receiving yards and was second on the team in 2012. If Cozart can get the ball to Pierson in stride, the offense becomes explosive.
Justin McCay- Transferred in from Oklahoma after his sophomore season and was rated the #1 prospect in the state while playing for Bishop Miege. McCay couldn't get on the field at Oklahoma and never really made an impact on the field last season for Kansas. However, he is still talented and has good size for a wide receiver even though he doesn't appear to have great speed. With the quick passes some of us are expecting out of the offense, McCay makes for an ideal target for Cozart.
Jimmay Mundine (TE)- Mundine has had a bit of an up and down career so far at Kansas though he did lead the team with 5 touchdown catches last year. He's athletic for a tight end and has the ability to get himself open but has also had times where he suffers from the drops. Without knowing how Reagan plans on using Mundine, it's tough to have an idea of what to expect out of the position. Rice didn't target the tight end position much over the last couple of years but I'd be shocked if they had a tight end with the ability of Mundine.
Rodriguez Coleman- Listed as the backup to McCay on the depth chart. Coleman didn't do a whole lot on the field last season, finishing with 8 receptions but he did average 26 yards per catch. To be honest, I don't remember anything he did that really stands out.
Andrew Turzilli- Oh, nevermind.
With the depth provided by the upper classmen and transfers, it would be surprising for one of the freshman to have much of an impact this year as a receiver (Though others disagree). Overall, this position is likely to be the most improved over the last two seasons. The receivers have size (6'1'', 6'2'', 6'3'', 6'3'', and 6'3'') and speed. If the offensive line can provide Cozart with a little bit of time, Kansas has an opportunity to avoid being last in most passing categories for the first time since Weis has taken over the program.