December 18, 2008

Season review: Wide receivers

What a difference five months can make.

Before the season began, many believed Arizona State had the best receiving corps in the Pac-10, and possibly one of the best in the nation.

The Sun Devils were returning four of their top five wide receivers from a 2007 season in which their passing attack ranked third in the conference, and there were several newcomers expected to make a big impact as well.

However, as the season went on the ASU passing game never really got in sync and the wide receivers did not make the big plays they made the year before.

The blame for the lack of production through the air can be attributed to many things.

For one, the offensive line did not consistently provide quarterback Rudy Carpenter enough time to find open receivers, and the running game was so ineffective there were often seven defenders dropping into pass coverage.

Also, Mike Jones and Chris McGaha, Carpenter's top returning targets, were not 100-percent healthy throughout the year.

But some of the blame has to fall on the receivers themselves as there were entirely too many dropped balls and minimal yards gained after the catch.

Statistically, Jones was by far the best wide receiver ASU had in 2008.

The senior finished the season with the most receptions (61) and yards (744) and was tied for the most touchdown catches on the team with four.

However, he was not fully healthy for most of the season with nagging Achilles tendon and back issues.

Also, in part because of the injuries, Jones was not the same red zone threat he was a year ago. In 2007, Carpenter often would throw up a jump ball in Jones' direction and he would use his 6-foot-4 frame to come down with the ball for the score. That never really happened in 2008.

While Jones was somewhat limited, McGaha was severely burdened by his injuries.

The junior never appeared to be close to 100-percent following toe surgery last spring. He would run his routes in practice, but then limp back to the huddle.

The injury led to hip and back troubles and limited McGaha's explosiveness, and as a result his production was almost cut in half this season.

He made 35 catches for 501 yards this year, compared to 61 for 830 in 2007.

Also, McGaha dropped several passes this season, something he never seemed to do last year.

Perhaps the biggest playmaker among the Sun Devil wide receivers is junior Kyle Williams.

The slot receiver is incredibly quick and shifty, and may be the most elusive wide out on the team. He is always a threat to haul in a reception then take it to the house.

However, his opportunities to do that were limited this year.

Williams only made 19 receptions, but he made the most of his chances averaging 19.2 yards per catch to go along with his four touchdowns.

But Williams, who is also a stand out punt returner, was very inconsistent throughout the year. He was either very involved in the game or nowhere to be found.

Against UNLV, he made three catches for 115 yards and one touchdown. But he made zero receptions in three games and just one in two others.

Kerry Taylor had a very interesting season in 2008.

He started out red-hot with more than 90 receiving yards and one touchdown in each of the first two games of the year, but then he cooled way off and was rarely heard from the rest of the way.

He finished the season as ASU's third leading receiver with 27 receptions for 405 yards, but many expected more after his fast start.

Taylor is one of the hardest working, most versatile wideouts on the team. Carpenter repeatedly said how much time he and Taylor spent running routes last summer and Taylor can line up at any of the three wide receiver spots.

After those four, the production at the wide receiver position severely dropped off.

Nate Kimbrough, Gerell Robinson, Brandon Smith and T.J. Simpson were the only other wide receivers who made any catches, but they were almost non-factors in the passing game.

Kimbrough led that group with 10 receptions for 131 yards, but his biggest impact was felt as a punt returner.

Robinson, one of ASU's highest touted freshmen entering the season, was expected to have a big year as Jones' backup at the X wide receiver position (split end).

However, Robinson often dropped passes in practice and games all year and it wasn't clear that he was ready for a mare promiment role.

But Robinson is very athletic and at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds it will be difficult not to have him on the field extensively over the next several seasons.

Athletically, Smith is exceptional. He is very fast, has great size, can jump as high as anybody on the team and can make people miss after he catches the ball.

The problem is those skills have really only been seen in practice.

For two springs in a row, Smith has been one of the best players on the field for ASU, but for the past two seasons he has been hurt throughout the year and seen very limited game action.

Simpson, a redshirt freshman,only made two receptions for 12 yards, but he may have been a victim of a deep rotation at wide out.

He has shown a lot of promise in practice and shines running deep routes. He could be more of a factor next year.

The best scout team wide receiver was Tony Simmons.

Simmons, a spring transfer from the University of San Diego, is a surprisingly polished receiver who runs very clean routes, can make big plays and has great hands.

There were some issues with Simmons' transfer and ASU is appealing to the NCAA to have 2008 count as a redshirt year. He has at least two, and possibly three years of eligibility remaining.

A.J. Pickens, a true freshman on the scout team, was also impressive this year.

He is a slot receiver with a skill set and body type similar to former ASU star Rudy Burgess.

Grade: C+ This group's production was nowhere near what was expected of it, but it wasn't all the wide receivers' fault. They were banged up, opposing defenses played the pass almost every down and Carpenter didn't always deliver the most catchable ball. Additionally, a case could be made that ASU didn't put its receivers in the best position to succeed with gameplanning and playcalling. However, it was clear the wide receivers didn't make as many plays as they should have, and there were a decent amount of dropped balls. Jones and Kimbrough were the only two seniors on the team and the younger receivers have very solid skill sets. The biggest question mark surrounding the wide outs heading into the off season is how well they will gel with ASU's new quarterback, whoever it will be.

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