Spring practice was a very important time for our Wide Receivers. With Will Glover and Kerry Watkins graduating, there were several questions as to who would step up for all of that lost production. We knew what we had in top returner Jonathan Smith but the rest of the unit had not been counted on to carry the load.
Smith once again had a super spring. He is the guy we can count on when a play needs to be made. He has the best hands and is a guy that can help bail out a QB if he's having a bad day. Freddie was not as boisterous as he has been in past years and seemed to be a little more business like. At the same time he looked to still be having just as much fun. He just did less talking to the Defensive Backs when he would beat them.
Since it was no secret that Freddie would be a starter, the big question in my mind was who would step up and become the guy to start opposite of Smith. We had several intriguing options and the coaches spent the first couple of weeks trying different combinations to see what worked best.
The early leader seemed to be Xavier McGuire, largely to my surprise. I think that the coaches really like McGuire's size and thought that might be a good thing to have out on the field to take advantage of smaller Defensive Backs. McGuire looked pretty good especially when the ball was thrown to him in stride. He used his body well to get the advantage.
The biggest problem I kept seeing though was that he didn't do enough to help out the QBs when the throws were off target. Some guys just show up and know how to do that instinctively and others will need to work hard to get that aspect of receiving down pat. McGuire will have to do a better job of pulling out of the route if that's what the throw dictates and occasionally pull in the low pass or the ones thrown behind him. He has some potential and size, but needs some more reps before some of these things start becoming more natural.
Meanwhile as I would watch LaKeldrick Bridges, I would say to myself, that is a guy that just has natural instincts for finding the ball. As spring went on Bridges eased himself into the first team. Not only does he have excellent speed, he does anything to catch the ball. He is still has a slight build and I'd like to see him gain some more strength, but now the first team is set with two guys that know how to catch the ball and know how to make good on throws that aren't perfect. This could be a good fit to start the season since the QB position is still unsettled. It should be an extra comfort for the QB to know that those two can make him look better.
Depth looks fairly strong too. The guy I really like is Levon Thomas. He sometimes wants to run without the ball, not unlike Dez White did, but when the ball is in his hands, we have no better receiver. Levon is strong and fast and is excellent after the catch. I guarantee that sometime next season he will catch a short pass and break three tackles on his way to a 40-plus yard touchdown. He's an exciting player that just needs to become more consistent.
The Spring Game was a perfect example of how Thomas plays. On one hand he led the team in yards (three catches for 92 yards) including a 44-yard touchdown strike from Suggs and a crucial 3rd and long catch to bail out the second team offense. On the other hand, he mishandled several balls that he would tell you he should have caught. Thomas is a good player and will continue to battle for the starting spot. He'll be a big weapon this season.
It was nice to see Nate Curry getting closer to his old form this spring. Curry should be much more of a factor this upcoming season. He seems to be cutting hard again without worry and has regained most of his speed. He continues to make great plays on the ball and has pulled in some difficult catches at times. He is having to work his way back up the depth chart, but I think Curry will be a factor in fall. He and Levon coming off the bench is quality depth.
Mark Logan started slowly this spring but had a great last week and a half. This is the best I've seen Logan play since moving to WR. He may see some occasional work once the season starts if he keeps it up. He ended spring with a nice effort in the spring game by pulling in the most reception (5) of all receivers. He looks to be gaining confidence in his abilities.
Eddie Lee Ivery Jr. has moved to WR but didn't do any serious practicing while recovering from a knee injury.